OK, we can't mention the movie that scandalized Cannes, the movies by the most controversial French directors of the decade, or the movie that delves into a Nashville institution that some find bizarre. So you'll just have to take Brian Owens' word for it that the word to characterize this year's Nashville Film Festival will be "bold."
"Now that I've got a year under my belt, I'm not afraid to be more bold, not just with the issues in the films but also stylistically," says Owens, who took the reins as the NaFF's artistic director in mid-2008. "Not everybody's going to like every film, but that's one of the things I like about festivals. There'll be a lot for the person who's looking to stretch their idea of cinema."
This year, that might mean a record of the White Stripes' 2007 barnstorming tour across Canada (The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights), a chamber drama shot literally on scraps of film by Nashville director Brent Stewart (The Colonel's Bride), an experimental documentary about a starving man's last days in the wild (The Sound of Insects: Portrait of a Mummy), or an over-the-top Japanese splatterfest placing two uniquely gifted schoolgirls in mortal combat (Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl).
The festival, which runs Apr. 15-22 at Regal's Green Hills megaplex, won't announce its full roster of films and visiting celebrities for another month. But Owens offered a sneak peek at the NaFF's scheduled roster to date that includes its narrative competition and first-feature category. Although special events such as the opening and closing films remain under wraps, the lineup thus far promises everything from a Nashville-shot musical drama to manic midnight-movie fare, with literally hundreds of features, documentaries, shorts and animated films in between.
A pair of indie features with local ties will make their bow in the festival's Special Presentations section. One of last year's NaFF standouts was the Hal Holbrook drama That Evening Sun, adapted from a novella by Middle Tennessee author William Gay; former Watkins Film School student Shane Dax Taylor brings the festival another Gay adaptation with his directorial debut Provinces of Night. The film stars Kris Kristofferson, Val Kilmer, Dwight Yoakam and Hilary Duff in a drama about a young man (Reece Thompson) determined to escape his family's generations of conflict.
The NaFF's special presentation section will also give Nashville audiences their first look at Black, White and Blues, a drama filmed here last year under the title Bailey by director Mario Van Peebles. Described as a drama about a bluesman's shot at spiritual redemption, it features Van Peebles' father, legendary musician-playwright-filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, along with The Green Mile's Michael Clarke Duncan and Hustle & Flow co-star Taryn Manning.
For its competition slots, the NaFF received a record 2,230 entries from 82 countries, the most in the festival's 41-year history. That damburst, Owens says, made the festival's selection process much harder but also more rewarding. So far, six countries are represented in the narrative competition's 10 selections to date, which range from Denmark's Applause — a full-on diva showcase for Dogme/Lars von Trier fixture Paprika Steen, playing a stage actress struggling to take command of her offstage life — to Hipsters, a bubbly, high-spirited teen musical set, of all places, in the toe-tapping wonderland of the 1950s Soviet Union. The U.S. films include the afore mentioned The Colonel's Bride and Art House, a campus comedy starring mumblecore breakout actress Greta Gerwig and punk deity Iggy Pop.
The only gay bar in Jerusalem — a no-man's-land where Jews and Palestinians meet in mutual exclusion — is the focus of City of Borders, which leads off the NaFF's documentary competition slate. Other selections encompass a Long Island urban legend that leads to chilling reality (the festival-circuit favorite Cropsey) and a Mormon group's ill-fated attempt to sell self-censored Hollywood blockbusters (Cleanflix).
Under former artistic director Brian Gordon, the NaFF had begun to brand itself as a go-to festival for music documentaries and features — not a bad idea, since the music doc has proliferated as a genre with blitzkrieg speed. Owens says the brand has definitely taken hold, citing a full slate of selections (several of which will have the artists in attendance) under the banner "Music City/Music Films." Musical heroes as varied as protest singer Phil Ochs, rock band Journey, and a Goodwill Industries ensemble made up of 28 Miamians with moderate to severe disabilities get their own documentary tributes, while in Do It Again obsessive Kinks fan Geoff Edgers attempts to reunite the fractious band. Pedro Costa, the Portuguese director who's among the most heralded international filmmakers of recent years, will be represented with his film Ne Change Rien, a portrait of French actress-singer Jeanne Balibar, while the famed Houston songwriters' den Anderson Fair (which gave early breaks to Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams and many others) receives its due in For the Sake of Song.
Longtime festivalgoers will notice some changes at this year's fest. One is the introduction of acting awards, which Owens hopes will help outstanding performances find audiences and recognition after the festival. "I'm convinced if handled correctly, Applause could get Paprika Steen an Oscar nomination," Owens says.
Another is an official "Graveyard Shift" late-show slot along the lines of Toronto's beloved Midnight Madness, a coming-out party for outrageous and unclassifiable genre fare. That's where you'll find Vampire Girl and Frankenstein Girl as well as their cinematic cousin, Memphis cult filmmaker John Michael McCarthy's no-smoking sci-fi apocalypse Cigarette Girl.
Tickets will go on sale in early April. Watch www.nashvillefilmfestival.org for more announcements.
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