By age 35, most of us seem to know where we're headed in life. The Nashville Film Festival, by contrast, which starts next Monday at Regal's Green Hills megaplex, continues to grow in all directions. More robust than ever, after nearly a decade of double-digit yearly attendance increases, the festival's programming now features more of everything: more American indies, more documentaries, more foreign films from the world's festival circuit, and particularly more films devoted to the subject of music.
But the growth, along with the proliferation of other film events in nearly every midsized town, makes it difficult for the NFF to establish its own identity. That wasn't a problem in 1969, when the festival formerly known as Sinking Creek had few rivals in the Southeast. Back then, it focused its attention on experimental and nonfiction film. Now, though, surrounded by strong fests in Memphis, Atlanta and Birmingham, NFF finds itself competing for a relatively small pool of strong films in what amounts to an alternative distribution network.
What's more, distributors don't want festival screenings to use up their films' audiences. Thus you'll get only one crack at some of the hottest films at this year's NFF: the documentaries Metallica: Some Kind of Monster and The Five Obstructions, for example, or the French splatter movie Haute Tension. Meanwhile, several strong films at NFF will have a hard time reaching an audience at all because (irony alert) they lack a distributor's publicity machine.
To help even the playing field, the Scene has previewed more than 50 selections at this year's festival, coming away with more must-sees than ever before (and a few must-avoids). We've looked at local films, foreign features, experimental and animated shorts, even a documentary about a Scandinavian men's chorus that screams every song. (It's good, too.) These blurbs are meant to inform, provoke and in some cases settle tough choices about which film to see in a hotly contested slot.
In addition, we offer some practical tips. First, buy advance tickets, especially for popular films. (Rule of thumb: Anything local, attended by celebrities, or showing only once will sell out before showtime.) See www.nashvillefilmfestival.org for information. Second, ride the buzz. Talk to as many people as you can about what they've seenone of the main pleasures of attending a festivaland plan accordingly.
Also, take a chance on something you've never heard of, as several excellent films playing commercial runs in Nashville theaters (including Crimson Gold, Dogville and Greendale) all emerged from last year's festival circuit. And talk to as many actors and filmmakers as you can, whether at post-film Q&As, parties, or the many panels and workshops the NFF has scheduled over its seven-day run. Nothing builds a festival's reputation faster than smart, engaged audienceswhich translates into better films, more visiting filmmakers and a healthier climate for movies in general, both locally and nationally.
And now, on with the show.
Capsule reviews by Donna Bowman, Steve Erickson, Jonathan Flax, Brittney Gilbert, Scott Manzler, Noel Murray, Elizabeth Orr and Jim Ridley.
♦ Highly recommended
Monday, Apr. 26
♦ Festival Express (7 p.m.) A new addition to the wealth of 1960s and '70s music-festival documentaries, which records a 1970 tour across Canada by train. Concertgoers saw The Grateful Dead, The Band, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, The Flying Burrito Brothers and many more for a $14 ticketor as a promoter put it, "less than one dollar per supergroup." Thirty-three years later, director Bob Smeaton selected and edited the period footage. The result is one-third Canadian travelogue, one-third musical document (including remarkable jam footage aboard the train) and one-third memories and interviewsall essential, nostalgic and strangely sweet. Performers Bonnie Bramlett and Bernie Leadon will introduce the screening. D.B.
Bruce Haack: The King of Techno (9:15 p.m.) The late Canadian composer Bruce Haack was the "king of techno" the way Rupert Pupkin was the King of Comedy: in his dreams. That overstated claim aside, the oddity and tragedy of Haack's career come through strongly in Philip Anagnos' eccentric documentary. For much of his life, Haack's audience consisted either of children or avant-garde musicians, who found common ground in his bizarre electronic chirps and hand-doctored instruments. If Anagnos makes a weak case for Haack's ongoing influence, he provides fascinating glimpses of his musical extremityincluding Haack luxuriating in the kiddie psychedelia of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. J.R.
♦ Screaming Men (9:15 p.m.; also 5 p.m. April 28) You would think the sight of a burly Finnish men's choir bellowing national anthems at moose-stampeding volume would cease to be funny after a few minutes. It doesn't. At least not for the duration of Mika Ronkainen's documentary. In Finnish with English subtitles. J.R.
♦ Whose Is This Song? (9:30 p.m.; also noon April 29) A Turk, a Greek, a Macedonian, a Serb and a Bulgarian hear a song playing in a restaurant, and each immediately claims it as the product of his/her homeland. It sounds like a joke setup, but the impact of Adela Peeva's documentary is sobering. The Bulgarian filmmaker tracks the seemingly innocuous tune from country to country, expecting to discover a cultural bridge that would transcend, even unite the region's many warring factions. What she finds is rabid nationalism and personal perila grim rebuke to "why can't we all get along?" homilies. The final image of a dozen flickering flames flaring into flash fires seems chillingly apt. In Bulgarian, Macedonian and Turkish with English subtitles. J.R.
