Sharing The Love

How volunteering can feed the needy & soothe the soul

The theme of this month is thankfulness, and today I am not only thankful for all that I have but also for those who devote their lives to giving back to those in need. It should come as no surprise that the pandemic has increased food insecurity across demographics. Grief, job instability, illness, and isolation have thrown many Atlantans into a state of crisis, and when you can’t find enough food to eat that makes everything far harder.

Traditionally, this time of year brings up many feelings of altruism. As we gather around our tables enjoying meals prepared by and shared with loved ones on dark, chilly evenings, the knowledge that others might not have a holiday meal or food in their cupboards is striking in contrast. Volunteering at a food bank, soup kitchen, or stocking a local free pantry are all wonderful ways to share the love with those who might not otherwise have access to healthy, fresh food.

I spoke with Tim Adkins, Director of Marketing and Communications for Hands On Atlanta about Atlanta’s hunger problem and what is being done to address it.  “We can’t keep up with the need from our partners, specifically our food pantry partners,” said Adkins. Between August of 2020 and July of 2021, Hands On Atlanta has supplied more than 9,500 volunteers to support the Atlanta Community Food Bank as they distribute a whopping 8.6 million meals to 22 food pantries located throughout the city and far into the suburbs. Additionally, Hands On Atlanta’s Meals 4 Kids program and COVID-19 specific relief efforts have supplied 8,000 meals to families in that same timeframe.

“Last year we engaged about 15,000 people in service to serve approximately 130,000 hours in the community,” Adkins explained, and while Hands On Atlanta is an organization dedicated to a myriad of nonprofits in a variety of sectors, Adkins says that the pandemic has really highlighted an increased need specifically centered around food insecurity. Of those 15,000 volunteers engaged by Hands On Atlanta nearly 10,000 were focused on providing healthy meals to those in need. 

Calling the issue “just staggering,” Adkins and the Hands On Atlanta team are committed to activating people, both as individuals and within the context of corporate teams, in an effort to facilitate the distribution of donations from organizations to the communities that need them.

“We really wanted to lean in,” said Adkins, who says he has seen exponential growth in the amount of food that has come into the Food Bank and then back out into the community. 

While one of the biggest impacts can be seen from large companies bringing in teams of employees to volunteer their time, COVID has restricted those opportunities and today most volunteering efforts employ less than 50 people at a time. Nonprofits such as Urban Recipe and the Community Assistance Center regularly post their opportunities with Hands On Atlanta, but are typically seeking between four to six volunteers for a given activation. 

Some local companies that have regularly given back through volunteering with Hands On Atlanta include Home Depot, Chick-fil-A, the Coca-Cola Company, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, United Postal Service, NCR, and the Norfolk Southern Railroad. 

“Even if you couldn’t physically help, there are things you can do to be supportive like writing a letter in support of someone who may have fallen on hard times. It really does mean a lot, just having some encouragement means a lot. To really understand why, and why it matters, is to create empathy,” said Adkins. And it’s not only good for the community, giving back has benefits for the volunteer as well. 

“Studies have shown that volunteering meets all of the things that the pandemic has caused: isolation, stress, feeling no sense of purpose,” Adkins continued. “It has been proven that volunteering gives you confidence, a sense of community, and a sense of purpose. There is intrinsic value as well, it’s great for the community but also for the individual.”

As we talked, Adkins shared a few local partners that he feels are making great strides in the battle against hunger., Second Helpings Atlanta – Assemble and Pack Food Donations, and Open Hand Atlanta are all dedicated to providing not only non-perishable and shelf-stable foods, but also fresh fruit, produce, and whole meals to those in need throughout the city. 

So this year, if you find that you’ve got enough love to share, whether it be in the form of food or monetary donations or through actual physical assistance to soup kitchen, food pantries, and all of the auxiliary organizations that support the efforts to get food into the hands of those who need it, there are some truly remarkable ways you can aid in the fight against food insecurity. 

Filtered results for all food insecurity related projects on Hands On Atlanta’s calendar

Volunteer with Atlanta Community Food Bank as an individual or a group

Virtual Meals on Wheels which includes projects people can do from home

Thanksgiving Dinner and Coat Giveaway with Area in Need Missionary House on November 13 and 20

The Pantry at Chapelhill Atlanta on November 20

Thanksgiving Event and Mobile Food Pantry Distribution with Streetwise on November 20

Grady Fresh Food Cart with Grady Health System in Brookhaven on November 24

Stock the Pantry with Grace Community Food Pantry on November 24

Thanksgiving Give Back with SSA, delivering nourishing meals to low-income and homebound seniors in Fulton County on November 20 (Registration required by November 15)

Giving Tuesday with Hosea Helps, this annual Thanksgiving drive-through event at the Georgia World Congress Center Blue Parking Lot seeks volunteers age 12+ to fill 10 shifts on November 19

Volunteer with the Atlanta Mission, serve meals to men residing at The Shepherd’s Inn or the women and children at My Sister’s House, many dates available

Originally written for Homestead Stories

I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost

Introducing Atlanta’s Newest Ghost Tour & Halloween Roundup

It’s spooky season, folks! As we round the corner into October I find myself greatly anticipating the joy of all things autumn. And yes, that means pumpkin pie and apple cider, but this month it also means scary movies, creative costumes, and – let’s be honest – way too much candy.

Megan Hodgkiss, provided

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Megan Hodgkiss about an exciting addition to the Atlanta Halloween festivities: the debut of the Little 5 Points Ghost Tour. Hodgkiss has been instrumental in the formation of this tour, both by conducting extensive research and interviews about the area, compiling the ghost stories, on-boarding guides, and planning the event itself. 

