Starting Monday, for the following week, Nashville will be overrun by junkies, thieves, gangsters, gamblers, kung-fu killers and dysfunctional families. The city should be proud. As the Nashville Film Festival enters its 34th year, it boasts a lineup of films that would have been unthinkable seven years ago, when dwindling crowds and lackluster films left its very survival in doubt. Today, its annual attendance tops 10,000, and for its duration the downstairs lobby of Regal’s Green Hills megaplex is a churning sea of ticketholders, staffers and visiting celebs.
The question now, for both the festival staff and the city, is what to do with that mandate. This year the NFF has a new spring schedule, a new namemarked by the dropping of “independent,” a word that no longer has any useful meaningand an identity still in development. Is it a showcase for the avant-garde and experimental, as it was when Mary Jane Coleman founded it as Sinking Creek in 1969? Is it a tool to help build industry ties between Music City and Hollywood? Is it a booster program for local talent? Above all, is it a festival for audiences who want to see world-class films, or for filmmakers who want to show their work in a relatively casual environment?
At this point, the NFF is essentially all these things. Most remarkable is the unprecedented amount of Nashville-produced work, including two locally generated features (David Abbott’s Charlie’s War and A.W. Vidmer’s Stuey), at least two feature-length documentaries (Thom Oliphant’s Alive From Brushy Mountain and Lawrence Robbin’s Music City Long Shot), and literally dozens of shorts. The makers, an encouragingly diverse bunch, range from underground teen artist Jamin Orrall to Watkins Film School alumnus Kevin Shaw to Vanderbilt screenwriting professor Will Akers. Even Coke Sams’ redoctored Existo returns to welcome the Age of Bush.
Just as encouraging are the films cherry-picked from the agenda-setting Toronto, New York and Sundance festivals. Established world-cinema talents like Alan Rudolph (The Secret Lives of Dentists), Britain’s Ken Loach (Sweet Sixteen) and Japan’s Seijun Suzuki (Pistol Opera) join rising international talents such as South Korean director Hong Sang-soo, whose romantic drama Turning Gate is one of the festival’s unquestioned highlights. Though these films are finishing their run on the festival circuit, they’re still showing months ahead of any Nashville playdateassuming they get one. Add a strong roster of documentaries, revival screenings, shorts and animated films, along with industry panels addressing topics from screenwriting to music supervision, and the NFF seems comfortably poised to satisfy cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike.
For the Scene’s annual Nashville Film Festival guide, we cut right to the chasewith no-holds-barred capsule reviews of more than 40 films and programming blocks. The reviews will help guide you through scheduling conflicts and the inevitable tough choices that result. To make the process even simpler, we close with a few practical tips. Buy advance tickets, instructions for which can be found at www.nashvillefilmfestival.org. That goes double for surefire sellouts like Stuey, King of Bluegrass, The Secret Lives of Dentists, The Weather Underground and the popular Tennessee Film Night and animation blocks. (Don’t even think about getting into Friday night’s invitation-only Charlie’s War premiere with Oprah Winfrey and Diane Ladd in attendance; its Sunday screenings will also likely sell out in advance.)
Second, ride the buzztalk to as many people as possible in line about what they’ve seen, and act accordingly. Ask questions at the post-film Q&A’s: the better the response, the more likely filmmakers are to return (and spread the word). Line up for popular films at least 20 minutes ahead of time, or you may not get a seat. Check the festival desk in the downstairs Green Hills lobby for added shows, cancellations and other updates. And take a chance on a movie you know nothing about. Oftentimes, those are the ones you’ll remember most.
And now, on with the show.
(Festival blurbs by Donna Bowman, Joan Brasher, Jonathan Flax, Brittney Gilbert, Noel Murray, Rob Nelson, Theodoros Panayides, Jim Ridley and Joshua H. Rothkopf.)
Movies marked with a ♦ are strongly recommended by Scene reviewers.
Monday, April 28
♦ Spellbound (7 p.m.) There’s no “a” in “irresistible,” right? Every year, 9 million schoolkids set out on the local/regional path that leads to the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. Of those, 249 students will make the cut, and in his Oscar-nominated documentary director Jeffrey Blitz follows eight grade-school word warriors to the bitter end. The diverse group shares little more than a torturous study ethic and tirelessly supportive parents, and director Blitz gives us a rooting stake in all their stories, which results in nail-biting tension once the elimination rounds begin. (If you don’t believe me, just wait until the athlete son of Indian parents gets stuck on “Darjeeling.”) Like the great Hands on a Hardbody, this proves there is no more engrossing subject than the everyday obsessions of like-minded Americans. J.R.