♦ Animated Expressions (9:45 p.m.; also 1 p.m. April 27 & 9:45 p.m. April 28) Make room in your schedule for one of the festival's gotta-sees: "Fast Film," a 14-minute jawdropper in which Austrian filmmaker Virgil Widrich turns thousands of folded, photocopied, distended cinematic images into a hair-raising synthesis of action-movie mania. Watch Buster Keaton and Godzilla chase Indiana Jones aboard runaway trains, while Cary Grant joins a paper-airplane dogfight against Dr. Strangelove. Unbelievable. Also impressive: Chris Hinton's hilarious "Nibbles," in which three insatiable yahoos on a fishing-trip junk-food run meet their match in nature; and Adam Elliot's Oscar-winning "Harvie Krumpet," with Geoffrey Rush narrating the poignantly funny tale of a bulbous Pole's hard-luck life. J.R.
Tuesday, April 27
♦ The People of Angkor (2 p.m.; also 7:30 p.m. April 28) Cambodia's greatest ancient works of art, the vast stone temples of Angkor, are in a continual process of reconstruction for the benefit of tourist hordes. In this evocative French documentary, a homeless boy seeks to connect with those traditions, hearing and telling stories half-remembered. As a result, the film, directed by the acclaimed Cambodian-born documentarian Rithy Panh, is a mosaic of cockfights, rice paddies, souvenir trinkets, monks, offerings and myths. Like the scattered temple stones in which it takes place, it's beautiful in its very incompleteness. In Cambodian with English subtitles. D.B.
Juke Joint (3:45 p.m.) One of two programs taken from the archives of the Tyler, Texas Black Film Collection at Southwest Methodist University, dedicated to African American films of the 1930s and '40s. This restored 1947 musical was directed by and stars the pioneering black filmmaker Spencer Williams (Go Down, Death). To be followed at 6:45 p.m. by the 1949 melodrama Souls of Sin.
♦ The Story of the Weeping Camel (4:30 p.m.; also 7:15 p.m. May 1) This hypnotic German documentary about the Mongolian herders of the southern Gobi desert is a widescreen wonder, a mythic immersion in a seemingly timeless way of life. Beginning with the difficult birth of a white camel colt, the film lingers on the details of family life: the work of tending the massive, placid camels and the sprightlier sheep, the intimate rituals of childcare and meal preparation, the communal relationship between human and animal. Widescreen photography captures vast spaces and long traditions, and the nearly wordless narrative structure, against all odds, produces plenty of tension and drama. D.B.
♦ The Portrait of Billy Joe (5 p.m. & 7 p.m.; also 3 p.m. April 28) You could simply point a camera at honkytonk hero Billy Joe Shaver and emerge with a compelling documentary. And that's pretty much what director Luciana Pedraza has done: her fixed camera sits there as Shaver talks unsentimentally about his raw childhood, rocky marriage, and most recently the devastating loss of his wife, mother and guitar-playing son Eddy in a year's time. As filmmaking, Pedraza's portrait is deliberately artless and unpolished. But at the end, when Shaver delivers a fearsomely candid and heartfelt testimony in church, her willingness just to watch and record yields astonishing rewards. Shaver will appear at the screenings. J.R.
♦ Control Room (7:15 p.m.) Director Jehane Noujaim (Startup.com) focuses on the Arab TV station Al-Jazeera, which made itself persona non grata with the Bush administration by concentrating on the war's civilian victims. Although Noujaim's sympathies are clearly antiwar and pro-Arab, she doesn't shortchange American soldiers or journalists: U.S. military spokesman Lt. Josh Rushing comes across as extremely smart, well-intentioned and articulate. Her film's ultimate subject is the difference between Al-Jazeera and Western media: The two act on a set of entirely different assumptions about the veracity of the American government. One comes away with the depressing feeling that Arabs and Americans are living in separate worlds, with the gulf increasing every day. Noujaim is scheduled to attend. S.E.
Tennessee Film Night I & II (6:30 & 9 p.m., respectively; also 9:30
& 7:30 p.m., respectively, May 2) Tennessee filmmakers get their chance to shine in the festival's popular annual programs of documentary, fiction and experimental shorts. The first slate includes such potential highlights as David Van Hooser's "The Funeral Man" (an uplifting and true slice of small-town life), Wes Edwards' "Mother May-O" (a clever marketing musical) and Jake Weisman and Justin Sucre's "Stuffed" (about a stuffed-animal hospital at Fido's coffeehouse). The second slate features more character-driven pieces, like Doug Lehmann's cross-dressing melodrama "Glyn Styler," Flick Wiltshire's relationship post-mortem "Picking Up After You," Chris St. Croix's two-handed mob comedy "Rocco and Vinnie," and Craig Brewer's intensely insular "Resolutions of the Complacent Man."
A Thousand Clouds of Peace (9:15 p.m.) Julian Hernandez's explicit drama, filmed in luminous black-and-white, follows a lovelorn gay hustler (Juan Carlos Ortuno) through Mexico City as he searches for a love letter's author. It wasn't available for review, but NFF artistic director Brian Gordon says it's one of his favorite films in the festival. In Spanish with English subtitles.
