Your user’s guide to the 2011 Nashville Film Festival 

Reel Nashville

Reel Nashville
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If at some point in the next week you hear someone say there's nothing to see at the movies, kindly reach over for us and swat them with a rolled-up newspaper. Better yet, use this one — the Scene's annual guide to the Nashville Film Festival, which gets under way Thursday at Green Hills for a week of premieres, parties, panels, celebrities, visiting filmmakers and out-of-town guests.

We've been attending Nashville's hometown celebration of the cinematic arts for nearly 30 of its 42 years — little more than a decade after the late Mary Jane Coleman established the festival once known as Sinking Creek as an early champion of independent, experimental and documentary film. Over the past decade, along with the name change has come a broader range of interests, including an emphasis on music films — a no-brainer in Music City — and recent indie and foreign films from the international festival circuit.

It's the latter that really stands out this year. Not only can local audiences catch the film that took the Palme d'Or last year at Cannes — the acclaimed Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Friday and Sunday), as much of a must-see as we can imagine — but they'll likely come away stunned by new-to-Nashville works such as England's The Arbor, Romania's Tuesday, After Christmas, Rwanda's Kinyarwanda, Japan's 13 Assassins and Sweden's Sound of Noise. Some or all of these may well appear in 2011's year-end Top 10 lists.

Yet in every category the Scene has previewed this year — be it music films, documentaries, new directors, the competition lineup or local features — we've found unusually strong entries. In fact, we'll just go out on a limb and say this looks to us like the most potent NaFF lineup yet. We've seen first-rate music docs on everyone from the late Memphis punk tyro Jay Reatard to John Mellencamp. We've seen at least one astounding directorial debut — an experimental feature by a Clarksville native, no less — and a pair of deeply unnerving features that will shatter preconceptions about the kinds of movies filming here.

So how do you see them? First, go to www.nashvillefilmfestival.org and purchase advance tickets, especially for films that will have celebrity guests or local ties. These include Friday night's screening of the William Gay adaptation Bloodworth (shown last year as a work-in-progress under the title Provinces of Night), with Kris Kristofferson in attendance; Friday's premiere of the Chely Wright documentary Wish Me Away, hosted by country singer Wright; Saturday night's screening of Road to Nowhere, with director Monte Hellman attending; and Harry Shearer hosting his New Orleans doc The Big Uneasy the same night. Be warned that many of the hotter films will have single shows only — but you can check the downstairs festival box office at Green Hills for added screenings, especially on closing day April 21.

Arrive at least a half-hour early — not just because long lines can form at the will-call windows and theater doors, but because one of the most appealing aspects of the fest is being around fellow movie lovers. Be sure to ask what other people have seen, and "ride the buzz" accordingly — in many cases, this will be your only chance to see these films on the big screen, especially with the filmmaker or actors there. One reason the NaFF has grown so much in recent years is that it's getting a rep as a great hang in an exciting city, and any hospitality you can show visitors bodes well for its future.

Below, we've previewed more than 50 selections at this year's festival, and we'll be offering NaFF updates throughout the week online at Scene blogs Pith in the Wind and Nashville Cream. So get your highlighters ready, and pause for a moment to close your eyes — it's probably the only rest they're going to get in the next seven days.

= Highly Recommended

Thursday, 14th

★THE LAST SUMMER OF LA BOYITA
(7:15 p.m.; also 7:45 p.m. April 18)

Young Jorgelina (Guadalupe Alonso) goes with her father to spend the summer in the Argentinean countryside, and develops feelings for an adolescent farmhand she's known for years, Mario (Nicolás Treise). To say much more about the plot of Julia Solomonoff's quiet meditation on budding sexuality and the meaning of gender would risk a spoiler. But the two young co-stars are terrific, the direction is artfully understated and the production values are strong. Solomonoff's show-and-don't-tell approach may leave some loose ends, but the understated script only magnifies Alonso's and Treise's precocious performances. In Spanish with English subtitles. —JACK SILVERMAN

SUBMARINE
(8 p.m.)

In British comedian Richard Ayoade's directorial debut, Craig Roberts plays a smart, sensitive teenage kid trying to save his parents' failing marriage while winning the heart of an aloof classmate (Yasmin Paig). Submarine is funny and stylish, and shot in a way that gives the early '80s an archaic glow, as though lit by candlelight and the setting sun. It ranges too far at times into Wes Anderson-y indie-quirk, but like Anderson, Ayoade is able to convey the painful awkwardness beneath the stylization. This is a movie about immature emotions that uses its own poses to keep genuine feelings at bay. —NOEL MURRAY

★WEEKEND
(9:30 p.m.; also 3 p.m. April 20)

Calling this a gay Before Sunrise isn't a flip cocktail-napkin reduction: It's telling you this countdown-to-farewell romance will stay with you, may break your heart a little — and shouldn't be missed. Bashful lifeguard Russell (Tom Cullen) hits the London clubs and goes home with Glen (Chris New), who asks him to record his take on their night together — ostensibly so Glen will have a record when he leaves for America in two days. But when Glen unexpectedly shows up at Russell's pool, the fling turns into a (surprisingly hot) weekend affair made bittersweet by its impending deadline. In his second feature as writer-director, editor Andrew Haigh — the one degree of separation between Ridley Scott and Harmony Korine — gives their deepening intimacy the thrilling unfamiliarity of a space walk. —JIM RIDLEY

Friday, 15th

★IF A TREE FALLS
(12:30 p.m.; also 8 p.m. April 20)