Hodgkiss first became associated with the Little 5 Points Ghost Tour in March of 2021 when she participated in the Atlanta Preservation Center’s ‘Phoenix Flies’ walking tour of Little 5 Points. There she met the Little 5 Points Business Association President Kelly Stocks and the two began talking about the potential of hosting guided ghost tours in the area this fall. “I said that I’d love to help and be involved — and the rest is history!” said Hodgkiss. “I’m so excited to be a part of the first annual Little 5 Points Ghost Tour.”

In her research, she discovered a number of stories about the apparitions in the area. Notable mentions include a mischievous spirit who attempts to thwart performances at 7 Stages, a beloved fallen cop who died tragically in the area and is remembered by the naming of the plaza in his honor, and a runaway teenage girl who was killed amidst a wild party at Georgia’s first pagan congregation, the House of Ravenwood. The mile-long tour lasts for about 1.5 hours and tours begin at 7PM and 9PM. 

Photos by Isadora Pennington

Hodgkiss has a distinct affinity for haunted tours, and that knowledge has aided her in developing the Little 5 Points Ghost Tours. Her favorite haunted tours include those in Savannah, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. “And now, I can add Little 5 Points to that list.“ Throughout the month of October, so-called “spirit guides” will lead groups through the historic neighborhood and lend unique insight to the colorful characters who linger long beyond their dying breath. 

Learn more and register for a tour by visiting the website.


Atlanta has a ton of fun and unique Halloween offerings. Whether you want the full fright experience, something more kid-friendly, or just an opportunity to dress up and have drinks with friends, there’s a little something for everyone. 

Below are some of my favorite Halloween events. Enjoy… if you dare!

Woodland Spirits at Fernbank Museum
Inspired by literature’s portrayal of dark forests, this all-ages Halloween activity features ghostly figures and sculptures, lurking spirits, a “monster garden,” and more sprinkled throughout the 10 acres of Wildwood Forest. Nature lovers can learn about nocturnal creatures and night-blooming plants during a special Nocturnal Activity: Life After Dark activity. You can expect to hear about bats, owls, scorpions, opossums, racoons, moths, and more. Learn more at the Fernbank Website

Additional special themed days at Fernbank include:
Creepy Crawlies, all about bugs! October 16, 10AM to 1PM
Bugs, Bats & Bones, Halloween classics. October 23, 10AM to 1PM
Dinosaur Trick-or-Treat, because, of course! Costumes encouraged. October 30, 10AM to 1PM

Decatur Ghost Tours
While this ghostly adventure is technically available year-round, there’s just something extra spooky about this time of year, don’t you think? The highly rated Decatur Ghost Tour is led by professional psychic medium and paranormal investigator Boo Newell. “Decatur’s dead are pretty restless” reads the website, and numerous reviews shared online describe personal encounters for those embarking on the ghost tours. Lasting approximately 2 to 2.5 hours, the walking tour is about one mile of paved sidewalks. Go for a tour, if you dare. More information and tickets available on their website

Trunk or Treat at Brook Run Park
Food trucks, candy, and costumes, all set to the tunes of an Elton John tribute band will take over Brook Run Park in Dunwoody on October 28 from 5PM to 8PM. This free event is open to the public, so come out in your Halloween best and enjoy a fun afternoon perfect for the whole family. 

The Center for Puppetry Arts Presents The Ghastly Dreadfuls 
Combining ghost stories, grim humor, catchy tunes, and a spooky aesthetic, the puppet masters will perform a range of stories and content from silly to serious. Billed as “vaudeville-esque humor, horror and hijinx, a reminder of what has always made Halloween so creepy and fun,” this event is both creepy and funny. Note, proof of vaccination and masks are required to attend this event. See dates, book tickets, and learn more here

Also at the Center for Puppetry Arts, A Monster Mash!
Come in costume and decorate goblins, jack-o-lanters, and skeletons. Starting October 30 at 10AM, this event is suitable for kids aged 6-10. 

Spooky Mill at Autrey Mill Nature Preserve
The beautiful natural surrounds of the Autrey Mill Nature Preserve will be transformed to a fun-for-all Halloween party on October 30. Attractions include a bouncy house, carnival games, crafts, pumpkin painting, and a haunted hike. “Junior Spooky” is from 1PM to 4PM, while “Ooky Spooky” will take place from 6PM to 9PM. Given all the ruins and historic buildings on the property, you might just have a supernatural experience of your own! Learn more on the Autrey Mill website

Pumpkin Festival at Stone Mountain Park
An Atlanta-area fall favorite, visitors can enjoy live shows, spooky displays, classic storybook characters, a pie eating contest, and park attractions such as the Great Locomotive Chase, Adventure Golf, and the Scenic Railroad. Once night falls, the park will debut a brand new Nighttime Parade and, you guessed it, a Pumpkin Lasershow. Learn more here

Get Your Fright on At Netherworld
Is there anyone in Atlanta who isn’t familiar with Netherworld? This haunted house returns year after year to provide some of the best jump scares and bone-chilling horror in the area. In Rise of the Netherspawn, ancient creatures enlist an army of shadow figures deep in the caverns to terrify and taunt visitors who dare enter this nightmare world. If classic haunted houses aren’t your jam, take it up a notch with their new 3D experience where you will explore a top-secret facility full of monsters. If you think you can handle it, check out their website for more information and tickets. 

Attend an Actual Séance at the Wren’s Nest
Yes, you read that right. At 8PM on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the month of October, a psychic medium will conduct an actual séance in an attempt to speak with the dead. This family-friendly event also features a “spirited” mystery show. Learn more and buy tickets here

Boo at the Zoo
One of Atlanta’s most treasured Halloween festivities, Boo at the Zoo returns to Zoo Atlanta with costumes, crafts, dance parties, games, trick or treating, and of course plenty of fun animal sightings. Come in costume and experience a one-of-a-kind Halloween event in “Zoo Boo Town.” Buy tickets at the Zoo Atlanta website.

