For argument’s sake, let’s assume you’re not one of the more than 15,000 movie lovers who attended last year’s Nashville Film Festival. You’re faced with a mountain of 200-plus shorts, features and documentaries; several more panels and workshops; and choices between three or more promising selections in the same slot.
Don’t panic. Start by consulting our user’s guide to the 38th annual NaFF, which opens Thursday, April 19, at Green Hills and runs through April 26. Below, you’ll find thumbnail reviews that will either spare you having to flip a coin between two promising films—or make the choices even tougher. Then get down to business.
First, don’t wait to buy tickets, especially if a film has either visiting celebrities or a single showing. Think you can just breeze into Thursday’s opening-night feature—the doc My Secret Record with Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, which may be sold out by press time—or the closing-night attraction Americanizing Shelley, with India-born beauty Namrata Singh Gujral, Beau Bridges and Rascal Flatts? Don’t bet on it. See nashvillefilmfestival.org, or hit the festival box office in Green Hills’ downstairs lobby.
What if a movie is sold out? Relax. Check the marker board by the box office, which will tell you if any leftover “rush tickets” will go on sale 10 minutes before the screening. (It will also say if additional screenings have been scheduled, so check often.) And if it is sold out, take a chance on something else in the same time slot. That movie you’ve never heard of might be a kick-ass extravaganza like Johnnie To’s Exiled (screening Saturday).
Finally, just take advantage of the festival whirlwind. Show up at least 20 minutes before a film—not just to assure a seat, but to talk to people about what they’ve seen. Ride the buzz: by midfest, you’ll likely hear about something cool you hadn’t even planned to see. Stick around for the filmmaker Q&A’s, and for God’s sake ask questions, preferably about something other than the budget. Nothing makes a city look better—or makes a festival more of a magnet—than smart, engaged audiences.
Additional blurbs and coverage are available online at nashvillescene.com. Watch also for updates throughout the week at the Scene’s blog, pithinthewind.com, starting with a list of 10 festival films you shouldn’t miss. Now, somebody, pass the popcorn:
✦ HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
JUST SEX AND NOTHING ELSE (2:15 p.m.; also 5:30 p.m. Sunday) Want a vivid demonstration of American pop culture’s global reach? Here’s a breezy urban romance modeled on Sex and the City…in Hungary. But this featherweight trifle by Krisztina Goda also extends a long tradition of goofy European sex comedies—the kind where a topless woman inevitably winds up edging around a ledge. The woman is smokin’ hot Judith Schell, a single script editor doing a stage version of Dangerous Liaisons; she starts her own liaison dangereuse with a studly poster-boy-turned-actor (Sandor Czanyi from Kontroll) with a baby in mind. Even with a useless third-act swerve toward seriousness, this is pure froth—or at least the good parts are. In Hungarian with English subtitles. (Jim Ridley)
SHORTS PROGRAM 4 (4:30 p.m.; also 12:45 p.m. Saturday) It’ll be hard for anyone to remember anything else on the bill after Lilah Vandenburgh’s hilarious “Bitch,” in which a hair-triggered record-store clerk (Keira Leverton) finds her Mr. Right in a viciously unrepentant shoplifter (Juan Garcia). It all works, especially the suffering montage set to a whiny-ass “Everybody Hurts.” But keep an eye out for Andreas Tibblin’s “When Elvis Came to Visit”—a Swedish short that resembles the usual sourpuss-redeemed-by-little-kid import, until its chilling late-film sucker punch—and for Jeffrey St. Jules’ “The Tragic Story of Nling,” a bizarre hybrid of Michel Gondry and Au Hasard, Balthazar animated with paper printouts. (Jim Ridley)
FOUR TENNESSEE STORIES (4:30 p.m.; also 4 p.m. Tuesday) Working with Nashville filmmaker Molly Secours—who has made it her mission to help at-risk kids from some of the city’s roughest ’hoods tell their stories on film—students from Stratford High show they’re willing to fight the odds against achieving higher learning in the short “College on the Brain.” It’s more a public-service announcement (or wake-up call) than a film, but the grim stats the kids face deserve boldfacing. Secours and the Stratford students will attend. Also on the bill: Craig Leake’s “The Chemo Ate My Homework,” Mary Barnett and Ann Coulter’s “One Road” and Jane Folk and Ryan Parker’s “Pork Chop Day.” (Jim Ridley)
MILK IN THE LAND: BALLAD OF AN AMERICAN DRINK (4:45 p.m.; also 7:30 p.m. Saturday) By the end of Monteith McCollum and Ariana Gerstein’s provocative but exhausting exercise in dairy deconstruction, milk has been indicted for its role in infant deaths, animal cruelty, poor health, the insidious promotion of Aryan purity and keeping the African American diet down. The nail in milk’s coffin: it was actually consumed by Richard Nixon! Time-lapse interludes and ghostly shots of cows trudging at dawn, reminiscent of McCollum’s arresting corn doc Hybrid, expand the documentary’s visual palette, and the filmmakers strike a welcome blow for raw-milk advocates. But the tetchy talking heads may leave even sympathizers longing to dunk Oreos. McCollum and Gerstein will attend. (Jim Ridley)
IT’S ABOUT STEPPIN’ IN THE HOOD (6:45 p.m.) This promises to be one of the fest’s emotional highlights: the premiere of a short film written and performed by teens at Nashville’s Preston Taylor Boys and Girls Club, made last summer with Black Snake Moan director Craig Brewer, along with a documentary about the often volatile production process. Both Brewer and the young actors will be on hand, as will Oscar-winning Memphis rapper Al Kapone. (Jim Ridley)