Tuesday, April 29
♦ Every Stewardess Goes to Heaven (2 p.m.; also 9:15 p.m. May 2)
In this hypnotic love story by Argentinean director Daniel Burman, Julian (Alfredo Casero), a burly ophthalmologist, takes a flight to the remote Beagle Channel to scatter his wife’s ashes and perhaps commit suicide. He is drawn to Teresa (Spanish beauty Ingrid Rubio), a pregnant flight attendant who is as despairing as he. Over the course of the weekend, the two find their paths continue to cross, and the stark, wintery conditions create a dream-like backdrop for their hesitant romantic sparring. Rubio’s haunting eyes are deeply expressive, and Casero gives a nuanced performance. If this typifies Argentina’s much-heralded new wave of filmmaking (Suddenly, La Cienaga), let’s have more. Not to be missed. In Spanish with English subtitles. J.B.
The Movie Hero (4 p.m.; also 9:15 p.m. May 1) Brad T. Gottfred directed this clever, self-reflexive metamovie about Blake (Six Feet Under’s Jeremy Sisto), who plays leading man to an audience that is invisible to everyone else. Not so much breaking the fourth wall as utterly annihilating it, Blake acts to entertain you, his audience, by taking on the shady Suspicious Character (Fargo’s Peter Stormare) and wooing the hard-to-snag Love Interest (Dina Meyer), all with the help of his smart-ass Sidekick (Brian White). Though the going gets cutesy at times, film fans will appreciate the affectionate kidding of cinematic conventions and a filmmaker’s relationship to his audience. Director Gottfred will attend the screening. B.G.
Nashdocs (4:30 p.m.) One of the festival's most promising omnibus blocks features three locally produced documentaries whose scope extends from Eastern-influenced music to South America. Casey Bull's Sandy Bull: No Deposit, No Return Blues offers a fond portrait of her father, the late guitar virtuoso Sandy Bull, whose genre-blurring music incorporates elements of jazz, folk, blues and ragas. Ben Fundis’ Que Mira? examines a refuge for street children in the cloud forests of Nicaragua. Rounding out the program is award-winning documentarian Tom Neff’s Herb Alpert: Music for Your Eyes, which delves into the Tijuana Brass bandleader’s passion for art and sculpture over his own score. J.R.
Alternative Anime (4:45 p.m.; also 9:30 p.m. May 4) There is a lesser-known experimental wing of Japanese animation marked by the contrast of everyday images with abstract shapes and movements. Sometimes its vague moodiness borders on the frustrating, as with a handful of the shorts in this program, like Okamoto Akio’s colorfully patterned “Snarl-UP!!!,” Kurashige Tetsuji’s disturbingly surreal “U-SA-GI,” and Tanaami Keiichi and Aihara Nobuhiro’s scribble-duel “Scrap Diary.” At other times, though, the precise rhythm and visual imagination of the animators can be illuminating, as with Ito Takashi’s how-to-dramatize-a-suicide meditation “A Silent Day” and Hayashi Yuki’s beautifully melancholic “Landscape Movie,” which animates still photographs into a tone poem about a stalled relationship. N.M.
A Decade Under the Influence (5:15 p.m.) That the year’s second starstruck, clip-laden survey of the ’70s’ New Hollywood is distinguished by sober chats with “Marty” and “Francis” no doubt owes to the insiderdom of Hollywood screenwriter Richard LaGravenese and the late Ted Demme, who share directing credit. (With merely intelligent films about Sturges and Capra on his résumé, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls director Kenneth Bowser could only rope in the likes of Dennis Hopper and Margot Kidder.) Yet it’s telling that LaGravenese still feels the need to reward interviewee Polly Platt with a kissand even more inexplicably, to include the sight of said smooch alongside the end credits of a film that means to salute American cinema at its most uncompromising. R.N.
King of Bluegrass: The Life and Times of Jimmy Martin (7:15 p.m.; also 1 p.m. April 30) A bluegrass legend who played and sang alongside Bill Monroe before blazing his own flatpicking trail, Jimmy Martin is a king-sized subject for a documentary, and his rascally lust for life overflows the conventional boundaries of George Goehl’s juicy portrait. When he isn’t coon hunting or rehashing his long-standing love/hate relationship with the Grand Ole Opry, Martin’s shown ripping into his repertoire (and the occasional heckler) with a showman’s flair no rocker or rapper could touch. Watch and learn, youngsters, watch and learn. Martin, director Goehl and interview subject Tom T. Hall will appear at the screening. J.R.