Little 5 Points Monsterfest
In lieu of the hallowed Halloween Parade, cancelled this year due to COVID, Little 5 Points is hosting a unique Monsterfest on October 16-17. Visitors can pick up a map to hunt for monsters in the area in a unique monster hunt created by none other than the monster man himself, Shane Morton, also known as Professor Morte. There will also be a haunted market with more than 60 vendors on Euclid, a costume contest, and pop up performances. Learn more here.

Candlelight Halloween Concerts at the Trolley Barn
Classical music lovers will adore this open air performance by the Listesto String Quartet at the historic Trolley Barn in Inman Park. Playing renditions of classic Halloween tunes such as “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, and even the Ghostbusters theme, this event offers a unique melding of classical music stylings and popular Halloween music. Multiple dates, go online for more info. 

Halloween in the Highlands
This 21+ event features bar hopping, a costume contest with $1000 top prize, specials, complimentary shots, DJs, and live music spread throughout more than 10 locations in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood. While there are plenty of Halloween-themed bar hops, this exclusive party will take place on October 26 and lasts until 2AM. Don’t wait, this event sells out every year and attracts 1000s of party goers dressed up in their best Halloween garb. Learn more and buy tickets today while you still can.

Goblins in the Garden
The Atlanta Botanical Gardens has put together a day of fun and festivities throughout their beautifully manicured grounds on October 24 from 10AM to 4PM. Show off your costumes on the Goblin Runway, enjoy traditional Mexican dances performed by Alma Mexicana (bring a blanket!), decorate pumpkins, and ride on both a pony AND a train! More information can be found on the Atlanta Botanical Gardens website

Legends and Lore Tour at Rhodes Hall
One of Atlanta’s most haunted locales, Rhodes Hall was built in 1904 and has been a hotbed of paranormal activity for many years. Returning by popular demand, the Legends and Lore tour offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience the chills and thrills of the “Castle on Peachtree” after dark. Rhodes Hall has been the subject of many paranormal investigations and haunted walking tours of Atlanta. Multiple tour times, October 27-29. More info & tickets can be found here

36th Annual Halloween Hike at the Chattahoochee Nature Center
On October 22, 23, 29, and 30, from 6 to 9PM, the Chattahoochee Nature Center is offering a guided night hike that features music, crafts, campfire, and other non-scary Halloween fun. Advanced tickets are required, and arrive early to ensure your spot on the hike. Visit the Chattahoochee Nature Center website to learn more.  

Capturing the Spirit of Oakland
Historic tours of the Oakland Cemetery are one of Atlanta’s most beloved annual traditions. Returning for its 15th year, this October’s programs bring to life the stories of the cemetery’s most notorious occupants in an after-dark tour. Intended to “enlighten rather than frighten,” these tours are led by costumed docents who will show you around the sprawling cemetery where you will see actors portraying the residents who are buried there. Guests will also be able to enjoy music and are encouraged to arrive in their best costumes to fully embrace the holiday spirit. VIP tickets include a 3-course meal at the nearby Firepit Pizza Tavern. More info here

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Presents The Nightmare Before Christmas
Sit back and enjoy Tim Burton’s Halloween classic film with a live musical scoring performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO). With showtimes on October 29 and 30, this event offers an immersive and powerful experience for lovers of the symphony and this popular Halloween movie. Costumes encouraged! Learn more on the ASO website.

Originally written for Homestead Stories

Halloween events 2021 Atlanta Halloween 2021 Little 5 Points Ghost Tour

Aly Migliori & Amanda Sophia Ebert, photo by Isadora Pennington 2015.

New Mavericks: Aly Migliori & Amanda Sophia Ebert

Aly & Amanda, photo by Isadora Pennington

Aly Migliori & Amanda Sophia Ebert, photo by Isadora Pennington 2015.

Distance makes the heart grow fonder, so they say. But of course, that isn’t always the case. In the film Knightsville, director Aly Migliori examines what can happen when the home you grew up in doesn’t quite feel like home anymore.

Knightsville tells the story of a young woman who has moved away from her Italian-American neighborhood, family and culture. The main character, Sara, played by Amanda Sophia Ebert, returns home for a traditional Catholic festival, only to be faced with the realization that she feels foreign in her familial home.

“In having familiar feelings placed within a particular Italian-American community, I hoped that Knightsville’s success was not the newness of this world, but rather the transcending commonality of human experiences,” said Aly.

Knightsville, I hope, captures a universal story within a unique world.”

Amanda Sophia is a newcomer to working in film, a fact that doesn’t deter from a strong and emotionally present performance on screen. “Aly and I met on set of the first film I’d ever shot and I was drawn to her instantly,” said Amanda. “Once we started spending time together regularly, I wanted badly to work with her on another film. Now I consider her family.”

Coming from a background of stage acting, Amanda adapted her performance style to embrace a more naturalistic screen presence. She set out with a goal of becoming more comfortable in front of the camera, and was emboldened by her faith in Aly as a director. “As the process went on, though, it became really important to me to tell the story of the community of Knightsville,” said Amanda, “because the sense of pride and tradition is so strong and so special.”

Ultimately, I believe that some of Amanda’s newness to the Italian-American culture in Knightsville added a level of authenticity to her portrayal of otherness that the main character, Sara, feels upon her return to her hometown.