♦ The Royal Academy (9:30 p.m.) Sprightly, jocular and quick to laugh, 74-year-old Mary Cane-Honeysett has submitted her amateur paintings to London's Royal Academy of Art since 1969. After witnessing year after year of rejections, her son Tony, a Nashville filmmaker, shot this documentary about his mother's obsession with recognition by the Academy. Beautifully framed and breezily paced, his film is an inspiring portrait of an unyielding artist who, despite failing eyesight and years of declination, contentedly continues to create. Tony and Mary Cane-Honeysett will attend the screening. B.G.
♦ Station Inn: True Life Bluegrass (9:45 p.m.) "If you rented your drunken brother-in-law your house for a year," says Tom T. Hall, "then came back to look around, you'd be in the Station Inn." The cozy 12th Avenue music parlor gets a comprehensive tribute from director Patrick Isbey and interviewer Paul Kingsbury, who trace the club's roots through its many years hosting the giants of bluegrass, from Bill Monroe to Alison Krauss. The backstage jams are joyous, the performance footage generous and remarkably well photographed, and the insights into the club's lore (including the Lester Flatt tour-bus seats) add up to a sweet slice of Nashville music history. Isbey and others will attend the screening. J.R.
Wednesday, April 28
Sunday On The Rocks (1:30 p.m.; also 6:45 p.m. May 1) Actor Joe Morton adapts Theresa Rebeck's play to the screen, and clearly inspired by his old boss John Sayles, Morton makes his feature debut intimate and unashamed of its talkiness. Sunday on the Rocks is one of those stage-bound crucibles where everybody is themselves times 20, spouting forced dialogue and reaching new understandings over the course of an afternoon. But it's incredibly well-actedby four middle-aged women with the kind of soul and nuance rarely seen on the screenand it's blessedly brief, dropping an emotion-bomb then clearing the room quickly. Director Morton will attend the May 1 screening; actor Cady Huffman will appear at both. N.M.
Salt (3:30 & 9:30 p.m.) A unique road movie by American writer-director Bradley Rust Grey, who entrusted his Icelandic actors with video cameras and let them improvise in their own language (which he doesn't speak). It sounds awful, but the slow, steady accumulation of closely observed details adds up to something special. The standout is Brynja Thora Gudnadottir, an open-faced find, as a sheltered girl stranded with her sister's boyfriend in a fishing village outside Reykjavik, where new possibilities tantalize and confuse her. Grey's film is an intensely intimate portrait of killing time, with each moment marked as it flickers and dies. J.R.
Finding Home (6 p.m.) A woman returns to the coastal New England inn of her traumatic childhood in this drama from writer-director Lawrence D. Foldes, starring Louise Fletcher, Genevieve Bujold and rising star Lisa Brenner. The NFF's gala premiere, it will be attended by Foldes, producer Victoria Paige Meyerink (who co-starred in Elvis Presley's Speedway!) and actor Sherri Saum.
♦ Sunset Story (6:45 p.m.; also 1 p.m. April 29) Irje Lloyd and Lucille Albert, the subjects of Laura Gabbert's intimate video documentary, were once demonstrators, feminists, activists, even Communists. Now they live in a retirement home for "free thinking elders," where Irje registers the kitchen staff to vote ("You're a Democrat? Good!") while Lucille wonders why her Scandinavian friend is so adamant about celebrating the Jewish holidays. Few details are given about their early life, and there's plenty of borderline misery of the type common to nursing homes. But the women's friendship and their nimble minds and tongues make spending time in their company both pleasant and affecting. D.B.
Deadline (7 p.m.; also 2 p.m. April 29) The twisted history of the death penalty in America took a strange turn in 2000, when Illinois Governor George Ryan suspended all executions and reviewed the cases of more than 160 people on death row. This Frontline-style documentary, directed by Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson, focuses on the hundreds of clemency hearings conducted in the last days of Ryan's term. Although unexceptional in form, it does provide unprecedented access and an intimate look at the Supreme Court's suspension of capital punishment in the seventies. The death of the innocent at the hands of the state is one of the most horrible events imaginable in a democracy, and Deadline takes us right to the brink of that horror. Chevigny and Johnson will attend the screening. D.B.
Paradise Is Somewhere Else (9 p.m.) First-time feature director Abdolrasoul Golbon adds to the many worthwhile films coming out of the Middle East with this visually haunting story of a young man (Eidok) attempting to leave his family business and make a life for himself. However, the familiar dilemma takes an unusual turn after his father's killing. Aided by cinematographer Mohammad Davudi, who shot Majid Majidi's The Color of Paradise, Golbon fixes the characters in landscape shots that emphasize the region's beauty and severity. Even by the usual slow pace of Iranian art films, though, this one tends to drag. Have a few cups of coffee first. E.O.