♦ The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia (9 p.m.; also 2 p.m. April 30) Adams, a fine-art photographer with backwoods roots, poses and shoots large-format black-and-white images of families living in the Kentucky hills. The images are undeniably haunting, even creepy: His ragged subjects face the camera and smile (or scowl, if so directed) while holding props like knives, pipes, and hog innards. Faced with this charged imagery, Canadian documentarian Jennifer Baichwal gets academics, curators and art critics to comment on the ideology behind it. Does it reinforce stereotypes? Exploit its subjects? Widen the divide between the Appalachian families, for whom Adams has obvious affection, and the upper-crust patrons of his exhibits? This top-notch documentary explores the impact and meaning of art in the best way: through a particular and problematic example, thoroughly presented. D.B.
Funny Ha Ha (9:20 p.m.) Writer-director Andrew Bujalski’s debut film aims to capture the awkwardness and humor of post-collegiates who seek relationships but have lost the relaxed atmosphere of late-night cram sessions and student-union hang-outs. About half the scenes peter out, drained by a necessary casualness that leads the amateur cast to ramble and mutter. But lead actress Kate Dollenmayerplaying a woman who was probably the secret crush of all the timid men in her campus social circlesets the right tone, delving deeply into the delusions and anxieties of the young and unattached. Her convincing, natural presence justifies Bujalski’s working methods, making the rest of the movie almost painful in its pinpoint accuracy. N.M.
Music City Long Shot (9:30 p.m.) For Music Row regulars, this slight but enjoyable doc on songwriter Jon Robbin (Chris Cagle’s “I Breathe In, I Breathe Out”) covers a lot of familiar territory, from ASCAP parties to the requisite writing appointments. Director Lawrence Robbin follows his brother’s path from anonymity to No. 1 on the Billboard charts, a route littered with the usual suspects: alcohol, Greyhound bus rides, broken hearts and lots of slammed doors. But the ebullient Californian never loses heart, even in the face of unexpected tragedywhich coincides, of course, with his first hit song. Interviews and jam sessions with such writers as Alex Call and Mark Moffatt enhance this affectionate if tame look at the Nashville hit mill. J.B.
Wednesday, April 30
♦ Doing Time (1 p.m.; also 6:45 p.m. May 3) Prison-movie conventions like shankings and shower rapes say as much about the aggression fantasies of male viewers as they do about life behind bars. This gentle, haunting Japanese film, based on an autobiographical manga by Hanawa Kazuichi, forsakes the garish atrocities of Oz for a different set of prison realities: inconvenience, confinement, dehumanizing repetition and boredom. Yet the movie itself is quietly engrossing, cataloging minute details of meals, tasks and rituals with rapt fascination. If the orderly prison looks like a youth hostel compared to American jailsand if the stoic spatial humor sometimes recalls Bill Forsyth’s comediesdirector Sai Yoichi still conveys the day-to-day misery of peering through slitted windows at a freedom just out of reach. This is the kind of unheralded gem that makes festival-hopping worthwhile. J.R.
Alive (2:45 p.m.; also 10 p.m. May 3) Bluish, hazy sci-fi nonsense from Ryuhei Kitamura, a director who ought to pay Ridley Scott a royalty every time he steps on a set. Some stylish, leather-clad scientists conduct evil experiments on two prisoners who manage to survive the electric chair. What starts as a vaguely compelling psychological chamber piece expands frantically to include blond Japanese witches, human cloning, a parasitic “it” lending the host Matrix-like fighting skills, “Area 51,” baboonsdo you really want me to go on? If the answer is yes, save your enthusiasm for the real thing; it overstays its two-hour running time by about half. J.H.R.
♦ The Same River Twice (3:30 p.m.; also 7:15 p.m. May 2) Robb Moss’ documentary does double duty as cultural studies and a middle-aged lament for the loss of potency, if not of purpose. In a reflective mood, the filmmaker lingers over the 16mm footage he shot in ’78 of him and his friends communing for a monthlong rafting trip down the Coloradoin their birthday suits. Twenty-some years later, Moss’ DV camera finds the former free spirits (now fully clothed) dealing ambivalently with kids, careers and mortgages. Alternated throughout, the film and video images, with their discrete textures, seem to typify the clash between conviction and conveniencea big chill that settles over Moss’ movie like frost. Director Moss will attend the screening. R.N.