“I loved getting to know and see the town of Knighstville. It sounds cliche but the end is always hard for me; it’s sad to let go of a character you’ve worked so hard to build that has become such a part of you,” said Amanda. The experience of participating in this production has clearly affected her beyond just the necessary memorization of lines and blocking, leaving her with a connection to those she worked with and the story that she told.

When asked what part of the process she finds the most enjoyable, Aly told me that it was working with others that stood out in her mind. “My favorite part is collaborating, and lucky for filmmakers, collaboration happens from pre-production on through the festival circuit.”

Collaboration doesn’t just happen on the smaller scale within the cast and crew, but can also expand to enlist help from a variety of outside sources. “To have the entire community come together to facilitate the production of this film, from allowing us to stage the parade with the actual Madonna Della Civita statue to letting us have our own float in the actual parade, that was the most enlivening experience of all,” Aly told me.

I asked Aly whether she thought that being a female director had any impact on the result of the film and her acceptance within the community that she filmed. “I think being a female in film is a great opportunity,” she said. “I am aligned with a different perspective than the standard film, and in embodying that view in my work, I give my films a nontraditional narrative and voyeurism.”

Aly is also a member of the NY chapter of Film Fatales, a female directing group founded by Leah Meyerhoff, who was also a producer on Knightsville. Aly explained that the group seeks to foster an ever-growing community of women directors. It was through her connections to this group that she was able to cast Gina Piersanti and Altagracia Guzman, as well. But the group does more than just connect the pieces between like-minded women in the film industry, it has a larger purpose as well.

“It also asks the film community at large to acknowledge the successes and talents from female directors, while challenging the industry to do something about it,” said Aly.

The goals set forth from the Film Fatales group fit in quite nicely with the intentions of the Atlanta based New Mavericks organization, as well. Knightsville was screened as a part of the New Mavericks programming at the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival, and Aly and Amanda were able to attend screenings, meetings, and make connections with other female film professionals.

“My favorite experience was the New Mavericks dinner and shorts block,” Aly told me. “Having the opportunity to be onstage with brilliant, creative, and empowered women only serves further to inspire me. I look forward to a time where this is not a novelty, but I thank Atlanta Film Festival for recognizing now the need to showcase films not only directed by women, but featuring female protagonists.”

So, what’s next for these two? Aly is currently working on writing the feature-length film version of Knightsville, a project that she says will carry elements from this initial short film. “And I’m taking Amanda with me,” Aly said. “She doesn’t have a choice.”

As for Amanda, her current projects include production and acting in a play called Closer as well as working towards launching a women’s web magazine, among other film and theater projects. “I will absolutely work with Aly in the future, hopefully on Knightsville as a feature,” said Amanda.

Knightsville has screened at the Atlanta Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, Sarasota Film Festival, Maryland Film Festival, IFF Boston, Minneapolis Saint Paul International Film Festival, and Skyway Film Festival. You can see a trailer online and learn more about the film by going to their website.


Brigitta Wagner, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

New Maverick: Brigitta Wagner

Brigitta Wagner, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

Brigitta Wagner, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

The damsel in distress. The doting wife reliant on her strong husband. The man who saves the woman he loves. These are the romance stories that are told with great frequency in our society. Brigitta Wagner, who wrote, directed, co-edited and co-produced the film Rosehill, wanted to know why there wasn’t as much coverage of the kind of experiences that women in their 30s have while trying to establish healthy life and work boundaries in modern day America.

“Why are we always seeing women saved by men?”

Brigitta is animated and passionate about her film, and we spoke for a while over coffee in between her screenings and meetings during the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival. She told me that the concept came together based on conversations with her friends and her own personal experiences. “I wanted to explore ways that real women deal with real problems,” she said.

Rosehill is a film about two women who are old friends but haven’t seen each other in a long time. Katriona, the main character, distressed about her relationship with her boyfriend, decides to visit her best friend Alice in Indiana. The rekindling of their friendship leads to a road trip and blissful disregard for the responsibilities of their day-to-day lives. The journey isn’t always a happy one, however, but in the end both women gain perspective on their lives from the experience.

Though Brigitta did compose a preliminary script for the film, she also left plenty of room for improvisation.

“I like it when something happens that I don’t actually control on the screen,” she explained. The two main characters, played by actresses Josephine Decker and Kate Chamuris, maintain a voice of their own and “created a friendship that you can see on the screen.” Brigitta allowed space for the two to bring their own ideas and influence to their roles and to the film, making it something altogether new.

“It makes films more interesting and more alive,” Brigitta said. “We just had a porous boundary.”

Brigitta’s history as an academic also influences her perspective on her film work, stating that she believes strongly in the importance of including film education when making new films. “There are a lot of academic questions you can ask about the world with the camera,” she continued, elaborating more on her improvisational style. “If you’re an artist or if you’re a humanity scholar of some kind you can go out with a camera and ask questions, it’s very liberating to work that way.”

Rosehill was included in the competition and New Mavericks programming at the festival, and Brigitta also came to the New Mavericks lunch at Parish where she met with other female filmmakers and honorees. I asked her about her experience as part of the program.

“It has been amazing,” she said. “I’ve only been here for a couple of days in Atlanta but I’ve met some really amazing women producers, filmmakers, and actors.” The New Maverick program provided an opportunity for Brigitta to network and brainstorm with others who share her dedication to bringing real women’s stories to the big screen.

“It’s really brave of the Atlanta Film Festival to have a series like this,” she told me, indicating that from her experience it’s mostly on the indie side of the filmmaking spectrum where women are seen in the higher positions of film production. “It’s important to support these young women who are out there making films,” she said.

I do believe that’s something that we can agree on.

To see stills and learn more about Rosehill, go online to the Facebook page.


