Nashville Film Festival peek promises more docs, more narratives and more competition 

The Eyes Have It

The Eyes Have It

As of last weekend, the U.S. made gold statuettes its chief export to France. With the Oscars out of the way and the red carpet rolled up and mothballed for another year in Hillsboro Village, the next question on local moviegoers' minds is: What's the Nashville Film Festival showing this year?

The festival, which takes place April 19-26 at Regal's Green Hills megaplex, won't announce its opening and closing films, guest celebs, or programs such as its popular "Graveyard Shift" for genre titles until later this month. But this week the NaFF parted the curtains briefly, giving a glimpse of what viewers can expect at the festival's 43rd annual edition.

Highlights so far in the NaFF lineup include several recent Sundance standouts, a bumper crop of music films and documentaries, and strong international titles drawn from a record 2,839 entries representing 101 countries. While Nashville competes to woo key films from cagey distributors in a crowded festival landscape, it's a good sign that NaFF artistic director Brian Owens says the festival was forced to expand its competition slots in narratives and docs from 12 to 16 films each.

The directorial debut of actress Famke Janssen — Bringing Up Bobby, a comedy-drama about a con woman with Milla Jovovich, Bill Pullman and Marcia Cross — caps the titles announced so far in the festival's narrative sections. (Listen for music from Nashville songwriter/chef Clay Greenberg.) It joins a pair of Sundance selections — Destin Cretton's tortured-artist indie I Am Not a Hipster and Carrie Preston's femme gross-out comedy That's What She Said, co-starring Anne Heche — as well as the well-reviewed drag musical Leave It on the Floor. Over in the festival's New Directors Competition, watch for Brandon Dickerson's Sironia, co-starring, co-scripted and featuring songs by longtime Nashville club draw Wes Cunningham.

The World Cinema program, a major NaFF improvement over the past decade, already sports a few tantalizing titles. Yorgos Lanthimos' absurdist Dogtooth was one of the great NaFF conversation pieces of recent years; the filmmaker returns with the black comedy Alps. Reprise director Joachim Trier follows a Norwegian addict on a day's rounds in the acclaimed Oslo, August 31, while in Headshot Thailand's Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe) puts his own spin on the hit-man thriller. Russia's Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose The Return was among the best first films of the Aughts, navigates a film-noir plot of marital deception in Elena.

In documentaries, Macky Alston's Sundance prize-winner Love Free or Die could scarcely be more timely: It's a portrait of Bishop Gene Robinson, the Episcopal minister who defied tradition, prejudice and even threats of violence to become the first openly gay bishop in any of the U.S.'s major churches. The film leads off an enticing program, including Jessica Yu's water-crisis alert Last Call at the Oasis; Battle for Brooklyn, the latest from Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley, whose 1994 feature Half-Cocked remains an essential time capsule of the Music City punk scene circa Lucy's Record Shop; Ashley Sabin and David Redmon's Girl Model, which explores the search for Russian models in the harsh Siberian countryside; and Payback, by Manufactured Landscapes director Jennifer Baichwal, about the concept of debt as it applies to everything from finance to vengeance.

Of special interest in the documentary category is Neil Berkeley's Beauty Is Embarrassing, whose subject is native Tennessee artist Wayne White — the irreverent painter, puppeteer and designer who spent many of his formative years in the Nashville area, before going on to fame with Pee-Wee's Playhouse and MTV. White is scheduled to attend the festival.

Under African Skies, an account of the making of Paul Simon's Graceland by documentarian Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster), leads the roster of music docs. Berlinger addresses the controversy that surrounded the record's making, particularly Simon's flouting of the U.N.'s South African boycott; the film got excellent notices at Sundance. Closer to home, featured docs examine the lives of late country greats Charlie Louvin (Blake Judd and Keith Neltner's Charlie Louvin: Still Rattlin' the Devil's Cage) and Hank Cochran (Wes Pryor's Hank Cochran: Livin' for a Song), while other subjects include Bobby Bare Jr., indie-rock multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird, songwriter Paul Williams, and the relationship between '80s heartthrob Rick Springfield and his diehard fans.

Longtime NaFF patrons will notice some logistical changes this year. The opening night will be devoted to the festival's Tennessee Nights of locally made films, one of its most reliably popular blocks. The gala screenings, meanwhile, will be shifted to the weekends, which may be the boost required to send attendance soaring over last year's record-setting 26,000-plus festivalgoers.

Tickets go on sale to the general public April 12 at nashvillefilmfestival.org. Watch the Scene and its arts blog Country Life for updates.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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