SEARCHING FOR ORSON (7 p.m.) The main selling point of this docu-biography of Orson Welles is the copious footage from unfinished Welles projects like The Deep and The Other Side of the Wind. But a lot of those clips are in the documentary Orson Welles: The One-Man Band (available on Criterion’s F for Fake DVD set), where they’re part of a more focused study of the unknown Welles. Dominik and Jakov Sedlar’s Searching For Orson, in contrast, is loose and anecdotal, stringing together reminiscences and appreciations from the likes of Steven Spielberg, critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and the inevitable Peter Bogdanovich. The stories are interesting and the film clips sublime, but the definitive Orson Welles story probably won’t be told until all those who have competing interests in interpreting his legacy die off. Jakov Sedlar will attend. (Noel Murray)
RANDY AND THE MOB (7:15 p.m.; also 5 p.m. Saturday) Walton Goggins, The Shield’s rotten second banana, is the bright spot of Ray McKinnon’s silly farce about a small-town Arkansas wheeler-dealer (McKinnon) whose inept swimming with loan sharks forces him to reconcile with his gay, antiques-dealing twin (also McKinnon). With cameos by Burt Reynolds and Bill Nunn, the movie avoids the coarse gags you’d expect but doesn’t really go anywhere else either; if anything, it’s too innocuous and whimsical to make hay of the zany premise. But Goggins, as a Zen-like spaceman of a Mafia fixer, gets belly laughs out of nowhere with his atom-brain line readings, oddball non sequiturs and pre-tornado calm. The character doesn’t make a lick of sense, but as an actor’s nervy gambit the performance is something to behold. Goggins, McKinnon and singer Ron Sexsmith will attend. (Jim Ridley)
FUN WITH OUR SHORTS ON (7:15 p.m.; also 2:30 p.m. April 26) The fest’s popular block of comedy shorts proves yet again that brevity is the essence of wit: the ones that don’t exhaust their premises are generally the funniest. Among the examples: Travis Earl’s “Shameful Legacy,” in which a dying man suddenly remembers the porn stash among his personal effects; Isa Totah’s “New to Laundry,” about a dopey Lothario whose latest come-on has unexpected results; and Marie Patane’s very amusing gynecologist’s-office nightmare “How Many Doctors Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?” Ingenious, if overlong, is Allan Shannon’s “Badly Drawn Roy,” the story of an Irish infant born tragically…animated. (Jim Ridley)
✦ GO WEST (9:15 p.m.; also 4 p.m. Wednesday) Take a gay cellist in drag, two chainsaw-wielding buffoons, a legless priest and a sex-starved witch, put them on a set that’s a cross between Gunsmoke and Borat’s home town, sprinkle on the horrors of the Yugoslav wars, top it off with French cinema legend Jeanne Moreau, and what have you got? Ahmed Imamovic’s surreal dramedy, a mash-up of Fellini and Sergio Leone with a dash of Wes Anderson. It’s certainly entertaining, though the sudden shifts from wacked-out humor to the gruesome realities of ethnic cleansing aren’t entirely successful—it’s hard to digest the serious scenes after a plateful of Serbian Benny Hill. Still, the film’s message (in a nutshell, the absurdity of war) comes across, and the unpredictable plot twists keep things interesting. Definitely worth a look. In Bosnian with English subtitles. (Jack Silverman)
ON THE GRIND (9:30 p.m.) Rough and ragged, with location grit, violence and humor to compensate, Nashville filmmaker/rap impresario Monteon “Da Don” Jones’ first feature has the raw nerve of the ’70s blaxploitation films that were actually directed by black filmmakers, who figured they’d play the game by their own rules. The plot is pure gangsta pulp—Nashville rappers Dell & Digum finance their record by ripping off a stone thug named Cornbread—but the East Nashville and Printers Alley locations are fresh, the acting ranges from stoner-incomprehensible to zapped with lightning, and Jones directs like he’s not making half this shit up. “A lot of people tell me to follow this, follow that [as a director],” says Jones, who admits he was no angel growing up off Shelby before he turned to filmmaking. “Why should I have to follow other people’s procedures in my movie?” Aaaay-men. Jones will attend, along with rappers from StreetLaw Records, the label he runs with his brother Danny Dunlap. (Jim Ridley)
✦ EXILED (10 p.m.) A knockout Hong Kong homage to Sam Peckinpah from the gifted Johnnie To (The Heroic Trio), who honors the HK action movie by refusing to coast on the familiar fluttering doves and two-handed gun ballets. Director To sets his egg-noodle Western in 1998 Macau, where assassins move on a former associate; the men’s tangled codes of professionalism, friendship and masculine honor lead them to put off the hit, to the fury of slimy Boss Fay (Simon Yam). To pulls off a half-dozen set pieces of exciting black-comic mayhem, saving the best for last: a stops-out replay of The Wild Bunch’s climactic bloodbath, with world-weary tough guy Anthony Wong making a fine William Holden. See this as a warm-up for To’s Triad Election, coming soon to the Belcourt. In Cantonese with English subtitles. (Jim Ridley)
FILM WITHOUT BOUNDARIES (2:45 p.m.) This year’s program of experimental shorts is a mixed bag, and although there is a substantial variability in quality, the show is well worth checking out. Not all films were available for preview, but among those that were, Ariana Gerstein’s Alice Sees the Light is particularly noteworthy. A modest, handcrafted poetic documentary, Alice considers the collision of rural and industrial landscape and in particular the increasing inability to “get away from it all.” Peter Tscherkassky’s work is always worth checking out, and this program features his latest work, “Nachtstück,” a one-minute film marking the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Of the other works previewed, Leighton Pierce’s “My Person in the Water” continues his (in this reviewer’s opinion unsuccessful) engagement with the tactility of the video image, and Gretchen Skogerson’s “Drive-Thru” stakes out interesting territory (fluorescent lighting cutting through the exurban night) but fails to give the material adequate shape. (Michael Sicinski)