"I think that people look at my case and they think, 'What if that motherfucker burned down my house?' " So says accused eco-terrorist Daniel McGowan — who, as a member of the Earth Liberation Front, participated in a series of arsons targeting SUV dealerships, logging companies and others. Though McGowan provides the frame for the third doc by Oscar nominee Marshall Curry (Street Fight, Racing Dreams), the real story is in the visceral, often disturbing footage of police brutality that set off a tit-for-tat war between radicals and the authority. The film loses steam as McGowan's high-profile terrorism trial takes prominence, but the narrative surrounding him is both engaging and terrifying. —LANCE CONZETT

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY
(1 p.m.; also 9:15 p.m. April 18)

For the second in her projected trilogy of radically reworked fairytales — following last year's NaFF standout Bluebeard — French iconoclast Catherine Breillat wickedly subverts another Charles Perrault chestnut into a treatise on budding womanhood. An evil witch curses newborn Anastasia to die when she pricks her finger at age 16. Three idling fairies reduce the sentence to 100 years of sleep beginning at age 6. Anastasia wanders the dream world, dodging dream-death at every corner and searching for her lost love in a series of Rohmer-esque vignettes — until she wakes at age 16, immediately confronted by her emerging sexuality and the questionable advances of a real live teenage boy. The film is beautifully photographed and easy enough to watch, but it lacks the teeth of Breillat's strongest work, suffering from a meandering plot and a brow-furrowing ending. In French with subtitles. —TONY YOUNGBLOOD

DOG SWEAT
(2:30 p.m.; also 9:45 p.m. April 20)

If you've watched the news even once in the past 30 years, you know that the real achievement here is that Dog Sweat, shot in Tehran, Iran, even got made. As if Iranian filmmakers haven't been jailed for less, Hossein Keshavarz's daring work follows six Iranian youths who cautiously subvert Iran's conservative Islamic culture. Yet they wouldn't draw a second look on a Nashville street — a gay couple, a feminist, an aspiring pop singer, a revolutionary in the making and a straight couple grown tired of first base. Though sex seems foremost in most of the characters' minds, there's little action to be found. But I suppose that's the point. In Persian with subtitles. —STEVEN HALE

★A MATTER OF TASTE: SERVING UP PAUL LIEBRANDT
(3 p.m.; also 5:30 p.m. April 20)

As a food writer and restaurant freak, I'm the obvious audience for this documentary about an ambitious, creative chef on the make in New York City. But you don't have to be a gastronome to enjoy A Matter of Taste, which is so fun and fascinating I can't imagine anybody giving it a thumbs-down. The film follows haute-cuisine striver Liebrandt for a decade, showing every demoralizing grind (cranking out fries at a pub) and cautious hope. Though Liebrandt's seen as pretentious and even lunatic by some — "I'm not a nutcase, I'm an artist," he says early on — his hangdog sense of humor and zest to cook at whatever cost make him a delightful movie companion. DANA KOPP FRANKLIN

BROKE*
(3 p.m.; also 1 p.m. April 16, 7:15 p.m. April 20)

It's too bad the music industry can be such a depressing topic. In Broke*, Will Gray's struggle to "make it" as an artist is contextualized by Seth Godin, John Legend, Kelly Clarkson and others, whose ruminations include such glimmers of hope as "This industry is dying" and "[Kanye] ain't shit." At the same time, the film — which Gray directed — shines light on the corners of the industry that are as genuine as we'd hope, and it culminates with Gray's successful showcase here at 12th and Porter. It's fitting that Broke* should make its world premiere here — it's equal parts disheartening and inspiring. Gray will attend. —STEVEN HALE

★13 ASSASSINS
(3:30 p.m.; also 9:30 p.m. April 16)

The latest (as of, like, five minutes ago) film from Japan's wildly prolific Takashi Miike may be seen as a departure to those who are used to his more ... shall we say, crazy-ass films. It gets off to a typically nasty Miike start when a sadistic, deranged and untouchable 19th century lord starts raping and maiming servants and killing their loved ones (even their kids) mainly because he can. But the movie then shifts into sweeping, kinetically staged samurai action-flick territory, as a veteran rounds up an honorable crew of ronin to take this heavily guarded sonofabitch out — and here Miike comes closest yet to sustaining the manic highs of his exhilarating but erratic genre pictures. If you enjoy the sound of swords slashing through flesh, this will not disappoint. In Japanese with subtitles. —CRAIG D. LINDSEY

★TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS
(5:30 p.m.)

I haven't seen a thriller in years that left me as knotted, riveted and wrung out as Radu Montean's devastating domestic drama — the latest triumph of Romania's burgeoning national cinema. Middle-aged Paul (Mimi Branescu) frolics nude with his frisky young mistress (Maria Popistasu), then attends to the mundane chore of Christmas shopping with his wife (Mirela Oprisor). We sense a bomb ticking even before husband, wife, little girl and mistress all end up in the same room; we sense how destructive divorce will be for all concerned — and yet we can only watch as the inevitable looms. When it arrives, in an 11-minute unbroken take that mimics a slow swirl down a drain, it leaves only scorched earth — thanks to some of the most wounding, honest movie acting I've ever seen. If you're thinking of cheating, see this movie — and get slapped, hard. In Romanian with subtitles. —JIM RIDLEY

★UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES
(5:30 p.m.; also 5:15 p.m. April 17)