Angel Kristi Williams, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

New Maverick: Angel Kristi Williams

Angel Kristi Williams, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

Angel Kristi Williams, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

Popularity, influence, and sexuality come to a head in Charlotte, a coming-of-age story about two young women. I spoke with writer and director Angel Kristi Williams to discuss the short film which showed during the New Mavericks shorts block of the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival. In the film, the 13 year old protagonist, Alex, becomes friends with the more popular and feminine Charlotte. “It’s such an impressionable time that shapes who we become as women,” Angel said.

Over the course of a weekend, the two girls bond and explore the limits of their friendship. Desperate for acceptance, Alex finds herself playing house and touching upon feelings of intimacy that she doesn’t quite understand. “I wrote the story based on my what I remember about being a young girl,” Angel told me, “I had friends like these characters.​” This quiet, thoughtful film tells their story without pretense, allowing the girls to express their emotions in moments of silence, long looks, and unspoken words. The bathroom scene in particular stands out to Angel as being one of her favorites. “That was the scene that I saw in my head very early in the writing process,” she explained.

“I’ve always been a storyteller,” said Angel. In 2014 Angel was listed as one of ten Black directors to watch by Paste Magazine and her films have been shown both nationally and internationally, bringing praise and attention to the subjects she features. It all started with a genuine love for narrative film and television. “When my Dad bought a VHS camcorder I never put it down,” she said. Later, Angel attended the University of Maryland where she pursued her Bachelor’s of Art in Visual Arts, and upon graduation she began working in television for a company called Discovery Communications. She was then awarded the Lumiere Scholarship which allowed Angel to attend the Columbia College of Chicago to obtain her Master’s of Fine Art degree in Cinema Directing.

“I’ve loved watching films for as long as I can remember,” said Angel. It was after watching the film Battle of Algiers that her affinity for film came to the forefront of her mind as a young woman. Angel writes about real-world experiences, pulling from her own life to bring complex issues to the big screen. During the process of working on Charlotte, Angel grew as a filmmaker. “I learned that building your audience starts before the film is seen,” she said, implicating the importance of networking and promotion for her work.

The film was selected for the Atlanta Film Festival and Angel made the trip to be a part of the festivities. “It was a great experience,” she said. “I was really pleased with the reception the audience and the festival brought, and the amount of attention short filmmakers like myself could benefit from.” Being a part of the New Mavericks program added another level of success to the film and connections with other female filmmakers. “It was really lovely to have that kind of support for my work.”

Next up, Angel is developing and writing a love story for her first feature length film. Though she’s not revealing any details yet, there’s little doubt that the project will be just as well received as Charlotte and her previous shorts. “I’m looking forward to an opportunity to play at Atlanta with future feature projects,” she told me.

To learn more about Angel and see behind the scenes photos from Charlotte, go online to the Seed & Spark website or watch the trailer on vimeo.

– Isadora

Jen West, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

New Maverick: Jen West

Jen West, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

Jen West, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

Jen West is an Atlanta filmmaker, designer, and blogger whose short film, Little Cabbage, had its world premiere at the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival and was featured as part of the New Mavericks program. We sat down together to discuss the film in the Filmmaker’s Lounge at the Highland Ballroom during the fest. “Little Cabbage is a story about a female composer in the 1950s who was given a musical instrument, and when she plays it distorts her perception of reality and her relationships,” Jen told me.

In the days before the deinstitutionalization movement sparked by the introduction of Medicaid and the implementation of the Community Mental Health Act of 1963, asylums in America often held not only mentally ill patients but also people who were sick or otherwise considered difficult to care for in everyday life. Women especially would sometimes find themselves in a mental hospital for reasons that today would be considered commonplace or even expected, like postpartum depression and anxiety. “A lot of women during that time were hospitalized and they weren’t even actually crazy, just because they didn’t have men to take care of them.”

Jen’s inspiration for writing this plot came from thinking of the time that led to involuntary commitment for those women. She began “exploring the story of a women before she goes into one of those facilities,” inspired by a book called Letters of a Victorian Madwoman. The book is a compilation of letters from Andrewsic Moore Sheffield who was incarcerated in an asylum against her will for 30 years after setting a building on fire. Andrewsic was under the influence of opiates at the time but otherwise sane, and painstakingly documented her experiences while institutionalized.

Madeline, the film’s main character, is a passionate but eccentric musician living in relative isolation in the deep south during the 1950s. Making a living by teaching music lessons out of her home and working towards a grand opus masterpiece, Madeline begins to lose touch with reality. The reasons for her dysfunction are more fantasy than reality in Little Cabbage, as Jen explained “instead of her being on drugs, she’s under a magical spell from a harmonica.”

The film is a period piece, a distinction that requires special forethought to execute on a small budget. “One of the hardest parts of Little Cabbage was making it look authentic,” Jen explained. The reason for the film’s success was the collaboration of her art department and support team during the extensive pre-production phase. Working with a solid, committed team is the key to produce a high quality and solid finished product. “You need to have people who are very good at their craft,” she said. Overall, production went smoothly. “The whole shoot was really magical and it worked really well,” said Jen, “the movie has an aspect of magic to it.”

Little Cabbage is Jen’s fourth short film and is a prologue for a feature length film that is currently in development and slated for sometime later this year. “I kind of fell into film in a nontraditional way,” Jen told me. It wasn’t until after graduating from college that she came to know about independent films. At that time she was working at a small boutique advertising firm and the owner was an avid fan of indie films and wanted to make one. The idea hit home with Jen and a new passion was born. “It was like an instant connection.”