✦ MATTHEW KENNEDY: ONE MAN’S JOURNEY (3 p.m.; also 2:15 p.m. Wednesday) In 1932, 11-year-old piano prodigy Matthew Kennedy traveled from his home in rural Georgia to Macon, where the legendary Russian virtuoso Sergei Rachmaninoff was giving a recital. As an African American, Kennedy was forced to sit in a segregated balcony. Yet in recounting the event to his daughter (filmmaker Nina Kennedy) some 70 years later, Kennedy’s most vivid memory is of Rachy playing his Prelude in C-sharp minor. As for the injustice of Jim Crow, Kennedy recalls only that his seat was “sufficient.” And that pretty much sums up the younger Kennedy’s loving documentary about her dad. Kennedy, the director emeritus of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, endured a lifetime of racism in the South, in the Army and on the road with his singers. But if he holds a grudge, he’s too decent to admit it. Besides, there’s barely enough room in his ample heart to contain his profound love of music. Both Kennedys are scheduled to attend the screening, which will include a performance by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. A reception honoring African American filmmakers will follow. (John Pitcher)
SWEDISH AUTO (4 p.m.; also 4:45 p.m. Monday) Writer-director Derek Sieg’s debut feature gets the surfaces of low-key indie filmmaking right, from the languid shots of auto shops and diners in Charlottesville, Va., to the mumbly romance between a mechanic played by Lukas Haas and a waitress, played by January Jones. But there’s maybe 35 pages worth of dialogue and plot in the whole of Swedish Auto—and they’re all riddled with clichés and needless sensationalism. Abusive stepfathers? Mean co-workers? Accidental deaths? Sieg has the makings of an effective stylist, but he’s definitely not much of a storyteller yet. Sieg will attend. (Noel Murray)
✦ MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES (4:30 p.m.) Highly recommended to fans of Koyaanisqatsi and An Inconvenient Truth, and no less important than either. Nothing illustrates the scale of globalized commerce more vividly than the Kubrick-like opening of Jennifer Baichwal’s mesmerizing documentary: an eight-minute lateral tracking shot that covers almost a third of a mile inside one titanic Chinese factory. The focus is photographer Edward Burtynsky, whose specialty is macroscopic panoramas that show how industry has altered the environment. But it’s the terrifying vastness of his subjects—a mountainous computer graveyard, the monstrous Yangtze River Three Gorges Dam project shown in Jia Zhangke’s Still Life—that gives the stunningly photographed film the hypnotic alien strangeness of science fiction. Alas, it’s real. Baichwal will attend. (Jim Ridley)
MOTIVES 2: RETRIBUTION (6:45 p.m.) All props to former Nashvillian Rob Hardy, whose entrepreneurial hustle paid off this year when his executive-produced Stomp the Yard topped the box-office charts. Filmmakers wanting to push and promote their own movies should look hard at what Hardy has done with the steamy Trois trilogy and The Gospel—no small trick in an era of eight-digit major-studio marketing budgets. That said, this Hardy-produced would-be erotic thriller (directed by Aaron Courseault) is dull, inertly acted straight-to-video-caliber tripe that wouldn’t pass muster on late-night Skinemax. The exception is a wicked high-gloss diva trip by co-producer Vivica A. Fox, who gets the juiciest scenes and the best wardrobe. Sadly, she’s not the lead. Hardy will attend the screening. (Jim Ridley)
✦ IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (7 p.m.) Even if you know the story of the Apollo space program, David Sington’s stirring documentary restores the thrill, the terror and the heroism of man hurling himself into the unknown. In part, that’s because the archival footage (much of it unseen and/or synched up with sound for the first time) is of astonishing quality, capturing the you-are-there-in-space effect Tom Wolfe strove for so mightily in The Right Stuff. But better still are the humble, wonder-struck reminiscences of Apollo astronauts such as James Lovell, Buzz Aldrin and Charlie Duke, contrasted today with their youthful rocket-jockey selves. Even as the movie laments a lost era when scientific exploration still had the romance of discovery, it brings that dashing spirit back with a rush. Essential viewing for any stargazer, then or now. (Jim Ridley)
DIRTY COUNTRY (9:15 p.m.; also 4:30 p.m. Monday) There’s a great documentary to be made on the filthy legacy of country music, extending all the way to David Allan Coe’s infamous X-rated novelty songs and beyond. This SXSW audience favorite isn’t it, but it’s still good (un)clean fun. Directors Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher restrict their focus to a much smaller subgenre of artists who record only X-rated country—focusing mainly on Larry Pierce, a married middle-aged factory worker who’s a hardcore truck-stop troubadour by night. Scholars and fellow performers such as the rascally Clarence “Blowfly” Reid and Doug Clark’s Hot Nuts chime in, but the liveliest parts concern Pierce and a band of kindred spirits called –itis. The scene where they chip in to give Pierce his dream Stratocaster produces one of the festival’s warmest moments of connection—not counting Pierce’s tender rendition of “Sleep Right Next to Your Pussy.” Pickett, Prueher and Pierce will attend; Pierce will perform afterward at Springwater. (Jim Ridley)
ANIMATED EXPRESSIONS 1 (9:30 p.m.; also 4:30 p.m. Tuesday) Torill Kove’s “The Danish Poet” deserved its Oscar this year for best animated short: it’s an endearing comic fairy tale about fate and true love, narrated with audible delight by Liv Ullmann. It has the hand-drawn charm of storybook illustrations—no slam at Alex Weil’s amazingly accomplished “One Rat Short,” a CGI epic of a subway rat’s adventures that shows remarkable polish. Extending the bounds of an already eclectic program is Adam Parrish King’s “The Wraith of Cobble Hill,” a scuzzy claymation tale that’s what might result if Wallace & Gromit tackled Bukowski. (Jim Ridley)
