Your guide to the 2013 Nashville Film Festival 

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SATURDAY, 20th

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* RHINO SEASON

(12:15 p.m.; also 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25)

Kurdish-Iranian poet Sahel (Behrouz Vossoughi) is released from an Iranian prison after serving nearly 30 years for writing poems considered "against the state." When he's released, he learns that his wife Mina (Monica Bellucci) thinks he's been dead for many years. The latest work from acclaimed director Bahman Ghobadi (A Time For Drunken Horses, Turtles Can Fly), Rhino Season is based on the true story of a Kurdish-Iranian poet known as Sadegh Kamangar, some of whose poems are used as narration, giving the film an impressionistic, dreamlike quality. It's an extremely dark and disturbing tale, but it's artfully told, and Turaj Aslani's cinematography is fabulous, with many of the scenes bathed in sepia hues that accentuate the characters' faded memories and broken hearts. JACK SILVERMAN


THE ISLAND PRESIDENT

(3 p.m.)

What if your country was sinking into the ocean and nobody cared? That's the story of President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, the center of the fascinating documentary The Island President. Nasheed — recently freed from confinement and torture at the hands of a dictator to lead his country into a new democratic era — tries every possible way to get the planet's major polluters to take global warming seriously before his nation disappears to rising sea levels. His diplomatic tactics — clever PR, inspiring idealism and political sausage-making in equal measure — are brilliant, and The Island President is both charming and urgent. (Since the film, Nasheed resigned from office — he says under duress — and he faces charges that may keep him out of this fall's election.) Presented by ITVS Community Cinema, the screening is free and open to the public. DANA KOPP FRANKLIN


PERSISTENCE OF VISION

(3:15 p.m.; also 4 p.m. Monday, April 22)

Connoisseurs of documentaries about failed film projects — like the Terry Gilliam doc Lost in La Mancha, or the Henri-Georges Clouzot Inferno — won't want to miss this agonizing account of brilliant Roger Rabbit/Pink Panther animator Richard Williams' nearly three-decade struggle to realize his groundbreaking feature The Thief and the Cobbler. We'll never know whether a masterpiece was buried in all that obsessively detailed cel animation — my sinking suspicion says no — but what's there is astounding enough to lament its sorry fate. JIM RIDLEY


* SAFETY LAST!

(3:30 p.m.)

Thank Janus Films for the festival's safest bet: a 90th anniversary remastered version of the 1923 Harold Lloyd classic, featuring the silent comedian's iconic dangle from a clock face high above a city street. Watch it aware that Lloyd performed his stunts with only eight fingers — he'd lost two digits (including a thumb) earlier in his career to an explosives mishap. JIM RIDLEY


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* BREAKFAST WITH CURTIS

(3:30 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21)

Strongly recommended to fans of Richard Linklater's Slacker or Robert Altman's woollier ensemble pieces, Laura Colella's balmy, ingratiating feature has a bohemian household's loquacious leader (Theo Green) making conciliatory gestures to the neurotic neighbor kid he inadvertently traumatized five years earlier. The twist is that Colella cast her own squirrelly housemates (and house) essentially as themselves and fabricated a movie around them; the result is a sweet, amusing summer breeze of a movie that's like stumbling upon a neighbor's moonshine party. Suggested tagline: "More fun than ping-pong without panties!" JIM RIDLEY


SOME GIRL(S)

(7:30 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21)

Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer (Party Girl) and adapted by Neil LaBute from his own play, Some Girl(s) casts O.C. heartthrob Adam Brody as an unnamed, recently minted author who pinballs across the country on a chilling pre-marital romp of emotional sado-masochism. Revisiting his top five exes (including Kristen Bell, Emily Watson and Zoe Kazan), he manipulates each situation for maximum drama, subjecting his unwitting victims to the wringer so as to cannibalize their interactions in his fiction. Fortunately, the sniveling little douchelord gets as good as he gives. The somewhat unremarkable film might work better onstage, but the ladies, widely varied in age and personality, all turn out exceptional performances. SARAH BROWN


VERY EXTREMELY DANGEROUS

(8:15 p.m.; also 2:15 p.m. Monday, April 22)

Somewhere between Jesco White and Rodriguez in the annals of myth-enshrouded American ramblers is Jerry McGill — a onetime Sun Records signee who ran around with Elvis, Waylon and Jerry Lee, but has as much of a penchant for boozing and armed robbery as for songwriting. Directed by Irish filmmaker Paul Duane and produced by longtime Memphis music journalist Robert Gordon, the movie rides warily with a pill-popping, gun-toting McGill, looking every bit of his 70 years. As much a meandering glimpse into the occasionally terrifying McGill's twilight years as a proper narrative, the film forms a compelling portrait of a wily, charismatic old coot who, sadly, probably could have had a real shot at the big time if he didn't like breaking the law so damn much. D. PATRICK RODGERS