♦ Slasher (9:15 p.m.; also 4:30 p.m. April 29) Hollywood veteran John Landis makes his documentary filmmaking debut, eschewing the staid indie-doc style in favor of old-school razzmatazz. Landis follows the swaggering, gravel-voiced "slasher" Michael Bennett, a genius pitchman whose skill is hawking used cars, through a do-or-die sales weekend on a sleepy Memphis auto lot. This rousing slice of life doesn't pretend to be an exhaustive report on cars, salesmen, the current economy or even the life of Bennett: instead, Landis deals in specifics about the nature of liars and the embarrassment of fiscal irresponsibility. Most of all, Slasher captures the peculiar anxiety of car shopping, where the skepticism of buyers collides with the cynicism of the sellers. N.M.
Thursday, April 29
♦ Keeping Time: The Life, Music and Photographs of Milt Hinton (12:15 p.m.; also 9:15 p.m. April 30) Like last year's NFF favorite Tom Dowd and the Language of Music, this documentary is thoroughly conventional as filmmakingand thoroughly satisfying as music history. Jazz bassist Hinton's 65-year career started with Cab Calloway and Dizzy Gillespie and continued through Branford Marsalis: in between, he played everything from jingles to pop sessions with elan. Hinton's warmth fills the movie: as someone comments, the century's jazz greats look radiant in his thousands of photographs because they were looking at the man behind the camera. As extra treats, he dishes wonderful stories about everyone from Calloway to Al Capone, who saved him from losing a finger as a boy. Co-director David Gerber is scheduled to attend. J.R.
♦ Take Out (2:30 p.m.; also 4:30 p.m. May 1) Convincing acting, pungent location shooting and the bustling backdrop of a Chinese restaurant combine for one of the festival's sleepers. Ming Ding (Charles Jang), who delivers for a Chinatown takeout joint, has until nightfall to pay a loan shark $800. The first $650 is easy; the remaining cash must be scraped up in tips, a few dollars and coins at a time. For the deliveryman, customer inconveniences thus become life-threatening hazards: a flat bicycle tire or a late delivery brings him closer to a beating. The plot devices may be familiar, but for the most part Shih-Ching Tsou and Sean Baker's engrossing drama makes its study of immigrant perils urgent and believable. The filmmakers will attend the May 1 screening. In English and Mandarin with English subtitles. J.R.
Born into Brothels (5 p.m.; also 7:15 p.m. April 30) Zana Briski teaches poor Calcutta children photography, hoping they can use their artwork to get off the streets and into decent schools. It's a compelling story, but a frustrating film: While each of the kids gets a brief introduction, directors Briski and Ross Kaufman don't do much to make them come across as individuals. While they're all pretty self-aware and articulate, the film treats them as interchangeable objects of pity. Despite this and other flawsparticularly a misguided attempt to spice up the movie with streaky, blurred bright colorsBriski's efforts to help the children are quite moving, leading to an extremely disheartening coda. Briski and Kaufman will attend. S.E.
Alabama Love Story (7 p.m.) Fans of singer Mark Collie's music videos have reason to celebrate, because his latest project (despite being touted as a feature film) is just an hour-plus of CMT schmaltz. Collie plays Roper Wiley, a retired rodeo cowboy who kidnaps Tuscaloosa socialite Goodie Blankenship (Coley McCabe, Collie's real-life wife). Before long they fall in loveat least according to the incessant soundtrack, whose lyrics often match exactly the action on screen. The film looks and sounds good, but the high production value does not salvage the hammy acting, elementary script or total lack of chemistry between Roper and Goodie. Collie and McCabe will attend the screening. B.G.
Phil Chambliss: Folk Artist with a Camera (7:15 p.m.) Ed Wood was far from the worst filmmaker who ever lived: you don't leave an Ed Wood joint regretting your time or rubbing your eyes wondering where two hours went. The same goes for "folk-art filmmaker" Chambliss, a self-taught auteur who's made 26 films in 25 years with co-workers at an Arkansas gravel pit. His magnum opus Pink Christmas constitutes 55 minutes of backwoods delirium, yoking a James M. Cain-ish blackmail plot to wandering zooms, inscrutable reaction shots and actors who seem to be reading cue cards without their glasses. Like The World's Greatest Sinner (see Sunday), this is for moviegoers who think they've seen it all. Trust me, you haven't. Chambliss will attend. J.R.
♦ Elina (7:30 p.m.; also 12 noon May 2) Klaus Haro's stunning film transcends the didactic tone common to life-lesson films for children. Nine-year-old Elina (Natalie Minnevik), part of Sweden's Finnish-speaking minority, copes with her father's death while battling consumption and the shock of attending a school where students are forced to learn Swedish. Clashing with the harsh master teacher (Ingmar Bergman mainstay Bibi Andersson), the strong-willed girl stands her ground in a battle for justice. Haro's touching drama doesn't waste a second of its admirably terse 77-minute running time. In Finnish and Swedish with English subtitles. E.O.
