10 must-see movies at the 42nd Atlanta Film Festival

From low-budget movies made on this city’s streets to features from all corners of the world, the Atlanta Film Festival showcases the many varieties of cinematic expression.

Running from April 13-22, the 42nd festival screens more than 150 documentary and narrative feature and short films, drawing from more than 7,600 submissions.

Highlights include “RBG,” “Maynard” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” — biographical documentaries of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and Mr. Rogers, respectively — as well as the features singled out below.

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RELATED: More about the documentary “Maynard”

“Blindspotting.” The opening night feature stars Daveed Diggs of “Hamilton” fame as an ex-con facing obstacles in his attempt to go straight. Director Carlos Lopez Estrada helms an intimate drama against the backdrop of rapidly gentrifying Oakland and the Bay Area. Diggs and co-star/co-writer Rafael Casal are scheduled to attend, with Diggs receiving the inaugural ATLFF Innovator Award “for originators, innovators and rebels in the film industry.” (7 p.m. April 13, Plaza Theatre)

“Lean on Pete.” A teenage boy (Charlie Plummer) with a difficult home life bonds with an aging racehorse named Lean on Pete in this contemporary tearjerker directed by Andrew Haigh. Photographed against spectacular Western landscapes, the film co-stars Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny as the horse’s owner and jockey, respectively. (7:15 p.m. April 14, Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center)

“Mermaids.” Ali Weinstein’s documentary dives into the subculture of “professional and recreational mermaids” — women (mostly) whose amphibious cosplay gives them personal fulfillment and connection to the mythological beings. The documentary spends a lot of time at Weeki Wachee Springs, site of Florida’s famed underwater shows, but leaves out some potentially interesting details. (How did the springs’ mermaid shtick evolve? Is it hard to swim in a custom-made fish tail?) Weinstein wisely focuses on some fascinating personalities, including a woman whose mermaid pastime is part of her transition from being a man as well as a mother-daughter pair mourning a deceased family member. “Mermaids” is languid but likable. It screens with the animated short “Pink Dolphin.” (5 p.m. April 15, Plaza Theatre)

“Jurassic Park.” Director Steven Spielberg places a T. rex in a virtual reality race in his new film “Ready Player One,” a likely homage to his blockbuster sci-fi adventure from 1993. This 25th anniversary screening of the original “Jurassic Park,” set at an ill-fated dinosaur-themed amusement park, is appropriately held amid the real fossils of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. (6:30 p.m. April 15, Fernbank Museum of Natural History)

“Tully.” Charlize Theron reunites with the “Young Adult” team of director Jason Reitman and Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody in this bittersweet comedy about the friendship between an exhausted mother of three (Theron) and her new night nanny Tully (“Halt and Catch Fire’s” Mackenzie Davis). (7:15 p.m. April 15, Plaza Theatre)

“Peaches.” “Somewhere in the Caribbean, in a future that never was,” announces this romantic comedy with a time-travel hook. Diego (Peter Vives) tries to rekindle his romance by bringing his longtime girlfriend (María Guinea) to their favorite vacation spot. When his plans go awry, his attempts to fix things using a glitchy time machine create further complications. Like the cult film “Primer,” this feature from the Dominican Republic carefully maps out the complexities of time travel, but plays instead as a raunchy relationship comedy. “Peaches”’ highlights involve its “retrofuturistic” technology, where appliances and other gizmos have 21st-century capabilities but look to have been made in the early 1970s. The film’s “commercial breaks” alternate between clever and obvious. (7:45 p.m. April 17, Dad’s Garage Theatre)

“Eighth Grade.” The festival’s closing night film offers a coming-of-age comedy-drama as young Kayla (Elsie Fisher) struggles to finish her final week of middle school. “Eighth Grade” offers the screenwriting/directing debut of Bo Burnham, who launched his comedy career on YouTube, and is distributed by A24, the acclaimed independent film company behind such Oscar winners as “Room” and “Moonlight.” (7:30 p.m. April 21, Plaza Theatre)

“Leave No Trace.” Eight years after the Oscar-nominated “Winter’s Bone” made a breakthrough star of actress Jennifer Lawrence, writer-director Debra Granik returns with another intense drama. After years living off the grid in the Pacific Northwest, a father and his teenage daughter (Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie) are put into social services, then escape and make a fraught journey back to their home. (9:45 p.m. April 21, Plaza Theatre)

“Still.” The Appalachian Mountains provide the backdrop of this quiet drama about a young hiker with a serious illness (Madeline Brewer) and the mysterious couple she meets in the remote wilderness. English actor Nick Blood (“Agents of SHIELD”) effectively plays a smoldering Southern moonshiner, although the more complex dynamic plays out between Brewer and Lydia Wilson as his wife. Writer/director Takashi Doscher establishes himself as a talent worth watching as he crafts an accomplished, surprising tale that suggests “Rectify” showrunner Ray McKinnon tackling a twisty premise worthy of “Lost” in its heyday. (2:45 p.m. April 21, Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center)

“306 Hollywood.” Sibling documentarians Elan and Jonathan Bogarin provide a quirky, loving portrait of their deceased grandmother Annette and her New Jersey home at 306 Hollywood Ave. In interviews from ages 83-93, Annette comes across as earthy, instantly familiar and a bit ordinary, but the filmmakers take an archaeological approach to her life, home and possessions before putting the house for sale. Interviews with archivists, funeral directors, librarians and a fashion conservator offer fascinating perspectives on literally the artifacts of human lives. At times, the documentary is too twee by half, with meticulous but cutesy framing of its subjects (reminiscent of Wes Anderson), but it nevertheless offers a fresh and thoughtful perspective on what we leave behind. (4:45 p.m. April 22, Plaza Theatre)


Atlanta Film Festival

April 13-22. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta; Woodruff Arts Center, Rich Auditorium, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta; Dad’s Garage Theatre, 569 Ezzard St. SE, Atlanta; Fernbank Museum of Natural History, 767 Clifton Road, Atlanta, and other locations. $10 in advance, $12 at the door, for general admission tickets. 470-296-0170, atlantafilmfestival.com.


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