Ready to Roll 

Upcoming Nashville Film Festival offers a peek

There’s no such thing as 39 and holding for the Nashville Film Festival. From screen legend Patricia Neal to upstart cult filmmakers, from international festival gems to subjects of hometown pride, the city’s annual film celebration—to be held April 17-24 at Green Hills—approaches its fourth decade with the vigor of youth.

There’s no such thing as 39 and holding for the Nashville Film Festival. From screen legend Patricia Neal to upstart cult filmmakers, from international festival gems to subjects of hometown pride, the city’s annual film celebration—to be held April 17-24 at Green Hills—approaches its fourth decade with the vigor of youth.

You would too if you received the kind of energy shot NaFF got in 2007. After a couple of hold-steady years for the festival, founded as the Sinking Creek Film Celebration in 1969, attendance last year zoomed past the 20,000 mark. Helped by guests such as Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas and actress Namrata Singh Gujral, the fest posted a blockbuster 26-percent advance over the previous year, breaking its box-office records.

According to NaFF artistic director Brian Gordon, that translates this year to more of everything: more premieres, more celebrity guests, more in-demand films from the international festival circuit, more high-profile music docs.

Several films and guests will remain under wraps until next month, when tickets go on sale online. But the festival offered a peek at its early confirmations—starting with Oscar-winning actress Neal. The former Knoxvillian will appear before a screening of her 1963 film Hud and accept honors from the festival, to be awarded by her Cookie’s Fortune co-star Lyle Lovett.

At the other end of the spectrum is Damon Packard, the Los Angeles one-man band whose idiosyncratic epics—think equal parts Guy Maddin, found-footage mixmaster Craig Baldwin and the Toxic Avenger—were recently feted by New York’s prestigious “Film Comment Selects” series. Packard will be represented by two programs, including his 2002 magnum opus Reflections of Evil—a jaw-dropping work that encompasses PCP, the young Steven Spielberg and the horrors of sucrose intolerance.

Jose Luis Guerin’s festival favorite In the City of Sylvia—a gorgeous, near-wordless reverie in which a crestfallen romantic follows his ex-lover through the streets of Strasbourg—tops a promising international lineup. The apocalyptic sketch comedy You, the Living is the first film by ingenious Swedish stylist Roy Andersson (Songs From the Second Floor) to be shown locally. Alexandra continues Russian Ark director Aleksandr Sokurov’s peripheral studies of wartime, focusing on an elderly woman’s odyssey through strife-torn Chechnya.

Bringing it all back home to Monument Valley, the gifted Alex Cox (Repo Man, Walker) follows two aging stuntmen on a quest for revenge in the comic Western Searchers 2.0. The Russ Meyer of Memphis, John Michael McCarthy, hosts no less promising a cult item: his notorious 1995 sex-strippers-and-surf-music romp Teenage Tupelo. NaFF discovery Phil Chambliss, the Arkansas auteur whose deadpan backyard surrealism boasts fans as diverse as Lucinda Williams and Eric Idle, returns in glory with an expanded remake of his short “The Pencil-Stand,” while longtime Nashville music-vid helmer Steven Goldmann casts country hunk Trace Adkins as Satan in the splatter comedy Trailer Park of Terror.

As usual in recent years, documentaries may prove the festival’s strongest segment. The NaFF continues its defining emphasis on music-related docs with films on rockabilly hellcat Wanda Jackson (Joanne Fish’s The Sweet Lady With the Nasty Voice), banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck and his travels in Africa (Sascha Paladino’s Throw Down Your Heart), and the 1960s L.A. session greats known as The Wrecking Crew (in Denny Tedesco’s film of the same name). Of particular local interest is A Nashville State of Mind, a look at the city’s alt-country hopefuls produced by Samantha Gibb, which interviews everyone from Hank III to Mike “Grimey” Grimes to scope out the No Depression scene.

Leading the doc selections is John Gianvito’s award-winning Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, a history of the U.S. progressive movement told through markers, monuments and tombstones. It was a word-of-mouth sensation at last fall’s Toronto film festival. Fresh from Sundance are American Teen, Nanette Burstein’s Grand Jury prize winner following a year at an Indiana high school, and At the Death House Door, a capital-punishment exposé from the powerhouse Hoop Dreams team of Peter Gilbert and Steve James. Join Us, by DiG! director Ondi Timoner, takes a chilling look at religious cult worship.

On a less bleak note, Gordon describes Helen Hood Scheer’s Jump!, about high-stakes jump-rope competition, and Gustavo Vazquez’s Mexican-wrestling doc Que Viva La Lucha as “absolute crowd-pleasers.” Still to be announced are the opening and closing-night films, the festival’s panels and several titles of which Gordon says only, “It’ll be worth the wait, I’ll tell you that.”

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