✦ END OF THE LINE (10 p.m.) A religious cult uses premonitions of the apocalypse as an excuse to start a kill-spree in the Toronto subway. Silly? Sure. But damned if Maurice Devereaux’s slick little gorefest isn’t genuinely scary as well, with a twisty script that throws in a few devilishly ironic reversals. End of the Line is no genre classic, but at least it has more in common with the fun, cheesy thrills of 1970s drive-in movies than with the torture porn in multiplexes now. Plus the “who’s really righteous” needling provides a necessary corrective to the rote good-vs.-evil tripe of The Reaping. Devereaux will attend the screening. (Noel Murray)
SHORTS PROGRAM 2 (noon; also 4:15 p.m. April 26) The old Ironic Twist gets a workout in these shorts marked by last-minute reversals. Even if you see all the tumblers falling into place—it’s a little like Crash boiled down to a 12-minute bouillon cube—Tze Chun’s “Windowbreaker” is a coolly disturbing vignette about homeland security, the economic benefits of fear and racial profiling. The same goes for Ben Phelps’ pressure-cooker “Checkpoint,” a menacing encounter between a Lebanese-Australian family and Aussie soldiers. For laughs, there’s Brad Wilke’s “TTY,” a three-panel comic strip with a great dirty-joke premise. Like the guy in the middle, it seems to barely last a minute. (Jim Ridley)
✦ FOREVER (1 p.m.) Heddy Honigmann’s camera sits quietly beside the graves of the celebrated Pére-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, capturing those who come to pay respects to its famous dead. Then it follows a few of those visitors down unexpected byways, towards a ravishing and uplifting meditation on mortality. Honigmann’s lovely film shows how the dead continue to touch the living: the blind film club enjoying Simone Signoret in Les Diaboliques, the mortician inspired by Modigliani, the Korean aesthete who delivers an unsubtitled but poignant monologue about Proust. Honigmann playfully allows the cemetery’s most popular corpse, Jim Morrison, to haunt this documentary without ever taking center stage, as she finds unexpected sweetness all around his final resting place. (Donna Bowman)
✦ SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY (2 p.m.) Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand’s leading experimental filmmaker and international man of mystery, isn’t exactly a master of suspense. Still, the 37-year-old director’s distinctively casual cine-nigmas are anything but predictable. As impervious to an easy read as its title, Syndromes and a Century begins on the grounds of a rural hospital where the girlish Dr. Toey is interviewing a young army medic, Dr. Nohng, for a job. Clinics are a favorite Weerasethakul location (his parents were doctors) and this one seems unusually idyllic, with sunlit corridors and group exercises outside on the grass. Weerasethakul has called Syndromes (now under fire by the Thai government) “an experiment in re-creation of my parents’ lives before I was born.” Like his previous films, it’s a two-part brain tickler. The first part is set in the period of the filmmaker’s childhood, the second in the present day. Midway through, Weerasethakul begins the movie again, repeating the first interview with slight differences in tone and camera placement and this time the hospital is urban. Are these parallel tales an attempt to induce something like 3-D narrative depth? A consideration of repetitive human activity over the course of a lifetime? You might as well ask why the breeze is rustling the leaves. In Thai with English subtitles. (J. Hoberman)
WORDS, MUSIC AND CLAY: THREE ARTISTS (2:15 p.m.; also 4:45 p.m. Monday) The big attraction is the world premiere of Curt Hahn’s documentary “Sylvia Hyman: Eternal Wonder.” A fond portrait of the Nashville sculptor, who celebrates her 90th birthday this year with a major exhibit at the Frist, it was a labor of love for local filmmaker Hahn, who said he moved here 30 years ago largely because of Hyman. Under Hahn’s gaze, the artist he’s always known as “my friend Sylvia” finishes a set of her trompe l’oeil clay sculptures that uncannily mimic items such as corrugated cardboard boxes and pencils—down to the metal band around the eraser. “The first thing people say is, ‘That can’t be clay,’ ” Hahn says. “The second thing is, ‘How’d she do it?’ ” He hopes that his film shows her method in such a way that it too tricks the eye, hiding her transformative technique in plain view. Hyman, Hahn and Frist curator Mark Scala will give a Q&A after the screening. (Jim Ridley)
✦ BANISHED (3 p.m.; also 2 p.m. Monday) The “R” word that no one dares speak isn’t race; as Marco Williams’ seething documentary shows, it’s reparations. Williams, the director of Two Towns of Jasper, visits lily-white communities in Georgia, Arkansas and Missouri that somewhere in the past literally drove off their entire black population at gunpoint. Do the white folks living on the land today owe anything to the black folks’ families? Using his own skin color as a badge, Williams follows descendants who ask the question until someone feels ashamed, uncomfortable or sensible enough to answer. It’s a tough-minded doc that clears the air—and paves the way for the real work to begin. Williams will attend. (Jim Ridley)
THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF THE BEVERLY HILLBILLYS (4:30 p.m.) Years after the debacle of his proposed reality-TV retread of The Beverly Hillbillies—for which he was publicly reviled and his show denounced in Congress before dying on the vine—producer Dub Cornett and the Griffey family of Saltville, Va., get to flip their self-righteous detractors a big fat bird. Cornett’s doc, presumably, is pretty much the show: a sweet-natured cross-country odyssey to Los Angeles, Nashville and back by RV, with the wide-eyed Appalachians marveling at everything from Hollywood street performers to the ocean (a wonderful sequence). Take that, Gov. Zell Miller. Cornett and the Griffeys will attend. (Jim Ridley)