Yeah, right — we're going to watch a screener disc of the new Apichatpong Weerasethakul joint (let alone the Palme d'Or winner at Cannes 2010) when a big-screen opportunity is just around the bend. If you've never seen one of his films — feasts of immersive natural detail, wildly disruptive narrative breaks, stealthy camera moves and an atmosphere somewhere between a rainforest picnic and an erotic steambath — prepare to explore without your usual signposts and bearings. His latest, borrowing imagery from the Z-grade horror movies he grew up with, hovers near a dying former photographer on the verge of the spirit world, visited by red-eyed apparitions. From what we hear, don't worry about trying to make point-by-point sense of what's happening: Just trust the director to lead you into unfamiliar glades. —JIM RIDLEY

MOST VALUABLE PLAYERS
(6 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. April 16)

This upbeat doc about high school musical theater should appeal to Gleeks, and in some ways it far surpasses Glee — talking to real kids and teachers, getting their unscripted view of the drama of life and a life in drama. But unlike Glee, MVP is painfully long at 90 minutes. We watch three troupes in the run-up to the Freddy Awards, a live-televised theater championship for 27 Pennsylvania schools. The interviews are a treat, but some of the best moments seem to be missing: We follow a kid who's battled joint disease to walk the boards — but we don't see his big performance? An A-plus for subject matter, but a C for execution. Filmmaker Matthew D. Kallis will attend. —DANA KOPP FRANKLIN

★BETTER THAN SOMETHING: JAY REATARD
(7 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. April 20)

Culled from interviews with Memphis' late punk-rock icon and Goner and Matador Records artist Jay Reatard — mostly shot just nine months before his untimely demise — as well as never-before-seen performance clips and heartbreaking interviews with family members and close associates, Better Than Something is a surprisingly candid and affecting rock-doc. While Reatard's brief, troubled life may ultimately overshadow just how talented and absurdly productive he was, the makers of Better Than Something managed to assemble a biography that puts it all in perspective, and shows just how the punk-rock lifestyle really does say something meaningful about the human experience. It's an intimate portrait of a prolific garage-rock heavyweight — a singular young anti-establishment artist who proves to be even brighter, more likable and more astute in hindsight. If you care even one iota about punk rock, you need to see this film. Filmmakers Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz will attend. —D. PATRICK RODGERS

★JESS + MOSS
(7:45 p.m.; also 2:45 p.m. April 20)

That Clarksville native Clay Jeter's astonishing first feature — one of the most striking and original debuts I've seen since The Virgin Suicides or George Washington — made it out of this year's Sundance with scarcely a whisper says everything about the festival media's overemphasis on glitzy distribution bait. In Jeter's nonlinear memory film, preteen Moss (Austin Vickers) sorts through his last prepubescent summer with Jess (Sarah Hagan), the older second cousin who's his constant companion. It's a tumble of blurred scraps of sensation, from soft hair in a strong breeze to the sputtering brilliant flare of Roman candles, and the ramshackle tobacco farm they inhabit functions as a crumbling memory house — the kind of mnemonic device prescribed by the self-help audiocassettes Moss devours. There are intimations of sexual awakening, drifting and death; but the often wordless, fragmented evocation of a Southern childhood — and of the inchoate pang kids feel on the cusp of adulthood, as everything's changing — is so piercing, poetic and imagistic that the snatches of dialogue often come as an interruption, like getting snapped out of a reverie. The obvious reference points are Terrence Malick and Harmony Korine: The movie's backers include Korine's producers Agnes B. and Charles-Marie Anthonioz as well as veteran Tennessee political operatives Bill Fletcher and John Rowley (as part of their new No Daylight Films offshoot). But all I've been able to think about since seeing it is the perfectly preserved sensation of riding under a country bridge in an open-top vehicle. Jeter will attend. —JIM RIDLEY

THE LAST RIDE
(7:45 p.m.; also noon April 20)

A good-natured small-town grease monkey accepts a job driving a baby-blue Cadillac and its mysterious owner to West Virginia — unaware that his cowboy-hatted, whiskey-slugging employer is none other than Hank Williams, en route to his fateful 1953 New Year's rendezvous with his maker. It's a great idea, rendered with impressive low-budget period detail, but the movie stubbornly refuses to catch fire: It's way too genial and respectful, and although E.T./Gangs of New York actor Henry Thomas captures the crabby, physically ill side of the doomed country great, it's not the kind of performance or character conception that makes for interesting company on a long ride — which may well reflect the truth. Most of the life comes from the supporting players: Fred Dalton Thompson, Ray McKinnon, James Hampton, and as a honky-tonk owner, Rick Dial, a character actor who's improved every movie he's ever appeared in, including this one. Written by Dub Cornett and Howie Klausner; director Harry Thomason will attend. —JIM RIDLEY

CHANCE
(10 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. April 20)

A comedy of class warfare set in a wealthy Panamanian suburb, Abner Benaim's farcical tale concerns two exploited maids who give their bosses — a phony politician and his shopaholic wife — the comeuppance they richly deserve. The humor's about as subtle as a machete — which is one of the tools the ladies brandish to extract back pay from their deadbeat employers. But the soul of the film is actress Aida Morales, who gives a nuanced performance as a desperate woman who goes from cleaning floors to cleaning her asinine boss's clock. Benaim will attend. In Spanish and English with subtitles. —DANA KOPP FRANKLIN

SOUND OF NOISE
(10 p.m.)