100 Mile Rule (4:30 p.m.; also 10 p.m. May 2) On the scale of businessmen-behaving-badly movies, with Glengarry Glen Ross at the top and Very Bad Things at the bottom, Brent Huff’s middling black-comic noir ranks somewhere around The Big Kahuna. Jake Weber is a Midwestern family man attending an out-of-town sales seminar with his co-workers; Maria Bello plays the hotel barkeep who turns his head, setting off a chain of betrayal, blackmail and worse. Weber and crew hail from Detroit, which suits a yarn whose moving parts have been down this assembly line many times before. With Michael McKean, whose effectively smarmy turn as an oft-divorced colleague is the movie’s standout. J.R.
Tennessee Film Night I & II (5 p.m. & 7 p.m.) Two blocks of programming devoted to the work of Tennessee filmmakers. Accompanied by the swell of strings, a young girl tries for a heart-red apple just out of reach in Cody Martin’s pretty, somewhat precious “The Apple Thief.” Juxtaposed is Darrin Dickerson’s fast-cutting “Tattoo Your Brain,” a slick short that employs the distinct influence of music-vid helmer Mark Romanek. Chrisopher K. Cates’ “Bet,” based on a Chekhov short story, explores the self-imposed, 15-year solitary confinement of a man in it for $15 million. Talking heads populate Jason Satterlund’s “The Academy,” a wordy, philosophical short about the most unlikely of theologians, valet parkers. These are overshadowed by Kevin Shaw’s “Jeremiah Strong,” a wrenching, superbly shot portrait of a man with next to nothing who holds on to life with all that he’s got, heartrendingly portrayed by Barry Scott. B.G.
Japon (6:45 p.m.) A visually and aurally resplendent nothing of a moviewhich makes it half worth seeing in my book, maybe more in yours. Shot in gorgeous 16mm CinemaScope and scored to the equally sublime sonic vistas of Arvo Pärt, among others, Carlos Reygadas’ debut is a dazzling but empty one, mainly due to his surprisingly banal city-mouse/country-mouse proposition of a sophisticated painter (Alejandro Ferretis) stopped short of his suicidal death wish by the grandmotherly dignity of an elderly homeowner (Magdalena Flores). There may be something deeper in all this, maybe even something about Japan despite it being set in the Mexican desert. J.H.R.
♦ Hitler’s Hat (7:10 p.m.; also 1 p.m. May 1) Director Jeff Krulik follows up his mullet-filled cult short “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” with a more substantial but equally strange slice of life. Krulik tells the true story of how a Jewish member of the 42nd Rainbow Division 222nd I&R platoon foundand stompedthe top hat of the man responsible for the atrocities the GIs saw in Dachau’s concentration camp. Collectively, the platoon’s veterans testify not just to the savagery of war, but to the importance of a sense of humor in the face of unimaginable horror. Krulik’s film is both compelling and poignant as the men recall the day they flattened the hatas well as the ruinous regimeof the century’s most notorious dictator. Director Krulik will attend. B.G.
♦ The Dance (7 p.m.; also 4:30 p.m. May 1) Renowned painter John Darling Haynes makes his feature-length documentary debut here with an exquisitely edited, heavily stylized account of boxing coach Billy “The Kid” Roth, a legendary figure in the Louisiana prison system for more than 40 years. Most of Roth’s teaching and training goes on behind bars, and while his apparent Christ-like selflessness is left unexamined, each inmate’s account of the man they call “Pops” is more powerful than the last. If nothing else, the film’s gripping gospel and blues soundtrack and its eye-popping cinematography are worth your time. Narrated by country singer Trace Adkins, who will appear at the screening with Roth and Haynes. J.F.
Evenhand (9:10 p.m.; also 1:45 p.m. May 1) As Officer Ted Morning, a swaggering hotshot training his partner in a jerkwater Texas town, Hal Hartley regular Bill Sage is every inch the essence of the jack-booted small-town jackass, down to the ever-present shades, porn-star mustache and jokey bullying that turns dead serious at any perceived dis. As long as Joseph Pierson’s comedy-drama dawdles along with him on his “rounds,” the movie forms an edgily lackadaisical portrait of low-level law enforcement, aided by All the Real Girls cinematographer Tim Orr’s usual feel for sleepy Southern ennui. Then it goes to hell in a violent climax, the default setting for indie films that don’t have an ending. Director Pierson will attend. J.R.