✦ KAMP KATRINA (5:30 p.m.) “Welcome to the new Third World,” intones a resident of Kamp Katrina, the impromptu refugee center set up in the backyard of Ms. Pearl and her husband David, residents of the Bywater district in New Orleans. Here, the desperation is palpable, and the people, many of whom seem to have stumbled from one purgatory into another, struggle with each other, themselves and the enormity of their losses—only some of which were inflicted by the storm. Directors Ashley Sabin and David Redmon (Mardi Gras: Made in China) let the narratives unfold without imposing themselves, and the result is an arresting film that feels both surreal and utterly alive. Sabin and Redmon will attend. (Steve Haruch)
✦ HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS (7:15 p.m.; also 4:30 p.m. Monday) Lo-fi indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg’s 2005 debut feature Kissing on the Mouth was more memorable for its explicit sex scenes than its insufferably “natural” conversations about relationships and responsibility. But Swanberg’s third film is a major leap forward, giving just enough structure to a slice-of-life sketch about two small-time video producers and their fetching assistant, played by Greta Gerwig. The characters themselves are the kind of emotionally stunted post-graduate types who still play with toys and use lines like “I love things too much” to explain why they’re behaving like ninnies. But while the type is annoying, Swanberg frames them in such a way that they become, if not likable, then at least relatable. Credit the performances of Gerwig (one of those rare improvisatory actors who cuts right to the truth of a scene) and Swanberg’s director pal Andrew Bujalski, whose superb Mutual Appreciation this resembles. Swanberg and Gerwig will attend. (Noel Murray)
✦ GYPSY CARAVAN (7:30 p.m.) Don’t wait for Jasmine Dellal’s doc to end up broken between pledge-drive pitches: this exhilarating portrait of the 2001 “Gypsy Caravan” tour—a stateside showcase of Romani musicians representing their splintered culture in Romania, Macedonia, Spain and India—deserves to have its brilliant colors, lavish costumes and vivacious musical numbers seen on the big screen. More than a vibrant experiment in ethnomusical cross-pollination, it’s just great fun, tempered by loss but rippling with joy. Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter) was one of the cinematographers; watch for the cameo by a Big Hollywood Star who’s pretty much an honorary Rom. Dellal will attend. (Jim Ridley)
DRY SEASON (7:45 p.m.) African director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s austere, hypnotic third feature explores the legacy of Chad’s decades-long civil war. When Chad’s government grants amnesty to civil-war criminals, 16-year-old Atim (Ali Bacha Barkaï) decides that justice lies in his own hands. With his blind grandfather’s blessing, he sets out to avenge his father’s death. The nature of revenge quickly becomes central when Atim finds the killer, Nassara, running a bakery with his pregnant wife. After a halting confrontation with his nemesis, who himself bears war wounds and an equally crippling loneliness, Atim agrees to become Nassara’s apprentice, and a strange, stubborn impasse forms between them. Barkaï gives a defiant performance as a boy abandoned by God and country; Nassara’s unspoken pleas for the boy’s mercy make their burgeoning relationship fascinating to watch. In French and Arabic with English subtitles. (Michelle Orange)
JAMES BLUNT: RETURN TO KOSOVO (9 p.m.) James Blunt’s tremulous voice, wide-open earnestness and wispy songs may make Gilbert O’Sullivan sound like Hank Williams Jr., but the British heartthrob and former tank leader comes off as an affable bloke—especially when filmed before peacekeeping forces in war-torn Kosovo. Between songs, Blunt and his three translators search for Albanian families he met while serving in the region; that fruitless quest produces the doc’s most poignant moments. The grim ethnic conflict makes for questionable music-video fodder, and Blunt’s attempts at protest songs are inadequate to the task. But his all-too-obvious good intentions—and the kid-brotherly regard of his fellow soldiers—are disarming. (Jim Ridley)
✦ ADRENALINE (10 p.m.) Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men drew rightful praise for meticulous action scenes that unfold without editing in minutes-long takes. For their first feature, Nashville director Robert Archer Lynn and co-screenwriter-star David Alford did their own unbroken shot—and it lasts for 88 minutes. The real feat, though, is that this gripping real-time nail-biter about a suburban dad forced to follow an unseen kidnapper’s bizarre instructions (voiced by former Homicide regular Reed Diamond) transcends its gimmicky premise. The downtown location shooting (from Walter Nipper’s Sporting Goods to Commerce Street) is top-notch, the elaborate choreography of movement and messy violence doesn’t call attention to itself, and Alford’s riveting, sympathetic everyman performance in damn near every frame produces genuine suspense. The result: an entertainment worth playing on any of Green Hills’ other 12 screens. Well done. Alford, Lynn and producer Drew Langer will attend. (Jim Ridley)
✦ ANIMATED EXPRESSIONS 2 (2:15 p.m.) For fans of this perennially popular program, this is a must-see for two films. In “Guide Dog,” the sequel to Bill Plympton’s Oscar-nominated “Guard Dog,” his slobbering, overeager-to-please mutt offers inept assistance to the infirm in some of the funniest sight gags Plympton has ever constructed. More harrowing than hilarious, Don Hertzfeldt’s brilliant “Everything Will Be OK” stretches the form of the animated short in every direction. A meditation on the preciousness and fragility of health, mental or physical, it sends the soundtrack and visuals plunging into psychotic chaos as its stick-figure hero sinks deeper into undiagnosed despair. It’ll stay with you. (Jim Ridley)