Saved! (9:15 p.m.) At first, this snarky teen send-up of contemporary-Christian hypocrisy seems as infuriatingly self-righteous as the judgmental Jesus freaks it mocks. But co-writer/director Brian Dannelly's rich comic subject is denial, not devotion. Jena Malone plays a devout teen who offers up her virginity as conversion therapy for her closeted boyfriend. Instead, she winds up pregnant and ostracized by her religious high school's holiest roller (Mandy Moore). For camaraderie, she turns to a wonderful pair of scene-stealing misfits: a chain-smoking Jewish punk (Eva Amurri) and Moore's wheelchair-bound brother (Macaulay Culkin). The movie'll likely hand the religious right more ammo for the culture wars, and with some justification. But there's no denying the bite of the many bright lines. "There's only one reason a Christian girl comes downtown to Planned Parenthood." "She's planting a pipe bomb?" "Well, two reasons." J.R.
Fallen Angel: Gram Parsons (9:30 p.m.; also 6 p.m. May 2) Country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons is portrayed in this exhaustive documentary as a remarkably sad individual, whose personal and business entanglements were both cause and effect of his ruinous substance abuse. Filmmakers Gandulf Hennig and Sid Griffin present all sides of Parsons' truncated life and career with rare archival footage as well as interviews featuring his collaborators Keith Richards, Chris Hillman and Emmylou Harris, his family, and his friendsamong them road manager Phil Kaufman, whose adventures with Parsons after the singer's death appear in another NFF entry, Grand Theft Parsons. Hennig will attend. J.F.
♦ Unknown Soldier (9:30 p.m.; also 2:15 p.m. April 30) The opening scene of Ferenc Toth's drama lets you know that it's no ordinary 'hood movie, playing a moody cello piece over several African American teens dancing at a party. Toth's film follows the travails of his quiet, shy protagonist Ellison (Carl Louis), a young man whose life goes into a downward spiral after his father dies. Louis' character isn't presented as a saintly victim; his passive-aggressive personality seems as much to blame for his problems as his community's lack of safety nets. Reminiscent of the Dardenne brothers' Rosetta, Toth's grim story accumulates a powerful charge, building to a devastating final shot. Toth will appear at the screening. S.E.
♦ Cowards Bend the Knee (9:45 p.m.) See the article on filmmaker Guy Maddin.
Friday, April 30
♦ Paper Clips (noon; also 3 p.m. May 2) Elliot Berlin and Joe Fab's intensely moving documentary chronicles a project conducted several years ago at a middle school in Whitwell, Tenn. Students and teachers in the nearly all-white, all-Protestant town determined to collect 6 million paper clips in order to visualize the volume of Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust. As the quixotic goal began to make national news, paper clips started to pour in by the thousands, along with accompanying letters of support from families of Holocaust victims, even from the survivors themselves. The film, cogently constructed, addresses a difficult subject while avoiding clichés and easy sentiment. The filmmakers will attend both screenings; their subjects will join them May 2. J.F.
Piggie (noon; also 7:30 p.m. May 1) Fannie, in a fearless performance by co-writer Savannah Haske, is an awkward teen cobbling together an adult identity as best she can. Nile (Luna frontman Dean Wareham), the (mostly) unwilling object of her obsessions, is a small-time drug dealer on the run. Using a rough, handheld camera, writer-director Alison Bagnall forces a discomfiting proximity with these troubled individuals in her debut feature. Tellingly, Bagnall co-scripted Vincent Gallo's Buffalo '66, and her flat, unmediated tone recalls early Campion and Cassavetes. Too often, though, Piggie's bleak worldview seems willfully depressive, if not just plain unpleasant. It's a promising first step, nevertheless. Bagnall will attend the screening. S.M.
Have You Seen Clem? (12:15 p.m.; also 2:15 p.m. May 2) This so-called "docu-dram-edy" from first-time director Erich Lyttle combines a head-scratching, unfunny revenge fantasy with sincerely probing vérité interviews with the homeless. It's also a road movie, as main characters Jaymo (Chris Jamieson) and the mysterious Clem (Clem Weredail) travel from Oregon to Tennessee to find subjects for Jaymo's film-within-a-film "Street People." Sound confusing? Try frustrating. The film's unnecessarily complex construction mars its insightful talking-heads segments, which feature articulate homeless autodidacts in cities like New Orleans, Austin and Nashville. A saving grace is a bluesy score composed entirely by street musicians, including Nashville's own Second Avenue troubadour Velvet Thunder. The filmmakers will attend. J.F.
Blue Citrus Hearts (2:15 p.m.; also 4:15 p.m. May 2) A friend says this painfully earnest coming-out drama (shot by a Memphis film collective after a lengthy improvisation process) will resonate with gay audiences, and it's undeniably close to its makers' hearts. Despite moments of genuine feeling, though, it plays like the notebook of some whiny, narcissistic teen artiste who's convinced nobody else has ever felt anything as intensely. And when you think it can't get worse, the tortured hero whips out his poetry. The Godspeed You Black Emperor on the soundtrack covers a lot of sins. Writer-director Morgan Jon Fox will attend. J.R.
