James Franco cancels appearance at Atlanta Film Festival opener

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"I Am Michael" will be the opening night film of the Atlanta Film Festival on March 20, with star James Franco scheduled to attend.
"I Am Michael" will be the opening night film of the Atlanta Film Festival on March 20, with star James Franco scheduled to attend.

“I Am Michael” will be the opening night film of the Atlanta Film Festival on March 20, with star James Franco scheduled to attend. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRISTOPHER BLAUVELT

UPDATED March 20: James Franco will no longer attend the sold-out Atlanta Film Festival screening of his film “I Am Michael” due to scheduling, according to a publicist. Franco, who is in Georgia filming “In Dubious Battle” with Robert Duvall, was also scheduled to attend an after party following the screening. There is a possibility Franco will attend a 9:45 p.m. March 25 screening of the film “The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards,” which he produced, at the Rialto. Return for more updates.

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For 39 years, the Atlanta Film Festival has showcased narrative features, documentaries and shorts made independent of the Hollywood studio mainstream. But star wattage never hurts when it comes to building excitement for the indie film extravaganza.

So for this year’s edition, March 20-29, the festival has reeled in one of the indie movement’s biggest names, James Franco.

“I Am Michael,” starring Franco as a gay journalist-activist who goes straight on his way to becoming a pastor, has snagged the prestigious opening night slot. And the festival has announced that the Oscar-nominated actor (for “127 Hours”) will appear at the 7:30 March 20 screening at the Plaza Theatre.

Best known as the star of “Pineapple Express” and “The Interview,” the uber-prolific Franco is a large presence on the indie scene. So much so that Sundance Film Festival director of programming Trevor Groth joked to Entertainment Weekly about the ubiquitous actor’s January appearance there, “The fact that he was in about 73 films that were submitted — statistically, he had a pretty good shot.”

“I Am Michael,” with Zachary Quinto as the male love interest of Franco’s based-on-real-life character, and Emma Roberts as his female one, played to somewhat mixed notices at Sundance.

Variety’s review called it “a remarkably even-handed account of outspoken gay-rights journalist Michael Glatze’s 180-degree identity reversal … Justin Kelly’s hot-potato directorial debut won’t be seen by many beyond the arthouse and festival circuit, but it will nevertheless rile viewers and provoke discussion on all sides, simply because it cuts to the heart of the self-doubt, fear and prejudice associated with modern homosexuality.”

"Sunshine Superman" will be the Atlanta Film Festival's closing night film on March 28. CONTRIBUTED BY MAGNOLIA PICTURES

“Sunshine Superman” will be the Atlanta Film Festival’s closing night film on March 28. CONTRIBUTED BY MAGNOLIA PICTURES

Hollywood Reporter said the film “has an intriguing, real-life premise and a marketable cast” but called the release “workmanlike.”

In any case, it seems a provocative opening night choice in a city where the gay and religious communities both stand strong.

Presenting more than 150 features and shorts, representing some 40 countries, over 10 days,  the Atlanta Film Festival also has announced its closing night feature: “Sunshine Superman,” about Carl Boenish, considered the father of BASE jumping (skydiving from buildings or cliffs). The documentary’s director, Marah Strauch, will attend the 7 p.m. March 28 showing at the Plaza.

As a bonus capper, the festival also has announced a preview of the season five debut episode of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” at 7:30 p.m. March 29 at the Fox Theatre (free but RSVP required).

Other highlights include Noah Baumbach’s marriage comedy “While We’re Young,” starring Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts; and the Brian Wilson bio-pic “Love & Mercy,” with both John Cusack and Paul Dano playing the Beach Boy.

Films of local interest include “Dante’s Down the Hatch,” about the closing of the Buckhead restaurant after more than four decades, and “Old South,” about what happens when a fraternity known to fly a Confederate flag moves into a historically black Athens neighborhood.

For descriptions of all the Atlanta Film Festival titles, see artsculture.blog.ajc.com. Tickets and more info: www.atlantafilmfestival.com.


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