Atlanta Film Festival

The Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF) is a long-running, international film festival held in Atlanta, Georgia operated by the Atlanta Film Society, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Started in 1976 and occurring every spring, the festival shows a diverse range of independent films, with special attention paid to women-directed films, LGBTQ films, Latin American films, Black films and films from the American Southeast. ATLFF is one of only a handful of festivals that are Academy Award-qualifying in all three short film categories.[1]

Atlanta Film Festival
Atlanta Film Festival Logo.png
First Night of the 2019 Atlanta Film Festival at The Plaza Theatre
First Night of the 2019 Atlanta Film Festival at The Plaza Theatre
LocationAtlanta, Georgia, United States
PredecessorAtlanta International Film Festival
Produced byAtlanta Film Society
No. of films150-250



In 1968, the Atlanta International Film Festival was launched, becoming Atlanta's first major film event. It operated until 1974 when the organizers were no longer able to finance the operation. Two years later, a group of independent filmmakers and artists established Independent Media Artists of Georgia, Etc. (IMAGE) as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1976. The IMAGE Film & Video Center opened that year as the first media arts center in the state of Georgia, providing much-needed equipment access, networking, information dissemination, and support to local filmmakers. A year later, the inaugural Atlanta Independent Film & Video Festival launched on May 14, 1977 at the Piedmont Park Bathhouse.

Name ChangesEdit

In 1984, the organization truncated the name of the festival to the Atlanta Film and Video Festival, and again in 2002, to the Atlanta Film Festival. In 2015, the parent organization became known as the Atlanta Film Society.[2]

Effects of the COVID-19 pandemicEdit

In March 2020, ATLFF made the decision to postpone the 44th edition due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The original dates of April 30-May 10 were rescheduled to September 17–27.[3] This will mark the first time in the organization's history that the event will take place beyond the spring or early summer months.

Academy Award QualificationEdit

For decades, ATLFF has been an Academy Award-qualifying event for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film and the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. After AMPAS changed the rules for the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) qualification, ATLFF became Oscar-qualifying in all three short film categories in 2015. The winners of the Best Narrative Short Film, Best Animated Short Film and Best Documentary Short Film Jury Prizes go on to be eligible for the respective shortlists for their Oscar categories. Ray McKinnon's The Accountant won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2002 after qualifying at the 2001 Atlanta Film Festival.

IMAGE Film Awards GalaEdit

On June 7, 2001, the organization launched the annual IMAGE Film Awards Gala as a separate event attached to the annual film festival. Recognizing individuals and organizations who have made outstanding contributions to building the state's film industry and community, the awards were named in honor of the organization's founding name. Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies hosted the first reception where founding IMAGE Executive Director Gayla Jamison, Georgia Governor Zell Miller, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Gary Moss, and Crawford Communications were the inaugural honorees.

The IMAGE Film Awards Gala continued for eight years until 2008, when the Atlanta Film Society paused the program for over a decade. It returned again on April 3, 2019 at the Fox Theatre's Egyptian Ballroom attached to the 43rd annual ATLFF, where Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, Actor/Musician/Producer Tip "T.I." Harris, Director Corporate Responsibility & Civic Affairs at Turner Broadcasting and Georgia Representative Betsy Holland, and "The Walking Dead" Executive Producer Tom Luse were honored.

Other IMAGE Film Award recipients include Dallas Austin, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, the Georgia Film Office, Diane Ladd, Spike Lee, Will Packer, Parker Posey, Burt Reynolds, Michael Stipe, Tyler Perry Studios, and Cicely Tyson.[4]

Notable discoveriesEdit

Spike Lee may be considered ATLFF's first great filmmaker discovery. Lee made his first film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn, while a mass communications student at Morehouse College with the encouragement of his mentor, Dr. Herb Eichelberger, a co-founder of the Atlanta Film Society (then known as IMAGE). The festival was the first to screen the film, where it won a jury prize of $25. After winning the jury prize, Lee decided to pursue a career as a filmmaker. ATLFF also screened Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, which won Lee a 1983 Student Academy Award. He was honored in 2005 with the inaugural Ossie Davis Award, in 2009 with a 20th-anniversary screening of Do The Right Thing, and in 2019 with the Originator Award.[5]

When ATLFF revived its annual Screenplay Competition in 2008, Athens-native James Ponsoldt was among the inaugural winners. Ponsoldt later went on to serve as a mentor for the Screenwriter's Retreat (the main prize of the Screenplay Competition) and his film The Spectacular Now was the Closing Night presentation of the 2013 ATLFF.

Stella Meghie's debut feature Jean of the Joneses won the 2011 ATLFF Screenplay Competition and went on to be the first winning screenplay to be produced and play the festival. The film premiered at the 2016 South by Southwest Film Festival and then played ATLFF, with Meghie in attendance alongside stars Sherri Shepherd, Taylour Paige and Erica Ash.