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* I AM DIVINE

(9:30 p.m.; also 8:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21)

Jeffrey Schwarz follows his documentaries on adult film star Jack Wrangler and Celluloid Closet author Vito Russo with a figure who, appropriately, combines smut with queer activism: Harris Glenn Milstead, aka Divine. Divine seems so fully formed in her earliest work with John Waters that it's easy to underestimate the lengths she went through to create her unique, disgusting and sexy persona. The film fills in those gaps nicely, with insightful interviews with Divine's mother and high school girlfriend, as well as interviews with Waters, Ricki Lake, Mink Stole, Michael Musto, Bruce Vilanch and more. LAURA HUTSON


SURE SHOTS

• DEAD MAN'S BURDEN (8 p.m.) Clare Bowen (Scarlett on ABC's Nashville) has received good notices for Jared Moshe's indie Western about a frontier woman whose plans to sell the family homestead take a twist with her long-lost brother's return.

• A BAND CALLED DEATH (9:45 p.m.) Never heard of Detroit's Hackney brothers, three African-American teens making proto-punk music in the 1970s in the cradle of Motown? Directors Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino tell the story.

• EAST NASHVILLE TONIGHT (10 p.m.) From the NaFF website: "In February 2013 the Barnes Brothers were commissioned to make a documentary on Todd Snider. Its purpose was to present Todd to a wider audience. They failed. Instead, drugs took over." It's billed as a work in progress; a cast featuring local musicians from Elizabeth Cook and Tim Carroll to Paul Griffith and the Turbo Fruits' Jonas Stein makes this pretty much a must — whatever it is.


SUNDAY, 21st

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* KON-TIKI

(7 p.m.; also 4:15 p.m. Monday, April 22)

Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl's legendary 1951 balsa-wood raft journey across the Pacific is an old-fashioned epic of the highest order — immense, exciting, and full of determined, foolhardy, irony-free characters drawn in broad strokes. Directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg's film follows earnest Heyerdahl (Pal Sverre Hagen) as he goes about putting together a (mostly) amateur crew designed to prove that pre-Columbian Polynesians could have made this treacherous journey across the seas with the basic technology available to them. But for all that, the film (like Heyerdahl's original book and documentary) is very much about the pluck and drive of white Europeans. Don't worry too much about issues of representation, however: This gorgeous, absorbing film is very much worth seeing — especially on a big screen. BILGE EBIRI


SLEEPY LaBEEF RIDES AGAIN

(7:30 p.m.)

With James Brown no longer around, Thomas Paulsley LaBeff — aka Sleepy LaBeef — may well be the hardest-working man in showbiz. The roots-rock journeyman started gigging in the late 1950s, and at age 77 still does about 200 shows a year. More live concert film than documentary, Sleepy LaBeef Rides Again captures the 6-foot-7 mountain of a man performing last year at Nashville's Douglas Corner with a crack band featuring longtime LaBeef sideman Gene Dunlap on piano, Kenny Vaughan on guitar, Rick Lonow on drums and Dave Pomeroy on bass. (Pomeroy produced the film, and his son Seth directed.) The performance footage is interspersed with archival clips and shots of the band recording at the hallowed RCA Studio B. A fitting tribute to the man music journalist Peter Guralnick calls "one of the greatest live performers of this or any other era." (In addition to the NaFF screening, Douglas Corner will host a CD/DVD release party 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 23.) JACK SILVERMAN


* THIS AIN'T NO MOUSE MUSIC!

(8:30 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. Monday, April 22)

Though he was born a count to an aristocratic family in prewar Germany, Chris Strachwitz would eventually become one of American roots music's greatest champions. As the founder and president of Arhoolie Records, Strachwitz has made preserving and promoting a wide variety of folk music — from Delta blues to Cajun, Dixieland to bluegrass, Tejano to sacred steel — his sole mission in life. Maureen Gosling and Chris Simon's documentary features a treasure trove of footage of Arhoolie artists such as Lipscomb, Fred McDowell, Big Mama Thornton, Clifton Chenier and Flaco Jimenez, not to mention commentary from Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and Richard Thompson. A must-see for roots music fans. JACK SILVERMAN


SURE SHOTS

• I KILLED MY MOTHER (3 p.m.) The brash 2009 debut of 19-year-old filmmaker Xavier Dolan (Laurence Anyways), drawing from his own experiences for the story of a gay teen's tumultuous relationship with his mother.