Desperate Man Blues (4:30 p.m.; also 2 p.m. May 2) From his teens onward, record collecting has been Joe Bussard's consuming passion: traveling Virginia's backroads, inquiring door-to-door, haunting flea markets and estate sales. As he listens raptly to cherished singles in his basement sanctuary, the avid collector's enthusiasm proves infectious, especially when accompanied by first-time director Edward Gillan's well-selected stills and archival footagemost notably, an intimate clip of Clarence "Tom" Ashley performing his gift to posterity, "Coo Coo Bird." More expansive themesthe music's transition from the public to professional sphere, Bussard's collection as a wealth of undocumented custom and traditionare alluded to but rarely pursued. But for 50-plus minutes, the garrulous, cigar-chomping Bussard is subject enough. Gillan will attend. Preceded by Kathy Conkwright's well-received NPT documentary A Legend Lost: DeFord Bailey. S.M.
♦ Virgin (4:50 p.m.; also 4:45 p.m. May 2) Writer-director Deborah Kampmeier seizes your attention from the title on with this heartrending drama. Elizabeth Moss embodies adolescent torment as Jessie, a 17-year-old wild child who awakes one morning believing she carries the second coming of Christ. Although she has no memory of sexual activity, she is condemned by her devoted Baptist family and ostracized by her conservative private school (shades of another NFF entry, Saved!). Kampmeier focuses on Jesse's tortured isolation, employing a shaky, invasive handheld camera that underscores her every emotion. The fine cast includes Robin Wright Penn and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Kampmeier will attend. E.O.
♦ Go Fish w/ Christine Vachon (6:45 p.m.) A 10th-anniversary screening of Rose Troche's landmark lesbian romantic comedy, hosted by revered indie producer Vachon (Far from Heaven, Boys Don't Cry), whose presence may be the festival's biggest coup. Vachon will also accept the 2003 Freedom in Film Award and participate in a pre-film panel discussion.
One Last Dance (7 p.m.) Which is exactly what Dirty Dancing fans want from heartthrob Patrick Swayze, who flexes his dance training (and remarkably trim physique) once more in writer-director Lisa Niemi's love letter to the terpsichorean arts. Swayze, Niemi (his real-life wife) and ballet great George de la Pena play long-separated performance partners reunited for a difficult piece that revives their old doubts, fears and resentments. Robert Altman's recent The Company looks even better after the creaky backstage soap opera here, not to mention the frequently out-of-sync dialogue and unexceptional choreography. But the leads are plainly having the time of their lives. Swayze and Niemi will attend the screening. J.R.
Black Cloud (9:30 p.m.; also noon May 1) In actor Rick Schroder's directorial debut, a young Navajo boxer (Eddie Spears) fights prejudice and his own penchant for self-sabotage en route to the Olympic trials. Schroder plays a racist, violent bull-rider to creepy effect, while Tim McGraw (in his acting debut) is serviceable as Schroder's protective uncle and town police officer. The movie takes on several thorny issues among Native Americans, including somewhat broad takes on casinos and alcoholic stereotypes. Schroder's highly stylized boxing scenes and vivid cinematography of the Southwestern desert more than compensate for some clumsy editing and flat acting, as does Spears' volatile performance. Schroder, Spears and actor Julia Jones will attend; McGraw has not been confirmed yet. J.F.
♦ Hair High (9:45 p.m.) The funniest feature to date from animator Bill Plympton, who indulges his fascination with the body's slurpy elasticity in a macabre high-school satire that could get him his widest audience yet. The star-crossed love of teen helmet-head Cherri and new kid Spud starts as Rebel Without a Cause and ends as Carrie, with time out for wildly eruptive gross-out gags. (The best involves some industrial-grade horse aphrodisiac and the hapless mascot for the school's Fighting Cocks.) The largely unrecognizable voice cast includes Sarah Silverman, Dermot Mulroney, Keith and David Carradine, and Matt Groening. J.R.
♦ Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster (10 p.m.) "Metallica loves you" is the next-to-last line of this mammoth, magnificent documentary, and after living with the band for two years over two hours and 20 minutesseeing the way they burn through money while trying to catch fleeting inspiration, and the way they burn themselves out trying to get in touch with their feelingsyou'll not only believe the line, you'll have lived it. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Paradise Lost) stay out of the way as they carefully frame all the bickering over creative minutiae, all the evidence that friendship can be corrupted by financial obligation, and all the ways that having enough money to indulge almost every whim can make people extremely sensitive to those whims. Some Kind Of Monster comes off like a Metallica song: long and riffy, but ultimately immersive if you ride it all the way. Sinofsky will attend. N.M
Saturday, May 1
Witches in Exile (12:30 p.m.) In her riveting and alarming doc, director Allison Berg delves into a bizarre modern-day superstition: Ghana's cultural fascination with witchcraft. Shunned from patriarchal society, accused witches are forced onto "witch reservations," which provide few necessities but avoid the harsh judgments the women face in Northern Ghana. Exploring different philosophies and beliefs about witchcraft, Berg interviews sociologists, citizens, family members and the accused themselves. But the film's strongest scenes simply show the women at work in their makeshift communitieswhere they seem the unlikeliest of demons. Berg will attend the screening. E.O.