Additionally, ATLFF has played the first works of Heidi Ewing, David Gordon Green, Reinaldo Marcus Green, Tina Mabry, Ray McKinnon, Victor Nuñez, Robert Rodriguez, RuPaul, David O. Russell and more.


Over the years, the festival's primary venues have included theaters such as Piedmont Park, High Museum of Art, Fox Theatre, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, Atlantic Station Regal Cinemas, 7 Stages Theatre in Little Five Points and The Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University. In 2013, ATLFF moved its principle screening operations to The Plaza Theatre in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood.


2007 Atlanta Film Festival

In 2007, the festival partnered with the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema to centrally locate the festival to Midtown, dubbed the "Heart of Atlanta’s Arts" and home to a wide array of restaurants, bars and shops. The change allowed the festival more opportunities for panels, screenplay readings, film discussions and after-parties.

Highlands and Little Five PointsEdit

After 6 years centered at Landmark, the festival moved its home base to Atlanta's oldest continually operating cinema, The Plaza Theatre on Ponce de Leon Avenue, and added 7 Stages Theatre as a secondary venue. Taking advantage of the Poncey-Highland and Little 5 Points areas, the change pushed the event to be more of a walkable festival. The move was praised by locals and introduced out-of-town guests to Atlanta's unique neighborhoods. In the years since, ATLFF has reactivated the historic Hilan Theatre on North Highland Avenue in Virginia-Highland and incorporated several local landmarks as venues, such as The Highland Inn & Ballroom, The Church at Ponce & Highland, Ponce City Market, The Hotel Clermont and Dad's Garage Theatre Company.


Robert Rodriguez at the 1993 Atlanta Film Festival with El Mariachi

On Average, ATLFF programs between 150 and 250 films from approximately 50 countries each year. For the 2020 Film Festival, ATLFF received 8,559 works submitted for consideration.[6] On average, 85-95% of each year's film program comes from submissions, which special tracks designated for women filmmakers (New Mavericks), Black filmmakers, LGBTQ content (Pink Peach), Latin American content and Georgia-tied content.

ATLFF Screenplay Competition and Screenwriter's RetreatEdit

Since 2008, ATLFF has hosted an annual Screenplay Competition that attracts over 1,300 submissions each year. Three feature film screenwriter winners attend a 3-day Screenwriter's Retreat at Serenbe where professional mentors help them workshop their scripts and get ready for the next stages of production. Winning screenplays also are featured at the festival in a staged table read. Additional prizes are also offered to winning episodic and short film scripts.[7]

Out on Film and Pink PeachEdit

For years the Atlanta Film Festival organization produced Atlanta's Out on Film gay film festival. In the Fall of 2008 the Atlanta Film Festival gave Out on Film to the LGBTQ community. Out on Film became an independent, 501(c)(3) gay/lesbian operation. Since 2008, the festival has included the Pink Peach track, highlighting LGBTQ films and filmmakers.

From 2008 to 2015, there was a Pink Peach Jury Award annually given to a feature film. Since 2016, LGBTQ films in competition are considered for the general jury prizes.

Year Pink Peach Jury Award-winner
2008 XXY
2009 Training Rules
2010 8: The Mormon Proposition
2011 Bear Nation
2012 Cloudburst
2013 God Loves Uganda
2014 Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo
2015 Before the Last Curtain Falls

New MavericksEdit

In 2013, the festival featured a shorts block titled New Mavericks, featuring films by female filmmakers with strong female leads. This began an annual tradition and in 2015, the New Mavericks program was expanded to include feature films and an annual New Mavericks prize.


In 2012, the festival partnered with the Goat Farm Arts Center and indieATL to introduce a special, mostly-outdoor event featuring music videos, art installations and live musical performances called SOUND+VISION. The evening is an example of the types of elements film festivals continue to add as they look to redefine themselves, connect with audiences and innovate. An estimated 1,200 people attended in its inaugural year, dropping to just under 800 in 2013, due to inclimate weather. In 2014, the event drew over 1,500 attendees, and eclipsed 3,000 attendees in 2015. In 2016, the event moved to Ponce City Market and again to 787 Windsor in 2017. After a year break, SOUND+VISION returned and took place on the BeltLine and in Historic Fourth Ward Park in 2019.

