Chloe Cook, the executive director of the Sidewalk Film Festival, works tirelessly all year long to create an event that surpasses even the most intricate weddings, in terms of coordination and execution. Now in its 18th year, the Sidewalk Film Festival features countless films and live musical performances, numerous parties, panels and more. Chloe has made a huge impact, growing the festival, building local independent film audiences, supporting local filmmaking and contributing to the cultural fabric of the Magic City — and the rest of world has taken notice. For the second year in a row, Moviemaker magazine named the Sidewalk Film Festival among the “The Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World.” We are delighted to welcome today’s FACE of Birmingham, Chloe Cook!
In its 18th year, the Sidewalk Film Festival has grown enormously. Describe the multifaceted offerings of the festival and what it aims to accomplish.
This year, we’ll screen over 250 films in 10 venues within the historic Theatre District. In addition, we’ll host 10 free panels and workshops, over 15 bands and musical performances, and eight parties and receptions — not to mention a food truck rally and street market — in just three short days.
What is your background? Did you originally pursue the film world?
I studied communication and worked in marketing and public relations before coming to the Sidewalk Film Festival non-profit. I have no film background. In fact, when my friend and mentor, Gail Vaughan, suggested that I apply for the Sidewalk job, I laughed out loud at the thought, never imagining the organization would want someone whose only experience with film was as an audience member.
How long have you been in this role?
I’ve served as the executive director since 2009. This will be my eighth festival.
Describe your role as executive director of the Sidewalk Film Festival.
It is my job to ensure that everything our organization does is in the service of our mission of encouraging filmmaking in Alabama, and building audiences for independent film.
Describe your typical day.
There are no typical days at a small arts non-profit with only two full-time employees. On any given day, I might write a grant, sell a sponsorship, manage a staff meeting, take out the recycling and talk to a publicist. No two days are the same and that’s part of what I love about my job.
What is most challenging about your job?
As is the case in many non-profit organizations, I answer to lots of different groups of people — board members, staff, volunteers, filmmakers, audiences, sponsors and donors — and those distinct groups all have their own interests and those interests don’t always align. So, navigating those divergent needs and making sure everyone is getting what they need can be a challenge, at times.
What is most rewarding?
I get to work with an incredible team of people — people representing so many different facets of the community — to create an event that is of cultural significance for our city and shines a positive light on the place that I call home. And it’s rewarding when all of our team’s hard work pays off. For instance, last year, Moviemaker magazine named Sidewalk Film Fest one of the “Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World” for the second year in a row.
How many films do you watch in a year?
I watch a lot of movies but probably not as many as people imagine. My role as executive director is intentionally removed from the film selection process, so I often start watching films after our creative director, Rachel Morgan, and the programming team have made their selections for the festival. I feel it’s important for me to be very familiar with the programming so that I can speak knowledgeably about the films, make recommendations, think through marketing strategies and monitor how our audience responds to each title. On average, I probably watch 200 films per year for work and pleasure.
Shifting gears, how do you like to spend your free time?
Who told you I have free time? I kid, I kid! When I’m not working, I’m watching movies with my 9-year-old daughter, Clea, reading, working in my yard, baking or organizing something — which is very relaxing for me.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
I would say, “Don’t be so afraid of making mistakes. That fear will keep you from trying all the things you want to try and from being the person you want to be.”
Favorite local spot, be it a hidden gem or a hot restaurant?
I recently moved to Glen Iris and discovered Guiseppe’s Café — delicious pizza, tiny dining room, locally owned and walking distance from my house.
What is your favorite thing about Birmingham?
I love that Birmingham offers great “big city” amenities like an incredible food scene. And we’ve got world-class cultural offerings like the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, the Alabama Ballet, the Birmingham Museum of Art and Sidewalk Film Festival, of course. But there is also a great small-town vibe. If you want to make an impact on the community, you absolutely can. It’s easy to get plugged in and find your tribe.
Any guilty pleasures?
Too many to list! So I’ll share a sampling: French fries (the ones at Carrigan’s are to die for), “Felicity” (the ‘90s TV show), magazines (title and subject matter are almost irrelevant), Diet Dr. Pepper and pop music.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Once, when contemplating a big decision, my mom said, “If you are waiting for the perfect time, you’ll spend your entire life waiting instead of doing,” and I’ve reminded myself of her words many, many times when I’ve been frozen by “analysis paralysis.”
Besides faith, family and friends, name three things you cannot live without.
Reading material, sunscreen and black-and-white stripes — a fashion obsession of mine since high school.
Thank you, Chloe! Learn more about the fruits of Chloe’s labor and purchase tickets to the Sidewalk Film Festival at sidewalkfest.com.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the fabulous photos of Chloe in her office and outside in the historic Theatre District, the site of the 18th Annual Sidewalk Film Festival.