Outside of working on indie films, Jen makes a living as a freelance graphic designer for local organizations such as the Zoo Atlanta and various nonprofits. One of her biggest clients, the Historic Oakland Cemetery, employs Jen for her filmmaking talents as well. “I do some video work for Oakland Cemetery in more of a producer role,” she explained. For example, last fall Jen interviewed Lillian Deakins Timberlake, the first cousin of Margaret Mitchell, for the cemetery’s Living Links film series.

Jen has been instrumental in developing the New Mavericks program, a concept born from a brainstorming session with fellow Atlanta creatives Lane Skye, Robyn Rebecca Hicks, and Brantly Jackson Watts. After discussing the idea of forming a collaborative group here in the city Brantly made the connection with Kristy Breneman and Christina Humphrey to bring New Mavericks to the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival.

“It’s really exciting to think that we are going to have a group here in town that is not just female directors or writers, but also editors and cinematographers and all these other equally important roles,” Jen said. “I’m looking forward to it so much.”

Being a woman working in the film industry, Jen said her experiences have been purely positive. “As a matter of fact, people tend to celebrate what I do more because I’m a woman,” she explained, citing the absence of female directors in larger-scale productions as a reason for that added support. When you look at the metrics, only 5% of for-hire directors in mainstream cinema are women. “That’s why it’s so important for women to do their own projects and make them happen,” she said, “the more work you do the more likely you are to get hired.”

Jen recently toured with Little Cabbage to the Ozark Foothills Film Festival in Arkansas, the Chattanooga Film Festival, and Indie Grits in Columbia, South Carolina. The pre-production of her upcoming feature length film, Electric Bleau, is also well underway with the script currently in the review and editing stage. This film will again tie to the magical, cursed harmonica theme, this time taking place in one of Jen’s favorite cities, New Orleans. The film follows an African-American punk rocker in the late 1970’s as she inherits the cursed musical instrument that’s been wreaking havoc on her family for generations.

As always, Jen has her hands in a variety of projects and endeavors at any given time. Driven and passionate, her plans and ideas continue to evolve and push her to create even beyond the plans she has now. Her commitment to the craft and perseverance in her work rings true. When it comes to working in film, Jen said it best- “you can’t just half ass it, you have to go all the way.”

To read more about Jen, see behind-the-scenes shots from Little Cabbage, and stay updated on future films such as Electric Bleau, go online to her website.


New Mavericks: House of June

House of June, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

House of June, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

The Grey Area, a film by Atlanta production group House of June, is a short film that was screened during the New Mavericks shorts block at the Atlanta Film Festival this year. The film, a mini expose into the everyday life of a group of girlfriends during the course of one night, explores the connections and relationships between young women of color.

“It started as another idea,” Ebony Blanding, co-director and writer told me. “We had two days to reconceptualize it.” The film was a submission to Sessions, a 6-month Atlanta Film Festival workshop and program that focuses on developing producers, directors, and actors. When the trio reviewed the initial film in the days counting down to the Sessions deadline, they decided to rethink the project altogether, shoot, and put together a new film.

The film centers around the dynamic of three friends, one caught up in the idea of crashing a wedding while her friends attempt to talk her out of it. Amber Bournett, the film’s co-director, director of photography and editor, said “it was like the film that wasn’t supposed to be seen.”  The new footage was shot in one bedroom setting, and despite being reworked in such a short time, the film has been well received and was selected for the New Mavericks program of the film festival.

The Grey Area is really a story of women communicating in one space and loving on each other,” said executive producer Tempest Rogue. The major battles waged in this film are internal as young woman struggle to come to terms with their emotions. Ebony, who wrote the script, said that “you’re an adult and you’re supposed to get over things,” an experience to which she could personally relate and which she chose to explore in the movie. The film asks, an adult woman, how long is reasonable to maintain feelings after a relationship has ended?

“We hit on subjects that happen to people every day in daily life,” Tempest said, “and I like that.” This is not the only film that The House of June has produced which touches upon a relatable daily life problem, and it’s clear this theme carries throughout the mission of the group overall. “It’s an obligation to tell our stories because they are not told enough,” said Ebony, indicating that featuring not just women of color but also men of color in a variety of genres and contexts is important to the group. “There are not enough stories to show us in varied atmospheres,” she said.

“I think our films by default are stories about women,” said Amber, “that’s where we are right now.” Though they aren’t making any promises as to whether or not this theme will continue on in future films, the three are committed to continue making films together. In short, “we like making films,” she said.

I asked the trio if they thought that their personal friendships had an impact on the outcome of the film. “Absolutely,” replied Amber, “as it would with any film group outside of one director… I feel like how we interact with each other ultimately affects how the final product works out.” A common theme between The Grey Area and the group’s professional relationship is their ability to collaborate while also keeping one another in line.

“Your girls hold a mirror up to your face,” Tempest told me. The group considers the ability to assess the emotional state of their friends, and knowing when to “call each other on the bullshit” to be an important part of a healthy social life. While they acknowledge that it’s okay to have emotional responses to the challenges they face, it’s good to be honest with one another. Sometimes a reaction might be a bit too much, and “your friends are like, well girl maybe you shouldn’t respond that way,” said Amber. Equally important, however, are the concessions that friends make for one another. At times it’s best to rally in support despite personal misgivings, “she’s right girl, let her have it y’all,” Tempest explained.

The three friends work together under the umbrella of the indie filmhouse House of June, “they’re stuck with me and I’m stuck with them,” said Ebony, laughing. Though apart undoubtedly the three would continue working on films, the collaborative atmosphere that they have cultivated has proved to be a fruitful one. “We do certain skilled things that make House of June what it is,” Tempest told me. Just like in The Grey Area, the three keep one another in line and on task. “When someone falls short, the other people are there to check you,” said Amber.