In short: A group of anarcho-percussionists, pursued by a tone-deaf cop (named Amadeus) who hates music, wreak havoc on an unsuspecting public as they perform their leaders' magnum opus, "Music for One City and Six Drummers," on everything from power lines to a partly anaesthetized television personality. That's a recipe for disastrous artiness or empty camp in many directors' hands, but Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson's playful caper starts weird, gets funny and ends up oddly poignant. And the raucous found-sound performance montages — at one point a frenetic drummer plays along with various engine and road noises while in the back of a speeding van — are ingenious. In Swedish with subtitles. —STEVE HARUCH

Saturday, 16th

DAYS OF HARVEST
(10:15 a.m.; also 10 p.m. April 19)

Stop us if you've heard this before: A naïve but horny teen (Marco d'Agostin) finds his hormones accelerated one hot summer by a worldly older student (Lavinia Longhi), when suddenly his reckless, head-turning prodigal brother shows back up. The payoff to Marco Righi's debut feature is only slightly more novel than its setup, but the handsomely shot movie's appeal is all in the details: the magic-hour light in the Emilia-Romagna wine country, the sexual tension that radiates like waves of heat, the backdrop of a household under the waning, warring influences of Communism and Catholicism. In Italian with (almost absurdly helpful) subtitles. —JIM RIDLEY

★THE SONS OF TENNESSEE WILLIAMS
(noon; also 8:30 p.m. April 19)

Tim Wolff's overstuffed but very entertaining doc pays tribute to the pioneers who advanced gay rights a decade before Stonewall by assimilating into New Orleans' Mardi Gras social hierarchy. Actually, "assimilating" isn't the right word: By throwing the most lavish (and least stuffy) balls ever seen in that hearty-partying town, drag krewes had straight socialites begging to join in — while chipping away at the city's institutional homophobia in the wake of a notorious gay-bashing murder. The interviews are warm and candid; the vintage clips are beyond amazing; the footage of 70-year-old men trying on 10-foot suits is never not funny — and I guarantee you will not see a movie this year with better costumes. Wolff will attend. —JIM RIDLEY

★DOMAINE
(3 p.m.; also 5:30 p.m. April 19)

Strangely familiar and yet one-of-a-kind, Domaine is something of a throwback to the European art cinema of the 1970s, when racy new efforts by Bertolucci and Fassbinder rubbed shoulders with those more bizarre, ambisexual, black-turtleneck imports that filled out college screening programs before fading into obscurity. Imposing French superstar Béatrice Dalle commands the screen as a self-destructive mathematician whose slinky Eurotrash demeanor has made her a role model of sorts for her young gay nephew Pierre (Isaïe Sultan). Glowering stalkers, "Sprockets"-like dance clubs, and Dalle's haute couture fill out Patric Chiha's debut feature like an elegant theorem: No wonder it topped John Waters' 2010 Top 10 list in Artforum. In French with subtitles. —MICHAEL SICINSKI

★INUK
(3:15 p.m.; also 2:45 p.m. April 19)

Troubled teen Inuk — who as a child witnessed his father's death in collapsing ice — ends up in a children's home in the remote Arctic city Uummannaq, where he reluctantly accompanies dogsled seal hunter Ikuma on a multi-day hunt. Through Inuk, who discovers his own ice-reading ability, Ikuma regains his confidence as a hunter, worn down by alcoholism and the landscape-changing effects of global warming. This remarkable film was made in brutal conditions with a nonprofessional cast, including children from the "Children's Home Uummannaq" and actual Arctic hunters. Ole Jørgen Hammeken is especially entrancing as Ikuma; and I would predict for him a fruitful acting career if he didn't already have his hands full leading dogsled expeditions and counseling disadvantaged children at the Uummannaq facility. Filmmaker Mike Magidson will attend. In Greenlandic with subtitles. —TONY YOUNGBLOOD

★KINYARWANDA
(5:30 p.m.; also 3 p.m. April 19)

Taking its name from the official language of Rwanda, this Sundance award winner tells the intertwining stories of Rwandans during the 1994 genocide, including a Hutu/Tutsi husband/wife, their daughter, a minister, and a commander in the Rwandan Patriotic Front. Previous films on the subject have oversimplified the issues or told the story from an outsider's perspective; but this film — the first dramatic work conceived and produced by Rwandans — gives voice to all sides, including a former machete man haunted by his horrific crimes. We're also introduced to heroes overlooked in the media reports, such as the head mufti of Rwanda — the representative of the country's Muslims, who signed a fatwa condemning the atrocities and offered Tutsis refuge. This powerful, important work brings to light the hatred, confusion, racism, frenzy, heroism and love in a country's darkest hour. Director Alrick Brown will attend. —TONY YOUNGBLOOD

★THE INTERRUPTERS
(6 p.m.; also 1 p.m. April 17)

From director Steve James, whose 1994 film Hoop Dreams was one of the most critically acclaimed documentaries of the past two decades, comes this up-close look at "violence interrupters" from Chicago violence prevention organization CeaseFire. Accepting that bringing an end to gang activity is an unrealistic goal in the foreseeable future, they have one simple, though exceptionally difficult, goal: to stop people from killing each other. James follows three interrupters, all former gang members and ex-convicts, as they get tips on potential flare-ups and do their best to mediate before the shooting starts, and he also captures devastating scenes of the emotional carnage gang violence leaves in its wake. The storyline involving interrupter Ameena Matthews is particularly fascinating. A former gang enforcer whose father, notorious Chicago gang leader Jeff Fort, is serving a life sentence, Matthews is fearless and street-savvy, and her ability to break down the walls of even the toughest gang members is remarkable. The movie's 167-minute running time might be a tad longer than needed, but regardless, it's highly recommended. Produced by James and Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here. —JACK SILVERMAN