• REMOTE AREA MEDICAL (4:15 p.m.) Filmmakers Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman follow up their Gerrymandering doc with a look at a three-day pop-up clinic in Bristol, Tenn., whose volunteers administer the health care their patients can't get or afford. Sound like any state where you live?

• THIS IS MARTIN BONNER (5:45 p.m.) Advance word is strong, both on Chad Hartigan's redemption drama and Australian actor Paul Eenhoorn's meaty title role as an ex-con who helps a vehicular manslaughter parolee (Richmond Arquette) find peace.

• GMO OMG (6:15 p.m.) Jeremy Seifert's doc explores a hot-button topic among farmers, food producers and environmentalists: the role of genetically modified seeds and vegetables in combating world hunger.

• FLICKER (7:15 p.m.) In Patrick Eklund's deadpan thriller/absurdist comedy, another Fantastic Fest prize-winner, mishaps ranging from electrical catastrophe to radiation poisoning befall those connected to an all-thumbs Swedish communications company.

• THE COLD LANDS (8 p.m.) After too long a time since his fine 1999 debut Spring Forward — 14 years, to be exact — writer-director Tom Gilroy returns with this drama about an orphaned boy who escapes to live in the nearby forest.


MONDAY, 22nd

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* AFTER TILLER

(8 p.m.)

Since the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009, only four doctors in the United States continue to perform third-trimester abortions. Filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson document all four in this wrenching, candid documentary that will leave you with a lump in your throat no matter where you stand on the abortion debate. The access the doctors and patients provide is at once captivating and repellent, and the film's compassion only serves to bring the audience in closer — this is by no means a pro-anything film. The subject matter is powerful enough to speak for itself. LAURA HUTSON


* GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES

(9 p.m.)

A grail item for the many fans of Japan's Studio Ghibli, this seldom-shown 1988 anti-war drama by master animator Isao Takahata exists worlds apart from the gentle visions of Hayao Miyazaki. It's a grim and ultimately wrenching drama in which a teenage boy tries to keep his little sister alive in the aftermath of the World War II firebombing of Japan. "Yes, it's a cartoon, and the kids have eyes like saucers," the late Roger Ebert wrote, "but it belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made." Not to be missed. JIM RIDLEY


* IL FUTURO

(9:15 p.m.)

A strange and wonderful mix of Italian kitchen-sink drama and Sunset Boulevard-style black humor, with an undercurrent of otherworldly weirdness and gladiator-movie kitsch, Il Futuro is unlike any other movie you've seen. Bianca and Tomas are Roman teens whose world jolts when their parents die in a car crash. In a fog of grief — which manifests as blazing, surreal sunlight — Bianca (Manuela Martelli) enters a steamy sexual union with reclusive former film star Maciste (Rutger Hauer). Chilean director Alicia Scherson, working from a novel by the legendary Roberto Bolaño, takes a Roman apartment block into Outer Limits territory and back again. In English and subtitled Italian. DANA KOPP FRANKLIN


SURE SHOTS

• DIE THOMANER: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF THE ST. THOMAS BOYS CHOIR OF LEIPZIG (3:45 p.m.) Festival staffers are touting this doc about the 800-year-old boys' choir as a heartwarmer along the lines of Spellbound or last year's Brooklyn Castle.

• STORIES WE TELL (7 p.m.) Not to be missed. Actor-director Sarah Polley (Away from Her) mixes documentary and dramatic recreation — using her own family history as material — to examine decades-old secrets about her parents' past.

• PARADISE: LOVE (9 p.m.) The first in Austrian provocateur Ulrich Seidl's trilogy of largely improvised films on the search for paradise, initially shot as a single five-and-a-half-hour film. (All three, including Paradise: Faith and Paradise: Hope, are showing at this year's NaFF.) In this one, a 50-year-old Austrian woman goes on a sex-tourism holiday in Kenya; we can only pass along Variety reviewer Leslie Halperin's description of the movie as "Salo with sunburn."


TUESDAY, 23rd

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BEWARE OF THE DOGS

(5:45 p.m.)

In 2011, shaggy Canadian retro-rockers The Sheepdogs garnered international attention and a deal with Atlantic Records upon winning Rolling Stone's "Choose the Cover" competition, the magazine's fan-voted answer to American Idol. Unfortunately, director Jeff Kennedy's documentary doesn't exactly follow the framework of a certain song Shel Silverstein wrote for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. Beware barely touches on the seven years The Sheepdogs spent living hand to mouth, and even less time focusing on their arena tour opening for Kings of Leon, the record they made with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney producing, or the three Juno Awards they won after their victory. Instead, Kennedy dedicates as much screen time to performance and interview footage of the band's competitors — most of whom, frankly, aren't all that compelling. ADAM GOLD


* McCULLIN

(5:45 p.m.; also 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 24)

"Even my darkroom is a haunted place," says Don McCullin in the opening scenes of the documentary film about his life's work — photos of war-torn landscapes and people. McCullin speaks with disarming calm about shots he's taken of women holding mattresses on their heads to deflect bullets, or Congolese children being dragged behind vehicles and skinned alive. The film, directed by David Morris and Jacqui Morris, is a profile of an extraordinary artist and his moving, ambitious work, but it's also an effective treatise on the importance of candid photojournalism. LAURA HUTSON


SIGHTSEERS

(7 p.m.)