✦ LAKE OF FIRE (6:45 p.m.) Beautifully (and ironically) shot in black-and-white over 17 years by director Tony Kaye, best known for the Edward Norton neo-Nazi drama American History X, this staggering documentary about the abortion debate leaves no position unchallenged—yet both sides may likely feel that it proves their point. Kaye talks without judgment to pro-choice and anti-abortion zealots, incorporates a spectrum of voices from Noam Chomsky to Nat Hentoff to pro-life activist Randall Terry, follows a clearly conflicted woman to her appointment at a clinic, and gives equal consideration to murdered clinic workers and the clearly human remains of aborted fetuses. The result is not a tendentious screed but an engrossing and extraordinarily rich examination of moral impasse. It forces both sides to grapple with the real issue: the sanctity of life. Kaye will attend. (Jim Ridley)
THE CURIOSITY OF CHANCE (7 p.m.; also 2 p.m. Tuesday) There’s a good movie lurking somewhere inside Russell P. Marleau’s affecting bildungsroman about a charismatic, loquacious high school student trying to get the people he cares about to accept his homosexuality. Unfortunately, that movie is papered over with a script that’s overbearing and frustratingly verbose. Aside from some genuinely funny scenes (including a hilarious striptease), this overwrought tale of awkward, hyper-self-aware youth comes across as little more than an awkward, hyper-self-aware movie that alternates between trying too hard to be offbeat and trying too hard to sound smart. Marleau will attend. (Steve Haruch)
✦ GREENSBORO: CLOSER TO THE TRUTH (7:15 p.m.; also 2:15 p.m. Tuesday) Writer-director-editor Adam Zucker chronicles the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, where five Communist Worker Party members at a North Carolina anti-Klan rally died at the hands of Klan and Nazi gunmen—who all escaped conviction. In a city where many would rather tout the town’s good golfin’ weather, Zucker is able to get to the guts of this harrowing struggle. From the workers-rights advocate who nearly got his head blown off to the Nazi who makes a shaky-voiced plea for forgiveness, Greensboro pushes beyond the archival yawn to truly connect with key players and capture reconciliation in motion. Zucker will attend. (Elizabeth Ulrich)
SILVER JEW (9:30 p.m.; also 4:15 p.m. Tuesday) If you’re one of those people—and they’re out there—who think reclusive Silver Jews frontman David Berman is a genius whose every word is gold, this is the movie for you. Unfortunately, for the general population, Silver Jew—shot over two days in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem—feels more like a vacation video than a documentary. With little context on why the man and his trip are important, the action follows Berman and his cohorts (including Lambchop’s Tony Crow and William Tyler) as they tour Jerusalem, barter for Judaica, play shows and interact with fans. Berman’s musings—which are at times quite enlightening—are the main thread holding the whole thing together. Director Michael Tully and producer Mathew Robison will attend; the afterparty at The Basement features Spiritual Family Reunion, Hands Down Eugene, Golden Gears and Tim, Chad and Sherry. (Lee Stabert)
THE HIP-HOP PROJECT (9:45 p.m.) Director Matt Ruskin and producer Scott K. Rosenberg’s stylish documentary follows a collective of young adults from the streets of Brooklyn creating hip-hop music with a positive message. The movie focuses on project founder Chris “Kazi” Rolle (who went from a foster home in Nassau, Bahamas, to life on the streets of Crown Heights) along with Diana “Princess” Lemon (whose father is in prison on drug charges) and Christopher “Cannon” Mapp (whose mother dies of complications from MS during the filming). Somehow, despite their dire circumstances, all three manage to avoid the hustle while maintaining the flow. It’s feel-good material, but there are enough in-your-face moments to keep it real, such as Princess’ unflinching rap about her abortion to art patrons at a wine-and-cheese affair. (Jack Silverman)
SMALL ENGINE REPAIR (7 p.m.; also 2:30 p.m. Wednesday) This quiet drama centers around Doug (Iain Glen), a down-and-out fork-lift operator in a small Irish logging town who has dreams of being a country singer—if only he can overcome crippling self-doubt. Niall Heery’s direction is able enough, and for a while, the entanglement between Doug and his lifelong friends is gripping—that is, until the improbable resolution, which features more meaningful glances than a Law & Order: SVU episode and a sappy climax where a violent psychopath improbably morphs into a regular guy. Still, the acting is fairly strong, and the soundtrack is a love letter to Nashville’s music scene, including a Silver Jews song, two by John Prine and three each by Todd Snider and by Bobby Bare Jr.—whose “Visit Me in Music City” is featured prominently. Heery will attend. (Jack Silverman)
MYSTERIOUS CREATURES (9:15 p.m.; also 4:30 p.m. Wednesday) A downtrodden, middle-aged couple curdle under the tyranny of their undiagnosable daughter (Rebekah Staton), a 30-something germaphobe who longs to hack off her breasts and shops insatiably on the family dime. The parents, played by Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall, attempt suicide—twice. Intriguing, yes. But writer Gwyneth Hughes’ dramatized take on this true story is a piecemeal account that clunks along without revealing much. While Blethyn and Spall do the best they can, the rest of us are left wondering if Staton’s methodical gluttony can be attributed to any disorder—and why her parents didn’t try to off her instead of themselves. (Elizabeth Ulrich)
THE URIM AND THUMMIM (9:30 p.m.; also 2:15 p.m. Wednesday) Did Todd Walker, a honky-tonk drummer turned part-time tile layer, discover an Old Testament portal to God on a 69-cent sale rack at the Madison Goodwill superstore? He certainly thinks so, as do his brothers-in-law Dave and Dale—and by the end of this squirrelly documentary by Dub Cornett and co-director Jacob Young (of Dancing Outlaw fame), you may give him the benefit of the doubt. The flat, rambling presentation does the is-this-for-real? story few favors, but it kicks into high gear once Walker takes God’s magic eight-ball to several Vanderbilt experts—whose responses, ranging from poker-faced befuddlement to thoughtful encouragement, will likely mirror the audience’s. (Hey, they laughed at the apostles too.) Cornett and Walker will attend; no word whether the titular object will make an appearance. (Jim Ridley)