The Politics of Fur (9:15 p.m.; also 1 p.m. May 1) Harsh, dead-tech interiors frame the predictable rise and fall of a lesbian relationship between a yogafied L.A. music agent (Katy Selverstone) and her much younger butch find (Brynn Horrocks). Director Laura Nix knows how to pace a quivering seduction scene but seems to have little to say beyond the usual ain’t-life-a-power-play sing-along. Shouldn’t record-biz types with pet tigers have more of a sense of humor? Selverstone has a chomping-good time crying Petra von Kant’s bitter tearsFassbinder’s masterwork is the clear inspiration here, but in no jeopardy of being flung off the hilltop reserved for masterly meltdowns. Abandoning her home barefooted, at least Selverstone doesn’t run into Anne Heche. Nix and Selverstone will attend the screening. J.H.R.
♦ A Wedding in Ramallah (9:30 p.m.; also 5:30 p.m. May 1) Sherine Salama’s powerful documentary takes an unflinching look at a Palestinian woman’s arranged marriage amidst the harsh realities of life in the West Bank. Filmed over the course of a year starting in July 2000, Salama’s film concerns Bassam, a Palestinian expatriate, who returns to Ramallah from his new home in Cleveland to find a bride. Mariam’s parents negotiate a price for their 25-year-old daughter (an old maid by their standards), and the ceremony takes place just a few days later. For months, as gunfire erupts in the streets outside her window, she waits for her visa papers to arrive and her new life to begin. But when Mariam at last joins her husband in Cleveland, she finds America is not the promised land she expected. Salama’s film is revelatory and heartbreaking. In Arabic with English subtitles. J.B.
♦ Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (Wed. 9 p.m.) Guy Maddin’s ravishing revision of the Stoker, shot on tinted super-8 and 16mm and scored to Mahler, is also the most full-bodied version of the vampire classic to date. (Sorry, Bela.) Like Maddin’s feverish short “The Heart of the World,” this is captured in a retro-silent grammar of iris shots and expressionist decor, hastened along by witty titles that cut right to the psychosexual core (“Others! From Other Lands!”). It’s also a balletadapted and gracefully danced by the Royal Winnipeg companywhich makes wonderful, poetic sense of Lucy’s sleepwalking, Mina’s swoon and the romantic violence to come. Intriguingly, Maddin succeeds without an especially magnetic Dracula (Zhang Wei-Qiang), due in large part to the substitution of his own wicked presence: a naughty back-handed wipe of the chin post-bite, and an impaling that would make even Christopher Lee jealous. More Warholian in its artistic treatment than even Warhol’s production, this is not to be missed. J.H.R.
Thursday, May 1
♦ Love & Diane (6:45 p.m.) For her powerful, often devastating documentary, Jennifer Dworkin spent almost three years filming the struggles of the New York-based Hazzard family. Ten years clean, Diane is a recovering middle-aged addict trying to get her children back from various group homes and foster families. Love is her 18-year-old daughter, whose longstanding bitterness toward her mother is tested when the government takes away her own newborn son on grounds of neglect. Dworkin meticulously details the ways that bureaucracy and past misdeeds conspire to stymie the natural course of family troubles, and yet the director refuses to excuse her subjects from their share of the blame. If Love & Diane has a major flaw, it’s that Dworkin at times seems to be manipulating the audience’s opinion of the Hazzards, emphasizing their flaws while leaving out the mundane details of daily life that more properly clarify who someone is. Or maybe this really is who the Hazzards area mother driven by faith to make things right, and a daughter so accustomed to being a victim that she greets even victory with a sour face. N.M.
Animated Expressions (7:15 p.m.) Always a crowd favorite, the NFF’s animation program sounds exceptionally strong this year, capped by new works from Bill Plympton (“Parking”) and Emily Hubley, whose “Set Set Spike” features music by Yo La Tengo. Watch also for Tom Gibbons’ claymation-Kafka short “The Hunger Artist” and Sean McBride’s “Dreamscapes,” a torrent of surreal images in varying experimental styles. J.R.