British director Ben Wheatley's latest was quite a cause célèbre in the U.K., where polite, seemingly ordinary murderers are kind of a national institution. Here, it's a mild-mannered Midlands couple –— Tina (Alice Love) and her new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) — who hitch a trailer to their car and go on a holiday, and then slowly begin to take out anyone who crosses them the wrong way. Wheatley's earlier films Kill List and Down Terrace had darkly humorous streaks to them, but they still played things mostly straight: Here, he and his cast have crafted a dark comedy that you wish would take itself a bit too seriously. Without much at stake, it's hard to get particularly interested in the couple's journey — and without much to actually laugh at, it's hard to really call the thing a comedy. Heavily stylized and tonally all over the place, Sightseers is audacious on the surface, but scratch it and you'll get tedium. BILGE EBIRI


SURE SHOTS

• I USED TO BE DARKER (8 p.m.; also 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 24) Matt Porterfield's Putty Hill was one of 2011's best-reviewed indie releases; Porterfield follows it with a drama about a Northern Irish girl whose visit heightens tensions among her Baltimore family. Produced by Ryan Zacharias and co-produced by Brooke Bernard, the team behind Brent Stewart's Nashville-shot feature The Colonel's Bride and Michael Tully's upcoming comedy Ping Pong Summer with Susan Sarandon and Amy Sedaris.

• THE WAY, WAY BACK (9 p.m.) Fox Searchlight is putting out this much-buzzed Sundance item later this summer, so don't worry if you can't get in. The Descendants Oscar winners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash make their directorial debut with this comedy about a put-upon teen (Liam James) who seeks refuge from his mother's overbearing boyfriend (Steve Carell) at a water park run by good-natured goofball Sam Rockwell.


WEDNESDAY, 24th

PIETA

(10 p.m.)

The latest feature from Korea's Kim Ki-duk won the top prize at last year's Venice Film Festival, which is baffling: It's an unsubtle, knuckleheaded film about a thug (Lee Jeong-jin) who makes his living destroying the limbs of those who run afoul of his loan-shark boss. One day, a mysterious old woman (Jo Min-soo) tries to insinuate herself into his life, by cleaning up his hovel and making him soup. "Go away, crazy bitch!" is his oft-repeated reaction to her inexplicable kindness. Who is she? Director Kim had a few promising films in the early Aughts, most notably the Buddhist parable Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring. But his general mien is a kind of Neanderthal pseudo-formalism that revels in violence only to "apologize" in the final minutes. Ugly stuff. In subtitled Korean. MICHAEL SICINSKI


SURE SHOTS

• A RIVER CHANGES COURSE (6 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. Thursday, April 25) Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at this year's Sundance, Kalyanee Mam's film examines the ruthless effects of global commerce on three Cambodian families, each feeling the pressure of deforestation, overfishing and cheap labor.

• THE KINGS OF SUMMER (7 p.m.; also noon Thursday, April 25) A terrific cast — Alison Brie, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullaly, Hannibal Buress — heads up Jordan Roberts-Vogt's hit Sundance comedy about three teenagers who decide to build a house and live in the wild.

• MUSIC CITY U.S.A. (7:30 p.m.; also 2:15 p.m. Thursday, April 25) One of two docs in this year's fest training the lens on Nashville, Chris McDaniel's enlists a celebrity roster including Vince Gill, Pam Tillis, Larry Gatlin and Montgomery Gentry. Paul Cain and Jeffrey Stanfill did the cinematography.

• A TEACHER (9 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25) An Austin high school teacher (Lindsay Burdge) spirals into freefall after an affair with a student (Will Brittain) in Hannah Fidell's award-winning SXSW drama.

Email editor@nashvillescene.com.

For more on the Nashville Film Festival:

Three priceless visions of bygone Nashville at NaFF 2013, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame's Moving Image Collection
Jesse Boyce's remarkable career starts at Muscle Shoals
Want to do the 2013 Nashville Film Festival in just five films?
Songwriter Desmond Child's modern family includes a partner, twin boys — and the boys' surrogate mother
click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY MATT SMITH
  • Illustration by Matt Smith

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