★BUCK
(7 p.m.; also 3 p.m. April 19)

Even audiences who think "bridle" has something to do with weddings will be engrossed by this Sundance prize-winner. John Wayne's got nothing on the hero of first-time director Cindy Meehl's moving documentary: Buck Brannaman, the real-life inspiration for The Horse Whisperer, a quiet man whose abusive childhood served as the impetus for working with troubled horses and their equally troubled owners. Equal parts cowboy wisdom and Zen and the Art of Horse Training, his training clinics are surprisingly compelling — especially when he's forced to deal with a violent colt that attacks one of his ranch hands. —LANCE CONZETT

BOB AND THE MONSTER
(7:45 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. April 19)

Many rock fans don't know the name Bob Forrest, but it wasn't meant to be that way. As singer for L.A. freak-punk luminaries Thelonious Monster — contemporaries of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction, Circle Jerks, X and Fishbone (subjects of their own NaFF doc this year, Everyday Sunshine, screening 2:45 p.m. April 19) — Forrest carved out a name for himself as a volatile, poetic and captivating frontman destined for greatness ... and as a junkie. This ultimately touching documentary — through personal interviews, celebrity commentary, archival footage and a variety of animations — chronicles the rise and total fall to rock bottom that led Forrest to reanimate himself as an influential and respected substance-abuse counselor. His unconventional and empathetic approach to treatment — and outspoken opposition to many more conventional forms of it — have made him a controversial figure to some and a guru to others. Filmmaker Keirda Bahruth will attend. —ADAM GOLD

BLOOMINGTON
(8 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. April 19)

It's the oldest story in the book: A former child star, known for her role on a cult-hit sci-fi TV program, decides to attend college in Bloomington, Ind., where she begins an affair with her femme-fatale psych professor. But refreshing as it is to see a lesbian relationship treated as the plot rather than a plot device, writer-director Fernanda Cardoso's execution never lives up to her oddball setup. Oh, and a note to the raincoat crowd: There isn't any nudity, so don't even go there. Cardoso will attend. —D. PATRICK RODGERS

★ROAD TO NOWHERE
(8 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. April 17)

Remember when Godard made a movie called Nouvelle Vague? That's Monte Hellman making a movie called Road to Nowhere — a title that could represent most everything the director has ever made, from the enigmatic Jack Nicholson western The Shooting to his great self-destroying '70s racing movie Two-Lane Blacktop. We haven't had a chance to see this modern-day noir about a movie director lured by his leading lady (Shannyn Sossamon) into a web of deceit extending from the Smokies to Europe, but I can't imagine a cinephile alive who wouldn't want to see Hellman's first new feature in two decades on the big screen. Hellman and screenwriter/Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos — who played the Nixon-masked robber in Hellman's 1974 classic Cockfighter, now under restoration — will attend. —JIM RIDLEY

THE BIG UNEASY
(9 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. April 19)

Directed by legendary actor, comedian, writer, voice-over extraordinaire, and self-proclaimed "part-time" New Orleanian Harry Shearer, this documentary is more parts Principal Skinner than Derek Smalls, as the renaissance man anatomizes — through two sets of independent experts, a whistleblower and John Goodman — the man-made disaster that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The film breaks down the boondoggles, willful ignorance and implied cover-up that preceded and succeeded the flooding of New Orleans, essentially bringing a moral and ethical indictment down on the Army Corps of Engineers for their complicity in fostering infrastructural failings that could've easily saved lives. While this subject matter, and many of these claims, have been covered to great extent, Shearer does a pretty good job of making a case you, the jury, can understand. Celebrity narrators include Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Francis Ford Coppola and Trent Reznor, who wants to educate you like an animal. Shearer will attend. —ADAM GOLD

★BELLFLOWER
(10 p.m.)

Jackass meets Bottle Rocket in this very strange indie romance, about an amateur inventor/LA dirtball (played by writer-director-star Evan Glodell) who has a whirlwind romance with a woman he meets in a cricket-eating contest. Then comes the heartbreak. And the flamethrowers. And the apocalypse. If all this were played as a quirky cartoon, Bellflower would be rough going, but Glodell makes it more like a lost, grubby '70s exploitation flick, populated by characters imported from a more realistic slice-of-life movie. Bellflower doesn't have a strong raison d'être, but it's endearingly crackpot, with a plot that's like one long, drunken dare. Glodell will attend. —NOEL MURRAY

PIG
(10 p.m.; also 7:45 p.m. April 19)

Either you'll figure out the mystery early on in this self-serious B-movie making its world premiere, or the paint-dry pacing will leave you begging for something, anything to actually happen. A man (Mad Men/Buffy the Vampire Slayer vet Rudolf Martin) wakes up in the desert with no memory of his identity. He's nursed back to health by a mysterious single mom, and they go on a quest to find "Manny Elder," a name he found scribbled on a piece of paper in his pocket. Cookie-cut from the M. Night Shyamalan mold, the entire plot seems built around the inevitable "gotcha" twist. Unfortunately, the story plays too loose with the clues, and the only "gotcha" happens when the credits roll and you realize you've just wasted the last hour and a half. Writer-director Henry Barrial will attend. —TONY YOUNGBLOOD

Sunday, 17th

WHIRLIGIG
(2:30 p.m.; also 5:30 p.m. April 18)