♦ Tom Dowd and The Language of Music (9:15 p.m.; also 1 p.m. May 2) Mark Moormann’s entertaining, well-crafted portrait of famed producer/engineer Tom Dowd is so exhaustive, it feels like a history of recorded music from the 1950s to the present. After all, the beloved Dowdwhose unobtrusive demeanor and contagious love of the artist earned the trust of musicians and label execs alikemanned the controls for everyone from The Drifters and Charles Mingus to Cream and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Moormann doesn’t skimp on rare archival footage and stills, and his interview subjects (among them Ray Charles and Eric Clapton) are given lots of room to praise and explain Dowd’s unique genius. Narrated by the jovial, spiritedly non-jaded Dowd, who died last year; Moormann will attend the screening. J.F.
Pistol Opera (9:45 p.m.) “Teach me how to kill!” demands a petulant Japanese schoolgirl several times in Seijun Suzuki’s first film in seven years, a delirious return to primary-hued form, if not the mastery that once wedded that form to anything resembling a narrative. Instead we get a confused kill-a-thon between ranked assassins with handles like “Stray Cat” and “Hundred Eyes.” When a movie’s pleasures include masturbation at the sight of a gun and a devilish pursuit by wheelchair (propelled at alarming speed), it’s tempting to simply burst into applause. But a real pistol operalike Suzuki’s 1967 mod-pop-tragedy Branded to Kill, the movie’s clear antecedentthis is not. J.H.R.
Friday, May 2
♦ Flag Wars (12:30 p.m.; also 1:30 p.m. May 4) Gentrification is a painful process even with the best intentions. What causes the painand how easy it is to elide economic differences into cultural, sexual and racial differencesis the subject of Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras’ documentary about four years in a decrepit Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood. The low-income black population undergoes an invasion by upper-class white gay males, who use the courts to have properties condemned and owners evicted. Battles erupt over symbolic trivialities: a sign on a black-owned house, a crummy corner store, a busted furnace. Somewhat rambling but often riveting, Flag Wars depicts the class struggle at ground level, providing a sociology text in 86 minutes flat. Bryant and Poitras will attend. D.B.
Robot Stories (1 p.m.; also 1 p.m. May 4) Four stories explore the interaction between man and machine in the not-too-distant future, where robots chafe against their subordination to the emotional and occupational whims of their masters. The role of robot to owner takes on parental, even religious overtones in writer-director Greg Pak’s provocative vignettes, which range from an adoptive mother (Tamlyn Tomita) cradling a clingy mechanical egg to glimpses of an artificial afterlife. Sadly, while Pak avoids the sterile visual clichés of low-budget sci-fi, his drab staging seems to have come from a PBS instruction manual. J.R.
West Bank Brooklyn (3:30 p.m.; also 4:30 p.m. May 4) Though filmed prior to Sept. 11, Ghazi Albuliwi’s funny, insightful first film may resonate even more deeply now. Albuliwi examines the lives of four Palestinian-Americans in New York, guys who face the pressures of being Muslim in a Protestant society while their distant homeland is ravaged by age-old war. Despite contrived, clumsy passages, the director’s wry script manages to evoke genuine laughter while raising pointed questions about assimilation and national identity, and the performances from his largely unknown cast are rich. Director Albuliwi will attend the screening. B.G.
Food of Love (9:30 p.m.) Based on David Leavitt’s cleverly titled novel The Page Turner, Ventura Pons’ unwieldy coming-of-age story explores the romance between aspiring concert pianist Paul (Kevin Bishop) and the virtuoso, Richard (Paul Rhys), who hires him as page turner for a San Francisco stop. While visiting Europe with his high-strung mother (shamefully overacted by Juliet Stevenson), Paul runs into Richard, who seduces the inexperienced but willing 18-year-old. The question looming is how long the affair will last once they return to the StatesPaul to Juilliard, and Richard to his lover. Though the classical score and swift pace keep the film lively, the stilted dialogue is exacerbated by Bishop’s affected delivery, and unintentionally funny elements (a dying dog, a steamy male hooker) reduce the film to campy absurdity. J.B.
♦ The Weather Underground (2:45 p.m.; also 7:15 p.m. May 3) Shrewdly portraying recent history as a war of representation through a diverse array of archival footage, directors Sam Green and Bill Siegel do more than deliver the definitive documentary portrait of the Weathermenwell-off college kids who spent the ’70s planting bombs and plotting revolution in the land of the free. By daring to premiere their film, years in the making, during the new war on terror, Green and Siegel accentuate the rare audacity of both the Weathermen’s work and their own. The ice-cold image of former Weathermen member Brian Flanagan winning $20,000 on Jeopardy suggests that only a greater force of nature than the promise of money may be enough to change the prevailing winds. R.N.