♦ Experimental Means (12:45 p.m.) Staggering visual technique highlights this year's roundup of experimental films. A rollercoaster ride on five espressos wouldn't pack the kinetic punch of Gernard Holtuis' "Marsa Abu Galawa," a stroboscopic barrage of undersea images cut to a throbbing worldbeat score. Less frenetic, though no less astonishing, is Nicholas Provost's "Bataille," which applies the split-screen kaleidoscope effect of Prince's "When Doves Cry" video to Kurosawa's Rashomon. The result: surrealist sci-fi horror that resembles alien gynecology. Chill out with "Stairway at St. Paul's," an amusing Belgian oddity that kids the backward-masking mythology surrounding Led Zep's signature tune. J.R.
Farmingville (2 p.m.) Carlos Sandoval and Katherine Tambini's TV-ready documentary records the furor on Long Island three years ago when a citizen's action group ferociously lobbied against a proposed set-aside solicitation location for day laborers. Rather than dealing with their original problemmen loitering and hooting at women while gumming up trafficthe townsfolk get involved with nationwide anti-immigrant groups, and their goals get mixed up as they draw more national attention. The doc is a little mixed-up too, unsure whether it wants to be evenhanded or openly advocate immigrant rights. Still, it's gripping stuff, highlighted by shouting matches that have a tense, white-knuckle quality. Sandoval and Tambini will attend. N.M.
Rolling (3 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. May 2) Showing viewers the world from waist level, where many people won't even condescend to meet their gaze, three wheelchair-bound Los Angelinos strap on cameras in Gretchen Berland and Mike Majoros' eye-opening documentary. While striving to maintain independence and dignity, the subjects provide a much-needed slap in the face to passersby who patronize or ignore them. Most movingly, they show how daily banalities such as opening a door, using the rest room or falling out of bed can loom as ongoing hazards. Berland will attend. E.O.
♦ Pre-Madonna (4:30 p.m.; also 6:45 p.m. May 2) Demetria Kalodimos' first feature-length doc extends her "secret history of Nashville" series, and it's an irresistible piece of social reporting. Three decades ago, a pair of transplanted San Franciscans lit up Nashville with their gender-bending exhibitionist flair: a hippie bombshell called Arizona Star and her duet partner George, a relatively butch woman who carried an ever-present sword. Together, they embodied the brief flicker of social, sexual and musical revolution in Music Citya time and place Kris Kristofferson likens on camera to 1920s Paris. With an unusually juicy cast of talking heads, including Mac Gayden, Tracy Nelson and Marshall Chapman, the documentary forms an uproarious, uncensored and ultimately bittersweet scrapbook of early-'70s Nashville. And the archival footage defies description. Wait 'til you see the duo's proto-Existo Exit/In rock musical, The Lobotomy. Kalodimos will attend. J.R.
♦ Bright Leaves (5 p.m.) In tobacco-rich North Carolina, one man's meat is literally another man's poison. By helping build the state's carcinogenic cigarette industry, filmmaker Ross McElwee wryly observes, his great-grandfather left his family's subsequent generations of doctors "a pathological agricultural trust fund." Yet the man wound up obscure and bankrupt, while his rival James Duke allegedly stole his place in history. In his latest essay film, McElwee (Sherman's March) weaves strands of personal history, home movies, even the Gary Cooper melodrama Bright Leaf into a moving tour de force. Elaborating on his grand themesthe legacies that fathers leave children, the mixed blessing of Southern heritage, and the ways we seek to slow, even stop the passage of time with camerasMcElwee disarms with his low-key comic approach. But when his many seeming digressions fit together, the effect is dazzling. Essential viewing. J.R.
The Ladies' Room (5:15 p.m.) Iranian actress Mahnaz Afzali's first documentary ventures inside a women's public washroom in a Teheran park, where women forgo their veils and silence for cigarettes and hot gossip. Typically stifled and covered, the women find their voices behind the bathroom's resonant tiles, free to speak their minds without men listening. Talk of sex and drugs, religion and remorse permeates Afzali's plotless piece, which, if anything, is too brief. It's also technically raw, marred by error-prone subtitles. But the women themselves remain completely compelling. In Farsi with English subtitles. B.G.
Grand Theft Parsons (7 p.m.) Johnny Knoxville plays "Road Mangler" Phil Kaufman in a farcical retelling of a music legend: the theft and subsequent burning of the late Gram Parsons' body. Kaufman himself will introduce. See related article.