Have you ever seen a movie at a film festival that was so lousy, it made you wonder if the fest just needed to fill space? That's how you'll feel if you see this ball-itcher. James McAvoy lookalike Gregory Smith stars as Nicholas, an uber-neurotic, ex-Mormon missionary who tracks down his parents at their seaside home and crashes in their barn for a month. He passes the time by having an affair with their next-door neighbor, a cougary wife and mother who seems to be more lost, selfish and self-destructive than he is. While the movie's supposed to be a cute, offbeat take on adults running away from adulthood, it ultimately turns out to be one of those annoyingly quirky, incessantly boneheaded indies that infuriates more than satisfies. —CRAIG D. LINDSEY

★AIN’T IN IT FOR MY HEALTH: A FILM ABOUT LEVON HELM
(3 p.m.; also 7:45 p.m. April 18)

Levon Helm's musical influence is enormous, still echoing loudly in dozens of Americana and roots acts recording today. But instead of trotting out the highlights of Helm's considerable legacy, most notably with The Band, director Jacob Hartley focuses on the man he is today. The pride of Turkey Scratch, Ark., is now 70 years old, and he looks a decade older, but his backwoods charm, homespun humor and impish grin are as strong as ever, whether he's crooning an old country ballad, toking on a joint or discussing the venomous spurs of the duckbill platypus. That's not to say the past is ignored: Band fans will be thrilled by several rarely seen clips, including a raucous early-'70s "Chest Fever" before a stadium crowd. But Hartley's film is ultimately the tale of a gritty, irrepressible survivor — of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, betrayal, bankruptcy, even throat cancer. And despite his advanced years, when Helm manages to get enough air vibrating through those ravaged vocal cords to carry a tune — an iffy proposition on any given day — it's positively spine-tingling. —JACK SILVERMAN

SUMMER OF GOLIATH
(5:30 p.m.)

Mexican-Canadian director Nicolás Pereda's fiction/documentary hybrid has been a fixture on the festival circuit since its debut late last year, and not without reason. Goliath entails a substantial degree of mystery and a not inconsiderable dollop of humor. But this fractured puzzle-tale, about the members of a family in rural Oaxaca struggling to cope after the paterfamilias abandons them, is frustrating, obdurate, and seems intent on withholding surface pleasures like color and composition. Major ideas (including the one that lends the film its title) are left hanging, and Pereda's structural conceits, such as having "performers" re-create ostensibly real-life events, seem to have little purpose beyond their own "Hi there!" formalism. Fans say the more of this guy's films you see, the more sense they make. I say, see The Arbor instead. In Spanish with subtitles. —MICHAEL SICINSKI

A BAG OF HAMMERS
(7:30 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. April 18)

Brian Crano's debut feature, starring Jason Ritter, Jake Sandvig and Rebecca Hall, is — well, a mixed bag. Sandvig and Ritter play buddies who ward off adulthood by posing as valets to steal cars — at funerals. Knowing that, you may not be shocked to find out that A Bag of Hammers is somewhat hamstrung by its premise. About halfway through, when things start to get serious, the film's farcical elements are pressed awkwardly against some real substance. Chemistry among the actors allows for occasional success in both areas, but as a whole, A Bag of Hammers is more like a bottle of oil and water. Crano will attend. —STEVEN HALE

★IT’S ABOUT YOU
(8 p.m.)

Even casual fans of John Mellencamp shouldn't pass up the chance to see him in this — shot perfectly on Super 8, smoking through vocal takes, and singing about death and reckoning in minor-league ball parks across America. But It's About You is as much about the filmmakers, Kurt Markus and his son Ian, as the film's subject. The elder Markus narrates as we follow Mellencamp through his 2009 summer tour and the recording of No Better Than This, an album full of songs that sound the way It's About You looks. I don't believe I'd rather hear, or see, the subject any other way. The Markuses will attend. —STEVEN HALE

JUST LIKE US
(8 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. April 18)

Egyptian-American comedian Ahmed Ahmed's heart was in the right place when he set out to make Just Like Us. Creating a cultural understanding between Americans and Arabs through stand-up comedy is an admirable goal (you don't need to travel far from Nashville to see why). On celluloid, however, it's a slog. Opening with a 10-minute parade of "man on the street" sub-Average Joes cracking racist jokes about women in burqas and whatnot, the film plods along using the formula from Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show without deciding what it wants to say or whom it's addressing. The comics are funny, the culture shock is interesting, but the movie suffers from repetitive narration, sentimentality and lack of focus. Ahmed will attend. —LANCE CONZETT

HEAVY METAL PICNIC
(9:45 p.m.)

If at any point between the years 1980 and 1990 you were caught on camera shirtless, in a mullet, bombed on PBRs or hollering "PREEEESST!!!" while making devil horns, the danger exists that Jeff Krulik has you somewhere on tape. Here, the "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" auteur (with partner John Heyn) commemorates a 10th-rate 1985 Maryland metal festival that attracted a few drunken headbangers and a little media notoriety, then was promptly forgotten about five minutes later. Or it would have been, had it not survived in camcorder footage shot using a CBS microphone filched from the Reagan inauguration. The movie's built-in limitation — who cares? — is also its beauty: It's like a document of that utterly inconsequential time, y'know, when we all got drunk out there at — where was it again? To be shown with the 25th anniversary version of the undimmed "Heavy Metal Parking Lot," with Krulik attending. —JIM RIDLEY

Monday, 18th

★THE RED CHAPEL
(1 p.m.; also 8 p.m. April 19)