In the process of filming, which can be very unpredictable but can also be magical, the three hit a good stride working together. “You can tell that we’re all getting along because we got that Cinderella dance, that sweep you off your feet kind of thing,” Tempest said, “that definitely happens.”

The House of June has put out three short films including The Grey Area, and they are currently wrapping up a web series called The Shrink in B6, a series that features a young woman who becomes an informal Craigslist counselor after dropping out of college. Here again the plot is influenced by Ebony’s personal experiences, calling upon her personal history and social life to bring her characters to life. The Grey Area is set to make a few festival rounds this year, including the Charlotte Film Festival, after which the team will focus their energy on their first feature length film, Fried Ice Cream. “The summer is ours,” Tempest said, beaming.

To learn more about The Grey Area, the House of June production team, and to see sneak peeks of their upcoming projects, check out their facebook, twitter, and website.


Brantly Jackson Watts

New Maverick: Brantly Jackson Watts

Brantly Jackson Watts

Brantly Jackson Watts, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015.

Recently, I met local producer and creative Brantly Jackson Watts. Brantly served as moderator during the all-female panel, Filminism, for the Creative Conference of the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival. The event took place in Little 5 Points at the 7 Stages theater on Friday, March 27th. Surprisingly, the audience at the event was quite gender diverse- in fact about 50/50 female and male, “I was pleasantly surprised,” she said.
Brantly told me of her past experiences with the festival, when she showed her film AKA Blondie back in 2012. The production had taken 3 years and had required that she and her husband be immersed and involved with the Atlanta icon Blondie, or Anita Rae Strange, a dancer at the infamous Clermont Lounge on Ponce. The film sold out two screenings and received a standing ovation, making a lasting impression upon Brantly. “I’m not sure that I will ever personally experience another premiere of that magnitude,” she said. “It was amazing.”
Brantly is a local Atlanta writer, producer and marketing professional. Her project, the Homespun Series, has received nationwide attention by showcasing local filmmakers and hearkening back to what makes Atlanta such an amazing scene for film professionals. Brantly has always been interested in “the ideologies found in the different feminist movements.” She has experienced and observed some of the differences between the reception of women as opposed to men in the film industry. “As a female filmmaker, I have definitely experienced challenges that face women,” she told me, noting her education in feminist studies as an influence on her approach to the topic.
“I think many people are scared of the word ‘feminist,’ however many people who delve into the movement learn that they were already a feminist and didn’t know it,” Brantly said. The discussion was lively and encouraging, breeding connections, community support, and a thoughtful approach to a somewhat sensitive topic. “My hope for the New Mavericks program and for the Filminism panel, is that more women in Atlanta will have the confidence to create their own work, using their own unique voice,” she explained.
“When the Atlanta Film Festival approached me about moderating an all female panel during the creative conference, I immediately accepted,” Brantly said of Filminism. The event was a panel discussion during this year’s Creative Conference, and set out to start an open dialogue about facilitating the changes that need to occur for women in the film industry to network and encourage about the struggles they face in the current market.
Beyond the panel, Brantly has also gotten involved with the New Mavericks program on a more permanent basis. The program was born when she got together with local filmmakers Jen West, Lane Skye, and Robyn Hicks to discuss the Atlanta film community. The motive behind this undertaking was to enable and encourage their peers, “specifically, how could we support women in the local community to achieve a strong voice in the industry,” she explained.
Despite the newness of this program, Brantly remains confident in the importance of its cause. “Through planned screenings, programs and events New Mavericks will highlight women involved in various aspects of the film industry,” she said. This collaboration and effort has resulted in a program bursting with talent and potential. “I am honored to serve as the program’s first Chair,” she said, and indeed I have seen her passion and commitment to this program through our discussions during the festival.
Though the New Mavericks program is still early in development, the team is hoping to garner honest discussion about the topic and to get a feel for the needs of the community. They have a survey which can be found here, and the group plans to customize the program according to Atlanta’s needs. You can also follow New Mavericks on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to hear about upcoming events and to get involved.
Meryem Benm'Barek

New Maverick: Meryem Benm’Barek

Meryem Benm'Barek

Meryem Benm’Barek, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015.

Jennah, a short film by filmmaker Meryem Benm’Barek, explores the struggles of a girl on the cusp of womanhood. The film was shot in Brussels for her thesis project at INSAS (Institut national supérieur des arts du spectacle et des techniques de diffusion), a film school in Belgium.

“The idea of Jennah crossed my mind about questions that come up to women naturally,” Meryem said. The film follows a girl as she reaches, “that that in-between moment” when she transitions from childhood to womanhood. It is in this time that Jennah faces her concept of femininity as shaped by her mother and when faced with an absent father figure. “Jennah is in that age where she is realizing the complexity of what it means to face the world as a young woman,” Meryem told me.

The dynamic of seeking validation with men caused by a lack of a fatherly connection during this pivotal time in a girl’s life is familiar to Meryem, who herself had experienced some challenges in the absence of her own father as a young woman. In Jennah she explores the actions and connections that create lasting change in larger ways when sorting out what exactly it means to be a woman. “I do not pretend to universalize that thought,” Meryem said, “or to generalize it because each life story is different… but having myself grown up in an almost similar pattern I wanted to explore these aspects of a teenager’s life.”

As with any film of similar circumstances, Meryem encountered occasional problems or issues, but the end result was a window into a moment of change in this young woman’s life that has gained significant attention and praise. “I think we always choose to tell the stories that look like us,” Meryem said of her motivation to take on this coming of age story.

“Being on the set is always my favorite part in a movie’s creation,” Meryem told me. It’s when the cameras are on and the team is working together that she feels the most in her element as a filmmaker. Her voice rings the loudest and truest when expressed through cameras, lights, and sound. “I completely feel myself because I am more comfortable with that tools than with words,” she said. The production itself was low-budget, filmed with a crew of loyal and resourceful individuals who were all committed to the final outcome of the project.

