Just a few chilly days into 2010, one side of the Belcourt Theatre's projection booth lay in ruins, and the upstairs floor was strewn with parts, pieces and wires. Hardcore Nashville cinephiles couldn't have gotten a better present for the icy New Year. The clutter meant the theater had finally snagged one of the major missing components in its quest for expansion: a reel-to-reel projection system, one of the few available in Nashville.
It's an upgrade hardly anyone will notice, at least from a technical standpoint. A reel-to-reel system allows a projectionist to switch back and forth between vertically mounted 20-minute film reels, which causes far less wear and tear than the current system: a horizontally oriented "platter" that requires all the reels to be taped together, then cut apart and disassembled.
What people will notice instead is an upgrade in programming. For years, Belcourt film booker Toby Leonard says he has been limited by the fact that many of the rights holders who control older or "repertory" titles won't rent films to theaters with only platter systems. Leonard recalls that when he was trying to book a film noir series in 2008, the lack of a reel-to-reel system scratched off some of the titles he wanted most, such as the great 1949 crime-spree thriller Gun Crazy.
Thanks to a private donation from Scott and Mimi Manzler, the philanthropic cineastes responsible for much of the city's cutting-edge film programming, the historic Hillsboro Village arthouse can now cherry-pick from the best touring film packages available — anything from French and British noir to the movies of Nicholas Ray and Hungarian long-take master Miklós Jancsó. Nashville moviegoers will reap the fruits of the new system for the first time on Feb. 5, when The Belcourt opens a film it couldn't show before: Chantal Akerman's legendary 1975 study in domestic unease Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles — a movie that Belcourt patrons have been petitioning for since the film's well-publicized revival last year.
Wait a second. Wasn't it just a few years ago that pundits predicted the death of revival and arthouse programming? That we'd all hole up at home with our Netflix queues, our Fear on Demand and our Turner Classic Movies, and let the movie theaters die? In truth, Nashville moviegoers have more choices this winter than they've ever had — and in many cases the offerings are not only free but come packaged with extras such as guest speakers and receptions.
Vanderbilt's Sarratt Cinema, a civic treasure that dwindled under the Gordon Gee administration, has revived in a major way with the excellent International Lens series: biweekly screenings of foreign and independent films, shown free and introduced by a Vanderbilt faculty member. It's become a safety net for the (encouragingly fewer) films that slip past The Belcourt and Regal's Green Hills arthouse ghetto, such as Chinese phenom Jia Zhang-ke's 24 City and the prize-winning Romanian comedy California Dreamin'. No less valuable are the monthly screenings of contemporary documentaries sponsored by ITVS and Nashville Public Television at the downtown public library, also free.
Below are just a handful of highlights plucked from the city's various film schedules in the coming winter months, if a couple of hours in a warm dark room sound inviting:
Dillinger is Dead A rediscovered introduction to the films of Italian provocateur Marco Ferreri (La Grande Bouffe, The Last Woman), with Michel Piccoli from Godard's Contempt as a gas-mask manufacturer trapped in a house full of bourgeois clutter and perversity. (Jan. 23-25 at The Belcourt) Garbage Dreams Trash is the subject, not the content, of director Mai Iskander's acclaimed documentary about the indigenous garbage workers of Cairo known as the Zaballeen, whose 150-year-old way of life is being threatened by privatized collection. The 2009 recipient of the Al Gore Reel Current Award at the Nashville Film Festival, the movie screens free and open to the public as part of the monthly ITVS series, accompanied by a reception. (Jan. 23 at the Nashville Public Library, 615 Church St.)
Sundance Film Festival USA: The Extra Man Nashville was one of just 8 cities picked to host this inaugural event sponsored by Sundance, which is dispatching a different film straight from this year's festival to each city with the filmmakers in tow. Anticipation is high for this one: a comedy about a budding playwright and his mentor starring Kevin Kline, Paul Dano, John C. Reilly and Katie Holmes, directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor). It's sold out, but you can always check Craigslist. (Jan. 28 at The Belcourt) Araya When Milestone Films says it has unearthed another gem--their track record includes I Am Cuba, Killer of Sheep and last year's The Exiles--moviegoers' ears perk up. This is the distributor's latest find: director Margot Benacerraf's visually stunning 1959 documentary exploring the salt marshes of Venezuela in glistening black and white. (Jan. 29-Feb. 1 at The Belcourt) Sam Cooke: Legend Vanderbilt writer in residence Peter Guralnick will introduce and discuss this documentary he scripted about the late soul giant, whose life Guralnick chronicled in his book Dream Boogie. (Feb. 10, Sarratt Cinema, Vanderbilt) Experiment in Terror This little-known, atypical 1962 thriller by Pink Panther farceur Blake Edwards is strong, sick stuff, with The Wild Wild West's Ross Martin as a psycho who menaces bank teller Lee Remick and her nubile sister Stefanie Powers. Projected from DVD, free and open to the public, as part of the monthly "Movies at Main" series. (Feb. 26, Nashville Public Library)
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