"Comedy is the soft spot of all dictators," narrates director Mads Brügger in this brave documentary about life in ultra-secretive North Korea. Brügger and Danish-Korean comedy duo The Red Chapel infiltrate the country under the pretense of a comedy performance and a pro-regime making-of documentary. In reality, they are trying to expose North Korea's isolationism, repression and crimes against humanity. The footage is reviewed each night by the secret police, so they must put on happy faces as they encounter increasingly surreal staged scenes of North Korean life. Self-described "spastic" comedian Jacob Nosell is the only one who can truly speak his mind because the secret police can't understand his slurred Danish speech. After the state-mandated "artistic director" steps in, the show goes from being a cultural exchange to a North Korean propaganda piece, most notably in confining Jacob to a wheelchair, not letting him speak, and making him stand during curtain call to fool the audience into believing he's merely "acting" disabled. The implications are truly chilling when Jacob asks, "Where are all the disabled people in North Korea?" In Danish and Korean with subtitles. —TONY YOUNGBLOOD

NENETTE
(3 p.m.; also 5:30 p.m. April 21)

At times, Nicolas Philibert's quiet meditation on a 40-year-old orangutan's daily existence in a Parisian zoo teeters precipitously on the fine line between hypnotic and boring. But the thoughtful cinematography by Philibert (To Be and To Have) and Katell Dijan tips it toward the former, casting Nénette more as an art film than a documentary. Nénette has lived in captivity for 37 years, survived three mates and given birth four times. Though we hear voices of zookeepers and patrons, the camera stays focused on the inscrutable protagonist and her fellow orangutans, offering only occasional glimpses of humankind via reflections on the glass of the animals' enclosure. Such shots are an obvious visual metaphor for the visitors seeing the apes as reflections of themselves, and some reviews have suggested the film is a condemnation of the practice of keeping animals in captivity. But Philibert seems less interested in delivering a pat message than in creating a unique experience — and at that, he definitely succeeds. —JACK SILVERMAN

★CATERPILLAR
(3 p.m.; also 5:15 p.m. April 21)

Not many films open with a brutal rape and murder, then somehow get even more harrowing from there — but pinku eiga auteur Koji Wakamatsu's scalding anti-war drama does. Kyuzo Kurokawa, a Japanese lieutenant, returns from the Second Sino-Japanese War limbless and disfigured. For his heroism, he is a "War God" in the empire's eyes. But he is a monster in his wife's — and as Shigeko struggles to be a dutiful spouse, we learn the depth of that monstrosity. While striking and profound, the film's broad historical strokes — including newsreel footage of war casualties and pointed jabs at obsequious patriotism — are nothing compared to its devastating, point-blank portrayal of the horrific intimacy between a husband and wife transformed by war. Deeply unsettling. In Japanese with subtitles. —STEVE HARUCH

★THE ARBOR
(5:45 p.m.; also 1:45 p.m. April 20)

One of this year's must-sees. It's the story of British playwright Andrea Dunbar, a poor 15-year-old growing up in project housing who, in the early '80s, had a successful play (called The Arbor) about her own kitchen-sink existence. This was followed by two more plays, alcoholism and near-obscurity. She had three children, each by different fathers; one of the kids, Lorraine, was half-Pakistani, something Andrea never fully accepted. The second half of The Arbor tells Lorraine's equally tragic story. Director Clio Barnard's coup is in conducting actual interviews with the key participants, and then having those audiotapes lip-synched and performed onscreen by actors in semi-artificial circumstances. The result is a documentary/fiction hybrid whose distancing strategies paradoxically result in heightening this real-life drama of maternal dissolution. —MICHAEL SICINSKI

★LE QUATTRO VOLTE (THE FOUR TIMES)
(7 p.m.)

Part anthropological survey, part avant-garde nature film, part God's-eye view of the universe from a decidedly materialist standpoint, Le Quattro Volte functions in some ways as a set of vignettes — a collection of interrelated stories of the Earth and its various inhabitants. The almost wordless film is filled with unexpected surprises and delights, and this is made all the more impressive by the fact that its trajectory, its overarching theme and structure, is wholly determined, perhaps even deterministic. Somehow, director Michelangelo Frammartino generates a firm cycle of mandatory events and orchestrates wonder within them. His fixed points are simply a man, a goat, a tree, and finally a lump of coal — and yet somehow these manage to encompass virtually everything. Highly recommended. —MICHAEL SICINSKI

THE TROLL HUNTER
(10 p.m.)

André Ovredal's Norwegian "found footage" creature-feature follows a group of student filmmakers into the wild, where they encounter a gruff, eccentric hunter on a covert mission to control the country's troll population. The trolls are funny and creepy, and it's clever the way the heroes try to bait them (e.g., putting three billy goats on top of a bridge). But not so good? The hunting. A good hour-plus of the movie is dedicated to short shots of the Norwegian landscape from a moving vehicle, and while the countryside is beautiful, the shaky-cam cinematography gets tedious. In Norwegian with subtitles. —NOEL MURRAY

Tuesday, 19th

★MY JOY
(5:45 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. April 21)

The debut fiction feature by documentary director Sergei Loznitsa depicts Russia as a Kafkaesque hinterland filled with highwaymen both literal and metaphorical. My Joy follows Georgy (Viktor Nemets), a trucker carrying freight along a backwoods border route. After witnessing a young, attractive woman being molested at a roadside police checkpoint, Georgy finds his passenger seat suddenly filled by a rogue hop-on. He's a World War II veteran whose story takes us deeply into a period flashback, wherein we witness his systematic abuse at the hands of Stalinist army officers. The old man's tale (only the first of many bizarre surprises Loznitsa has in store) sets the stage for everything we're going to see throughout My Joy: craven abuse of power, rampant misogyny and xenophobia — essentially the fetid soul of Russia, decaying from the inside out. In Russian with subtitles. —MICHAEL SICINSKI