✦ COLOSSAL YOUTH (6:30 p.m.) One of the hottest topics going in cinema journals and online discussion groups over the past year, Portuguese director Pedro Costa’s film is so uncompromising, so singular in its vision, that it divides critics and audiences alike into warring camps of admirers and haters. (At least one major film magazine, Cinema Scope, has gone so far as to hand out “Vote for Pedro” shirts at some screenings.) Costa’s film is a patient, meditative gaze at near-homeless outcasts in a Lisbon housing project slated for demolition. All are non-professional actors essentially playing themselves, resulting in a strange, hypnotic hybrid of direct-cinema documentation and incantatory modernist poetry. Costa’s formal achievements are undeniable, using digital video and natural lighting to turn poverty into a kind of picturesque, street-level splendor, affording his socially marginal friends the kind of hieratic portraiture usually reserved for kings and saints. Rest assured, you will either walk out after 20 minutes, or emerge from its two-and-a-half hours forever changed. In Portuguese with English subtitles. (Michael Sicinski)
✦ THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK (6:45 p.m.; also 2:45 p.m. April 26) An exposé of Darfur genocide may not sound like a fun way to spend an evening, but potential audience reluctance is exactly the point of this even-toned, informative documentary, which assembles the photos and stories of former U.S. Marine Brian Steidle. Directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (The Trials of Darryl Hunt) use just about every tool in the modern doc kit to keep the film visually interesting. But their greatest asset is Steidle, who describes the horrors he saw—and photographed—in the clipped tones of a top war correspondent. The movie could use more of the gripping material about how Steidle was treated by the U.S. and Sudanese governments after he started showing his pictures, but there’s still plenty of outrage here to go around—and it’s made especially effective by the fact that no one is shouting to be heard. Sundberg and Steidle will attend, with an appearance and post-film reception by Big Kenny of Big & Rich. (Noel Murray)
✦ EL ULTIMO BANDONEON (7 p.m.; also 2 p.m. April 26) Buenos Aires, home to a burgeoning film culture, emerges from Alejandro Saderman’s romantic documentary as a wonderland of tango bars, chic nightclubs and music that spills out of repair shops and apartment windows. The framing device follows single mom Marina Gayotto as she attempts to procure a vintage Double A bandoneon—the accordion-like instrument that forms the backbone of tango music—in order to join maestro Rodolfo Mederos’ dance orchestra. Shadowed by the spirit of the late master Astor Piazzolla, her search leads her from a Japanese collector to a community of elderly sensualists who revel in tango’s history as well as their own lusty memories. Though parts of the film seem contrived, the music and dancing are fabulous and the company of the tango obsessives is as warm as a table at an outdoor cafe. Saderman will attend. In Spanish with English subtitles. (Jim Ridley)
THE CLINTON 12 (7:30 p.m.; also 2 p.m. April 26) Director Keith McDaniel’s recount of the integration of Tennessee’s Clinton High School in the ’50s won Nashville Public Television’s Human Spirit Award for best “illuminating what it means to be human.” But, at times, its exhaustive interviews deliver all the emotional complexity and predictability of a textbook. It’s the candor of the remaining Clinton 12 students that transcends all that historical droning. And it’s the intermittent, uncomfortable honesty—like that of the school’s first black grad, who contemplated a killing spree after he was cornered for a beating before he even turned in his cap and gown—that successfully depicts raw humanity. McDaniel will attend. (Elizabeth Ulrich)
✦ GREAT WORLD OF SOUND (9:15 p.m.; also 7:30 p.m. April 26) Set partially (and inevitably) in Nashville, Craig Zobel’s stinging comedy-drama delves into the underbelly of the music biz, where hustlers thrive on an endless supply of starry-eyed, talent-impaired suckers. Two song-sharking salesmen—one a rudderless young idealist (Pat Healy), the other a garrulous aging cutup (Kene Holliday)—roam the South signing up singers and musicians for a shady “label” that pockets the dreamers’ cash. The movie is a tour of seedy hotels turned makeshift studios, shot Borat-style in scenes that make us constantly uneasy about how much the people onscreen know. Healy and Holliday (from the ’70s sitcom Carter Country) make a terrific team, playing decent guys as susceptible to get-ahead schemes as the rubes they fleece. The movie’s observation is as keen as its sympathy is deep. Zobel, co-creator of the popular online animated series Homestar Runner, will attend. (Jim Ridley)
THE ART OF CRYING (9:30 p.m.) The only thing that seems to cheer up despondent, perpetually suicidal Papa (Jesper Asholt)—other than those suspicious nocturnal visits from his daughter—is the attention that comes from delivering a hearty, lugubrious public eulogy. So 11-year-old Allan (Jannik Lorenzen) decides to provide him with lots of occasions. A selection at New York’s recent New Directors/New Films series, Peter Schonau Fog’s sardonic slice of Scandinavian squirm has morbid outrages to spare, but its many calculated cruelties just seem like pulling the wings off flies. Still, fans of Neil LaBute and Todd Solondz may feel warm as toast in this little corner of hell. In Danish with English subtitles. (Jim Ridley)
Throughout the week, the Nashville Film Festival sponsors a number of panels and workshops with visiting industry heavyweights, geared toward local filmmakers and audience members who simply want a peek behind the curtain:
• MUSIC DOCUMENTARIES: BEYOND THE NOTES (2 p.m. Friday) Attention Rob Thomas fans: if you want to get even closer, check out this music-doc panel with Thomas, My Secret Record director Gillian Grisman and Matthew Kennedy: One Man’s Journey director Nina Kennedy.