Individual Award RecipientsEdit

Southeastern Media Award

Ossie Davis Award

Filmmaker-to-Watch Award

  • Sean Bloch (2006)
  • Julien Paolini (2013)
  • Moon Molson (2014)
  • Ian Samuels (2015)
  • Thoranna Sigurdardottir (2016)
  • Malcolm Washington (2017)
  • Connor Simpson (2018)
  • Kalu Oji (2019)

New Mavericks Award

Innovator Award

Phoenix Award

Rebel Award

Originator Award

Notable films that have played the festivalEdit

Year Films
1983 Chicken Ranch
1993 El Mariachi
2002 West 47th Street
2004 Primer, Control Room, Born into Brothels, Baadasssss!, Bomb the System, Zatōichi, Dirty Work, Dear Pillow
2005 Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, The Puffy Chair, Emmanuel's Gift, The Boys of Baraka, Hustle & Flow, Me and You and Everyone We Know
2006 Quinceanera, Who Killed the Electric Car?, Factotum, The Other Side
2007 The Signal, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Kamp Katrina, Blood Car, Great World of Sound, Fay Grim, The Last Days of Left Eye, King of Kong, Murder Party, Away From Her, Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life, Killer of Sheep, La Vie En Rose, War/Dance
2008 The Lena Baker Story, Dance of the Dead, Make-out with Violence, Mongol, American Teen, At the Death House Door, The Visitor, Land of Confusion, Nerdcore Rising, My Effortless Brilliance, The Cake Eaters, XXY
2009 (500) Days of Summer, The People Speak, Rudo y Cursi, That Evening Sun, Tyson, Moon, Beeswax, Alexander the Last, Art & Copy, Mississippi Damned, Neshoba, Idiots & Angels, Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death, Naturally Obsessed
2010 Winter's Bone, The Square, 8: The Mormon Proposition, Racing Dreams, Horn Dog, Pigeon: Impossible, I Am Comic, Family Affair, 9500 Liberty, Cropsey, Putty Hill, American Jihadist, Yellowbrickroad, Handsome Harry, Freedom Riders, Godspeed, Wheedle's Groove
2011 Terri, Sahkanaga, The First Grader, White Irish Drinkers, Incendies, Young Goethe in Love, Hot Coffee, The Start of Dreams
2012 L!fe Happens, The Cabin in the Woods, Americano, Boy, The Woman in the Fifth, Take Me Home, AKA Blondie, John Portman: A Life of Building, V/H/S, My Last Day Without You, OK, Good, That's What She Said, Monsieur Lazhar, Marley
2013 Mud, The Spectacular Now, I Used to Be Darker, Concussion, God Loves Uganda, A River Changes Course, Interior. Leather Bar., Blood Brother, Good Ol' Freda, White Reindeer, Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp, A Teacher, Blood Brother, Between Us, Our Nixon
2014 Obvious Child, Locke, Joe, The Double, The Congress, The Raid 2, The Sacrament, Limo Ride, Mayan Blue
2015 I Am Michael, Sunshine Superman, Krisha, While We're Young
2016 The Fundamentals of Caring, Jean of the Joneses, Morris From America, The Fits, Miles Ahead, Driving with Selvi
2017 Menashe, Dave Made a Maze, The Zookeeper's Wife, The Lost City of Z, The Hero, Whose Streets?
2018 Eighth Grade, Blindspotting, American Animals, Hearts Beat Loud, Lean on Pete, Leave No Trace, A Prayer Before Dawn, Summer '03, Tully, You Were Never Really Here
2019 The Farewell, Them That Follow, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Greener Grass, Teen Spirit, In Fabric, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Feature Film Award-WinnersEdit

Year Narrative Feature Documentary Feature Audience Award Feature
1999 The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez-Gomez American Gypsy: A Stranger in Everybody's Land A Luv Tale
2000 Good Housekeeping Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends But the Mountains
2001 Hybrid Confederacy Theory,
T-shirt Travels
The Journey,
2002 My Father, the Genius That's My Face Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew
2003 Zero Day A Certain Kind of Death,
2004 Dear Pillow Dirty Work
2005 Most High The Boys of Baraka
2006 Pope Dreams What Remains Loving Annabelle
2007 Great World of Sound Protagonist Darius Goes West
2008 Make-out with Violence At the Death House Door Young@Heart
2009 That Evening Sun The Way We Get By Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride,
Living is Winning
2010 Putty Hill Family Affair
2011 Prairie Love An African Election Disabled but Able to Rock,
2012 Welcome to Pine Hill Code 2600
2013 I Used to Be Darker A River Changes Course Blood Brother
2014 I Believe in Unicorns Getting to the Nutcracker Little Ballers
2015 God Bless the Child Stray Dog Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi
2016 Hunky Dory Driving with Selvi The Founders
2017 Cortez Rat Film Holden On
2018 Restos De Viento (Wind Traces) Man Made Maynard
2019 Greener Grass The Fourth Kingdom (El Cuarto Reino) The Farewell

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The 2019 Atlanta Film Festival is Almost Here". FanBolt.
  2. ^ "Atlanta Film Society History".
  3. ^ "Atlanta Film Festival + Creative Conference Reveals New Dates and Official Selections for 2020 Event".
  4. ^ "2019 IMAGE Film Awards Gala".
  5. ^ "Film in brief: Spike Lee wins, Bill Duke signs, plus a head's up [sic] on Buried Alive fest". Arts ATL.
  6. ^ "Atlanta Film Festival Announces First Wave of Films from 2020 Lineup".
  7. ^ "Screenplay Submissions FAQ — Atlanta Film Festival".

External linksEdit