On Saturday, March 28, Meryem won an award for Jennah as part of the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival. The film was selected and shown during the New Mavericks shorts block at the Plaza Theater. New Mavericks is a new series of hand-selected films that feature strong female protagonists and are filmed by female directors. Meryem was presented with an award made by R. Land for the festival and was honored during the Awards Brunch at the Highland Ballroom.

“It’s a great experience for me who comes from Europe to have that opportunity to show my work in Atlanta,” Meryem said of the Fest. Participating in the festival offered her an opportunity to show her work to a large international audience and to network with like-minded filmmakers. The New Mavericks program in particular has been a welcoming experience for Meryem, who said “there is no competition here, just people who create and share their own voices with some other artists.”

I asked Meryem what is next for her, and she told me that she is currently working on her first feature length film, set to be shot in France, Morocco and Spain. She described the plot as “a kind of contemporary and very realistic fairy tale, a love story on the road.” Meryem also wants to film a story about a brother and sister based in Morocco, aiming “to show the underground part of that country in order to break some existing prejudices that are often shown about Arabic countries.” Additionally she hopes to work on a project based in America, potentially based in New York City. It’s clear that she is an incredibly motivated and passionate artist, and I doubt we have seen the last of Meryem and her films.

To learn more about Jennah and Meryem, check out twitter and click here to watch the trailer.


New Mavericks: Ana Maria + Luisa

Ana Maria & Luisa

Ana Maria Hermida and Luisa Casas, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015.

The Firefly, or La Luciernaga, is a film written, directed and co-produced by Ana Maria Hermida. The story follows the journey of a woman in mourning who finds comfort in an unlikely ally. Ana Maria and Luisa Casas, co-producer, sat down with me to discuss their film. “I came up with this idea about five years ago after going through a mourning process myself,” Ana Maria told me. She fell into a period of depression after losing her brother with whom she was very close in a tragic car accident in 2007. “It was a very dark time in my life,” she recalled. “I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted.”

Shortly after the accident her late brother’s long-term girlfriend got in touch and the two women connected over their shared sadness. The two began spending a lot of time together and helped one another heal while sharing in the mutual love of Ana Maria’s late brother. Helping his bereaved girlfriend, in her own words, “gave me strength” as Ana Maria processed her feelings. “It really is a fictional piece but it came from something that happened in real life,” she said of the storyline.

The Firefly could be described as a love story, but “it’s kind of a love that goes beyond boundaries, because neither of these women are attracted to women,” said Ana Maria. It’s a story about friendship, often expressed through nonverbal cues and creative use of actions like slurping a coffee that hint at the real experiences of Ana Maria in her personal friendships.

In the film, Ana Maria pulls from folklore and analogies to convey the emotions of the main character, Lucia. “I wanted to play with magic realism, but it’s kind of goth magic realism,” she said, a term that she has invented and feels is applicable to the story. The Firefly plays with classic archetypes expressed through dreams, including that of Catrina, the Mexican representative of death. “She sees herself as this dark being,” Ana Maria said of Lucia, citing this analogy as the reason for the name of the film, “but she reflects light in her dreams, she lights them up.”

The connection between Ana Maria and Luisa was initially forged nearly 15 years ago when Ana Maria first moved to America and shared an English class with Luisa here in Atlanta. Oddly enough, though they were very close as friends, it took many years for them to begin talking about film and working on them together. “We were very close friends,” Luisa said, “but we never talked about film.” It was a fruitful revelation when they realized their shared interests, and thus the collaboration was born.

“I fell in love with the story,” said Luisa of her choice to come on board. In addition to a solid script complete with true-to-life references to female friendships, Ana Maria had also planned to film it in Colombia, the country where both women were born. “Because I am Colombian I feel as a filmmaker I want to show how beautiful and magical it is.” This piqued Luisa’s interest because she is also quite interested in filming in Colombia and is currently working towards at least one additional film set in the area.

“It’s funny because even though Colombia is our country and we thought it will be easier because we are from there, it was just as hard as if we were shooting in Romania,” Luisa laughed, recounting some of the challenges. Though they had a few resources in the areas where they were shooting, being outsiders in their settings sometimes posed a problem logistically.

“I think because we had so much fun we forgot about the problems we had,” Luisa said, because “everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.” Somehow despite the odds they managed to solve each problem they encountered with the help of their crew. “They are helping you, they are part of your film’s success,” Luisa said, making a point of how important it is to treat the crew with respect. “If you don’t care about them, they won’t care about you.”

Sometimes, the inherent differences of working under a female director and producer became apparent and created lasting connections as well. “Being a female producer, we are more nurturing with the crew,” Luisa told me. They found themselves often asking their team “‘how are you doing? are you hungry? what do you need?'” The attention to the crew’s well-being paid off, and together they overcame the challenges that they faced during filming. “We always found a solution because the crew loved us. We always treat our crew with respect,” Luisa said with conviction.

“It’s important for us to have fun on set,” Ana Maria told me. “As a director I try to make my set fun and free spirited and open for inspiration.” It’s the time when she feels the most herself and the most relaxed, but is also unfortunately often the shortest part of the process. Although admittedly challenging at times, and complete with long hours and arduous work, working on this production was rewarding for them. “We were tired, but it was so awesome,” Ana Maria said. “We had difficulties but I don’t even remember because we had so much fun.”

Both Ana Maria and Luisa have a variety of projects currently in the works, and the two plan to work together again in the future. To learn more about The Firefly, follow them on Twitter.