Saturday, May 3
♦ Experimental Means (2:15 p.m.) Duration and representation are among the motifs of this year’s experimental programming, which ranges from grimly fascinating real-time camcorder footage of the Sept. 11 attacks from a limited vantage point (Brian Kortis and Steven Mudrick’s WTC Uncut) to serene space-shuttle footage jolted by mundane earthly close-ups (Peter Friedman’s “The Big Picture”). Of special note are the local premiere of collage filmmaker Lewis Klahr’s “Daylight Moon” and a tribute to the late Stan Brakhage: a screening of his 1991 film “Delicacies of the Modern Horror Synapse.” J.R.
Regina (2:30 p.m.) An Icelandic children’s musical film, presented in English, that somehow isn’t as much fun as it should be. The story is a mixture of childhood fantasy (the children of two single parents plot to get them to marry each other), outsized villainy (a dancing wig salesman at an old folks’ home turns out to be an international jewel thief), and bittersweet emotion (a little girl and an old man come to terms with the loss of their loved ones). It’s all insanely colorful and mostly cheerful, with a charming performance by Baltasar Kormakur as the tap-dancing con man. But the emotions are blunted by the fact that everyone is acting in their second language, and the songs and dances are too tiny and tuneless to tap into musical magic. A diverting trifle, but nothing more. D.B.
♦ The Secret Lives of Dentists (4 p.m.) Advance word is excellent on Alan Rudolph’s comedy-drama about husband-and-wife dentists (Campbell Scott and Hope Davis) whose marriage is jeopardized by infidelity and the pressures of child-raising. The cast includes Denis Leary, and playwright Craig Lucas wrote the script. J.R.
♦ Fat City (4:30 p.m.) John Huston’s poetic 1972 boxing movietragedy seen through the corner of the eyeshows up Raging Bull for the macho adolescent fantasy that it is. Two small-time pugs cross paths in a California townone an unambitious kid (Jeff Bridges) just starting out, the other a self-destructive ex-champ (Stacy Keach) heading for the skids. As a film about boxers, this is perhaps second only to Robert Wise’s The Set-Upbut it’s not just a film about boxers. It’s a sounding of director Huston’s favorite theme, from The Asphalt Jungle to Wise Blood: losers and small-timers living on the fringe of society, the flipside of the American Dream. There’s undoubtedly something a mite self-conscious to the movie’s relentlessly downbeat tone, its wasted-looking characters propping up bars as Kris Kristofferson sings “Help Me Make It Through the Night” on the soundtrack. But there’s honesty in its details and a compassion to its equable, sympathetic tonetypified by the scenes involving an aged Mexican boxer who departs the film as noiselessly and with as much dignity as he entered it. Introduced by Scene writer Jim Ridley. T.P.
♦ The Day I Will Never Forget (5 p.m.) The day 9-year-old Fouzia will never forget is the day her genitals were mutilated in an antiquated Kenyan ritual of female circumcision. Her plight, and that of countless other adolescent girls, is chronicled in this shattering documentary by British filmmaker Kim Longinotto. The filmwhich takes its title from a poem courageously penned by Fouzia to the mother who encouraged her circumcisionexamines a barbarism that, surprisingly, is kept in place not by Kenyan men but by its women. Longinotto’s documentary is impossible to shake, never more so than when the filmmaker records the atrocious ritual on camera. B.G.
♦ Lilya 4-Ever (8:45 p.m.) The third feature by young Swedish director Lukas Moodysson (whose Together was an NFF fave two years ago) extends his already commanding talent into laudably fierce social conviction. Beginning with a bruising melo-metal assault by German outfit Rammstein, this follows the harrowing three-month plummet of a Russian teen (the revelatory Oksana Akinshina) from paternal abandonment to prostitution and worse. Lilya starts off with the pop-savvy restlessness and spunk of most 16-year-olds, making her unraveling in a post-Soviet slum of moldy tenements and abandoned military factories all the more ironic for its harsh statement on the rough capitalist trade sprung up in its stead. As with the magnificently resigned Together and his daring debut Show Me Love, Moodysson’s strength is a gift for accessing the melancholic anguish of youth in crisis. His work with Akinshina (across a language barrier) hits a new high, resulting in an indictment that dares to suggest some kids’ problems are not just in their heads but the predatory doings of savage adults (in this case, men). This is filmmaking on a most elevated levelcommitted, passionate, unflinchingand if another picture comes along this year with as much trouble on its mind, we may just have to break open the books. J.H.R.