♦ The Five Obstructions (9:15 p.m.) Not to be missed. From Dogme 95 to Dogville, Lars von Trier has explored cinematic liberation through imposed restraints. That quest forms the subject of this frequently hilarious one-of-a-kind documentary. With a Bond villain's sadistic glee, Von Trier enlists his idol, Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth, to remake his 1967 short "The Perfect Human" five times. The catch: Von Trier will try to thwart each effort with arbitrary obstacles. Leth likes Cuban cigars? Bangthe puzzled director finds himself shooting in Havana. Yet the result is a fond tribute, not just to the unflappable Leth but to the creative freedom that blossoms from restrictions. In Danish, Spanish and French with English subtitles. J.R.
♦ Give Me Your Hand (9:30 p.m.) On Sunday nights, a New Jersey storefront called La Esquina Habanera transforms into a social club for the area's homesick Cuban population. The social agent is the rumba, the dance whose sinuous pulse breaks down worries and inhibitions. The documentary's director, Heddy Honigmann, spends nearly an hour and a half following various émigrés through their jobs, homes and kitchens: the meticulous prelude pays off in a riotous, cathartic half-hour rumba party, where all the people we've seen seize the spotlight with hip-shaking abandon. Honigmann's marvelous finale could put a swing in the stodgiest stride. J.R.
Haute Tension (10 p.m.) Having perhaps the dumbest twist ending in cinema history doesn't prevent this French slasher picture from being giddily gory and legitimately nerve-wracking. Writer-director Alexandre Aja strands the audience with two college girls and a farm family in an isolated house surrounded by tall crops. Then he pokes his camera around in the dark, toying with our voyeuristic instincts and sticking us exactly where we don't want to be. It's grisly fun until that ending, which'll have you echoing these lines from one of the heroines: "Pourquoi? Pourquoi?" In French with English subtitles. N.M
Yes Nurse! No Nurse! (10 p.m.) In Pieter Kramer's nutty musical comedy, the eccentric inhabitants of Nurse Klivia's rest home wage a never-ending cold war with their nemesis, nosy neighbor Boordevol. The cast breaks into elaborate production numbers every few minutes, filling the rest of the running time with the outrageous farce popularized on the titular Dutch television series. Whenever the cast sings and dances, the film has a lyrical lilt: it's colorful and light on its feet, even if the strenuous wackiness in between might be too much of an acquired taste for American audiences. In Dutch with English subtitles. D.B.
Sunday, May 2
♦ Blind Shaft (12:45 p.m.) There's nothing exotic about the China of writer-director Li Ying's film, a world of utter venality. The film's main characters, Song (Li Yixiang) and Tang (Wang Shuangbao), exemplify the country's brand of guerilla capitalism. Enticing a third man to pose as a relative and work with them in an illegal coal mine, they plan to murder the man by creating a fake disaster and earn compensation money from the owner. A blast of raw power, the film is grim and pared to the bone, closer to the world of Jim Thompson than older Chinese directors like Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. S.E.
♦ The Saddest Music in the World (2:30 p.m.) Guy Maddin's breakneck musical-tragedy farce about an embittered brewery heiress (Isabella Rossellini) who stages a contest to find the world's weepiest dirgea task that's handled with the quiet dignity of an arena-football halftime show. (In its manic way, this may be the ballsiest post-9/11 reflection to date.) As usual, Maddin's inimitable visual style is equal parts Murnau and Mad magazine, and his black-and-white images are luminouseven when they're of beer-filled dunking booths. See the related article. J.R.
♦ Since Otar Left (5 p.m.) Julie Bertuccelli's finely detailed debut, an intergenerational saga of three Georgian women, deftly explores the intricate dynamics of family life: barely perceptible slights and kindnesses, deeply ingrained roles, a nurturing yet limiting interdependence. Eka the family matriarch (played by the inestimable Esther Gorintin) all but worships her unseen son Otar, who lives in Paris without a visa. His intermittent letters and phone calls conjure a ghostly presence that informs the daily fabric of not only Eka's, but also her daughter's and granddaughter's lives. Throughout, Bertucelli's direction is assured and uncluttered, her tone gently comic and tender, all building toward a quietly transcendent Paris finale. In Georgian and French with English subtitles. S.M.
♦ The World's Greatest Sinner (7:45 p.m.) Quite possibly the strangest movie ever made, courtesy of Timothy Agoglia Carey, the unforgettable bug-eyed character actor who inhabited his every role like a bomb in a barrel. A favorite of Cassavetes and Kubrick, Carey stars here as Clarence Hilliard, insurance salesman, who renames himself God and runs for president as a gold-lamé rockabilly singer (with songs by a then-unknown Frank Zappa). No description does this yowling morality play justice: not even Cassavetes was making movies this personally obsessive and unhinged in 1962and certainly not with Z-movie auteur Ray Dennis Steckler doing the camerawork. To be presented by Carey's son Romeo with a brief documentary and Carey's short "Cinema Justice." J.R.
I just...this recap...why did I not know these were here until now?! 4 times on…
So long Don. Your creative energy and encouragement were inspirational to me.
It was so great being one of those kids in Dayton.
I miss Iodine.
^ It's nice to see an official acknowledgement by management. Kristen Mcarther Miles (the girl…
How ironic that "Vandy radio" gets resurrected as a fictional station?! I was just glad…