• A CONVERSATION WITH LAWRENCE BENDER (4 p.m. Friday) Bender may be the only person on the planet who can discuss either the ear-slicing scene from Reservoir Dogs or the benefits of compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) light bulbs. The Oscar-nominated producer of An Inconvenient Truth, Good Will Hunting and most of the Quentin Tarantino filmography will discuss his films along with his energy-saving concerns.
• INDEPENDENT FILM FINANCING (2 p.m. Saturday) Entertainment-industry counsel and former newsman John Cones, the man who literally wrote the book on indie film financing, explains how to get your feature to shooting stage and beyond.
• ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS VILLAGE (1:15 p.m. Sunday) A sneak peek at writer-director Michael Attardi’s animated holiday musical featuring the voices of Tim Curry and Jim Belushi. Attardi, executive producer Joseph Anselmo and music collaborator Dani Donadi will discuss the process of developing the short into a big-budget feature for winter 2008.
• STEVE OEDEKIRK: MULTI-HYPHENATE (4 p.m. Sunday) Funnyman Oedekirk’s hyphens include director (the animated hit Barnyard), producer (Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius) screenwriter (Bruce Almighty and its upcoming sequel Evan Almighty), actor (Kung Pow: Enter the Fist) and opposable digit (Bat Thumb). Here’s your chance to tell him thanks in person for Santa vs. the Snowman.
• CASTING FOR INDEPENDENT FILM (12:45 p.m. Monday) Casting director Laray Mayfield (Fight Club, Zodiac, the upcoming The Incredible Hulk) tells all.
• MUSIC SUPERVISION: HOW AND WHY SONGS ARE CHOSEN (2 p.m. Monday) Paramount VP of music business affairs Liz McNicoll hosts a panel of veteran music supervisors. Scheduled to discuss current projects are Michael Fey (The Sixth Sense), PJ Bloom (CSI: Miami), Alan Brewer (Come Early Morning) and Rashidi Hendrix (Hitch). Start practicing the Nashville handshake: palm extended, CD-R enclosed.
• FAIR USE, LICENSING AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY (2 p.m. Tuesday) Where does parody or commentary end and a costly lawsuit begin? Ask these guys: attorneys Owen Sloane and F. Casey Del Casino, documentarian Gandulf Hennig and Paramount business affairs VP Liz McNicoll.
• SOUND AND FILM: WHAT WE HEAR AND WHAT WE FEEL (2 p.m. Wednesday) Nashvillian Peter F. Kurland—the soundman extraordinaire and good-luck charm who’s worked on every Coen brothers film, from Blood Simple through their new Cormac McCarthy adaptation No Country for Old Men—shares insights on his craft. Listen up.
Rest of the Fest
These films were not screened by press time:
MY SECRET RECORD: OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BIZ (7 p.m. Thursday) The opening-night selection charts the music-business chicanery behind the making of Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas’ solo debut. Thomas, his wife Marisol, director Gillian Grisman and members of Matchbox Twenty are expected to attend.
THIN ICE (2:45 p.m. Friday; also 1 p.m. Saturday) You think the Preds have it tough? Documentarian Hakan Berthas follows the ultimate underdog: a young Buddhist woman in the Himalayas who won’t let mountains or male indifference deter her from forming a women’s ice hockey team. In English and Ladakh with English subtitles.
KENNY (9:15 p.m. Friday; also 4:45 p.m. Tuesday) This hit Australian mockumentary about an ace Port-A-Potty de-clogger (Shane Jacobson) was shot largely down under—except for the scenes filmed at Nashville’s real-life “Pumper and Cleaner” convention. Variety loved it—the movie, not the convention.
BEYOND THE CALL (2 p.m. Saturday) A documentary about the death-defying adventures of three humanitarian aid workers who brave bullets and bombs to get crucial supplies to the needy. Director Adrian Belic (Genghis Blues) will attend.
NINA’S HEAVENLY DELIGHTS (7:15 p.m. Saturday) Andrea Gibb (Dear Frankie) scripted this well-reviewed girl-meets-girl romance (with musical numbers!) between the Indo-Glaswegian heiress to a curry shop and her comely chef.
ORPHANS (3:15 p.m. Sunday; also 12:30 p.m. Monday) The late actress Lily Wheelwright, who died last month at age 24, stars in Ry Russo-Young’s two-character drama about sisters who effect an explosive reunion. Russo-Young will attend.
UNSETTLED (6:30 p.m. Sunday) Worth a look not just for the subject—surfer dudes, budding filmmakers and other Israeli youths jolted by Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip—but for the preceding short subject: Ari Sandel’s Oscar-winning “West Bank Story,” a zippy musical that replaces the Jets and Sharks with Israelis and Palestinians. Unsettled director Adam Hootnick will attend. Sponsored by the Nashville Jewish Film Festival.
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