The Hard Word (9:30 p.m.) And that word is “lame.” The festival circuit is cluttered with second-rate films starring first-rate actors, and writer-director Scott Roberts’ comic Aussie caper flick is distinguished only by the presence of Guy Pearce (as a convict duped into pulling off a robbery on temporary furlough) and Rachel Griffiths (as his coolly inscrutable wife, whose loyalties are always in doubt). At least Griffiths has fun playing a femme even more fatale than her Six Feet Under character; otherwise, this plays like a warmed-over Guy Ritchie lad movie right from the smash-mouth basketball opening. J.R.
♦ Putney Swope (9:45 p.m.) The doc A Decade Under the Influence looks at the impact of the counterculture on early-1970s Hollywood, and this is one of the movies that shook things up: Robert Downey’s incendiary 1969 satire about a black militant (Arnold Johnson) who takes over a Madison Avenue ad agency and launches a revolt against the white power structure. Opinions vary as to how well its once-scandalous humor has dated, but any movie with Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas playing an Arab deserves a look. Introduced by City Paper critic (and Scene contributor) Ron Wynn. J.R.
Sunday, May 4
♦ The Purified (1:15 p.m.) Jesper Jargil’s engrossing documentary, made for Danish TV, examines the Dogme95 manifesto and its four principal adherents: directors Soren Kragh-Jacobsen (Mifune), Kristian Levring (The King Is Alive), Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) and Lars von Trier (The Idiots). Most of The Purified centers around a casual household gathering of the filmmakers, where for one full day and night they watch clips from their respective Dogme-styled productions. Together, they challenge one another as to whether the austere commandments of the movementno sets, no artificial lighting, no background music, etc.were occasionally breached. Chief among the film’s many revelations is how each artist views these technical handicaps, as well as his own presumed creative liberation. In Danish with English subtitles. J.F.
♦ The Last Picture Show (3:15 p.m.) Few movies capture the ambivalence of small-town life as vividly as Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 heartbreaker, adapted from Larry McMurtry’s coming-of-age novel. The movie’s a black-and-white elegy for a dust-blown Texas burg’s slow fade into oblivion, as its young folk move on and its storefronts close. But it mourns just as keenly the passing of Hollywood’s golden-age auteursdirectors like Bogdanovich’s heroes Howard Hawks and John Ford, whose films play the modest Royal Theater that serves as the town’s supplier of dreams and glamour. The starkness is leavened by McMurtry’s rowdy humor, a vital soundtrack of Hank Williams and honky-tonk oldies, and a wonderful cast: Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms as football buddies, Cybill Shepherd as the rich tease who comes between them, Ellen Burstyn as her hardened mother, and Eileen Brennan as a tough-talking waitress and confidante. And Cloris Leachman, then a Mary Tyler Moore Show regular, proved herself an able tragedienne (and won the Oscar) as a coach’s neglected wife. Introduced by Tennessean critic Kevin Nance. J.R.
♦ Turning Gate (5:45 p.m.) Of the many fine films from South Korea to command the recent festival circuit, none is more engaging than this bittersweet romantic drama from gifted writer-director Hong Sang-soo. Ancient myth and contemporary anomie entwine in Hong’s study of a self-centered actor, Gyung-su (Kim Sang-kyung), who leaves behind his stalled career to visit a friend in the country. After souring an affair with a sultry dancer (Yeh Ji-won), he pursues a married woman (Chu Sang-mi) whose uncanny similarities suggest he’s been touched by fate, or at least offered a second chance. The film has a keen feel for the way lovestruck intoxication morphs into lovesick alienation, and its sensual attunement and erotic frankness are bracing, even funny. In Korean with English subtitles. J.R.
♦ Sweet Sixteen (Sun. 3:30 p.m.) Less didactic and even more gripping than his fine Bread and Roses, the latest film from Britain’s indefatigable social conscience Ken Loach rivals the festival’s Lilya 4-Ever as a portrait of youth in crisis. Following a 15-year-old Scottish boy’s fight to keep his family together, in a nightmare adolescence that depends on aligning with the right drug dealer, Loach nevertheless defies the miserabilism of recent British imports. Given raw voice by his longtime screenwriter, Paul Laverty, his characters armor themselves with profane wit, pranks and rude humorwhich makes their peril even more affecting. The astonishing young lead, nonprofessional actor Martin Compston, suggests The 400 Blows’ Jean-Pierre Leaud as a young Sex Pistol. Subtitled. J.R.
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