★THE CATECHISM CATACLYSM
(10 p.m.; also 3:30 p.m. April 20)

Todd Rohal's gleefully dopey comedy stars Steve Little (best-known for playing Kenny Powers' dim-witted yes-man on Eastbound & Down) as a bumbling priest who invites an old high school acquaintance (played by the scruffily avuncular Robert Longstreet) on an increasingly weird canoe trip. Unlike Rohal's quirk-in-extremis debut The Guatemalan Handshake, The Catechism Cataclysm is more in the vein of Eastbound or Pineapple Express (whose writer-producer-directors Jody Hill and David Gordon Green produced Cataclysm). Even after the movie gets surreal, it remains rooted in funny reaction shots, and in Rohal's clever riff on the idea of stories nested within stories, with no clear escape route. Rohal will attend. —NOEL MURRAY

Wednesday, 20th

THE ROBBER
(5 p.m.; also 2:45 p.m. April 21)

Using the true story of Johann Rettenberger, a marathon-running German thrill junkie who led a dual life as an armed robber, director Benjamin Heisenberg creates an existential crime thriller that's little but speed and forward momentum. With Revanche's chiseled Andreas Lust as the closed-off anti-hero, it resembles one of Michael Mann's cold exercises in criminal pathology (or Walter Hill's The Driver) as Heisenberg keeps the Steadicam hurtling forward from sprint to bank job with few distractions. Despite a superbly staged closing manhunt, however, the movie ultimately demonstrates the limits of how much interest those elements alone can generate. Still, genre fans might find it a real surprise. In German with subtitles. —JIM RIDLEY

THE WOLF KNIFE
(5:30 p.m.; also noon April 21)

Video artist Laurel Nakadate's aesthetic mien has been fairly consistent: suburban girls negotiating their desires, with creepy old men lurking behind every Walmart. In The Wolf Knife, her second feature, precocious 16-year-old Chrissy (Christina Kolozsvary) embarks on a road trip from Florida to Nashville with her BFF June (Julie Potratz), supposedly to locate Chrissy's dad. These false pretenses are just the beginning of a journey fraught with "bad touch" and love/hate tension thick as a cinderblock. Wolf Knife ultimately falters, mainly because its rambling, exploratory style is a ruse — it's got a very specific trajectory — but Nakadate is onto something. These are the further adventures of the girls we glimpsed once across a crowded party, thinking we'd never see them again. Nakadate will attend. —MICHAEL SICINSKI

THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER
(7:30 p.m.; also 3 p.m. April 21)

This Israeli tragicomedy by Lemon Tree director Eran Riklis reminds me how mechanically consistent the tone is in most American films. The audience must be told right up front: "This is drama" or "this is comedy." But Riklis' story of a self-absorbed middle manager at a Jerusalem corporate bakery is a hybrid. It starts out bleak: he's failing his boss, his wife and his kid, and on top of that he's trying to manage a scandal about a foreign employee so marginalized that when she's killed in a bombing, nobody notices for days. Then, suddenly, it becomes a darkly comic road movie as he escorts her coffin back to Romania and faces kooky bureaucracy, quirky characters and a punchline nobody expects. Too bad more movies don't take such an offbeat route. In Hebrew and Romanian with subtitles. —DANA KOPP FRANKLIN

SEPTIEN
(7:30 p.m.; also 2 p.m. April 21)

To tell you what the Nashville-shot Septien is about would only give you the wrong idea. All I know is that Cornelius Rawlings (actor-director Michael Tully) comes forth from the woods after an 18-year absence, looking something like a comatose Jesus — and from that point on, I had the distinct feeling that Tully and Septien had me right where they wanted me, somewhere between repulsed and completely hooked. I guarantee at least four moments wherein you will laugh loudly, only to quickly check the theater for cues as to whether you were supposed to or not: It happened to me and I watched it alone. You may hate Septien, which reunites Trash Humpers co-stars Rachel Korine and Brian Kotzur and is nearly as polarizing, but I cannot tell you not to see it in good conscience. I'm not saying it's genius, but I'm not saying it ain't either. Bonus: a screening of Harmony Korine's Die Antwoord short "Umshini Wam (Get My Machine Gun)," which may be the best-looking thing he's ever shot (kudos to Silent Light cinematographer Alexis Zabe). Tully and the Korines will attend. —STEVEN HALE

Thursday, 21st

★TERRI
(7:30 p.m.)

It would be fairly easy to write this off as a near-fetched companion piece to last year's Cyrus, but the fact is that it's every bit as entertaining, if slightly darker in tone. Both films revolve around a young social misfit who, via whatever circumstance, finds himself contending with John C. Reilly as a father figure. In this instance, Reilly plays an assistant high school principal (!!) with a soft spot for his school outcasts. His newest recruit is Terri (impressively played with oafish detachment by newcomer Jacob Wysocki), an overweight kid who looks out for his aging pilled-out uncle (Creed Bratton) with more attentiveness than he can muster to get out of his pajamas for school. Through his sessions with Reilly's character, Terri befriends two other fellow outcasts, an abrasive goth-like weirdo and a pretty blonde who may be turning into the class ho. Momma's Man writer-director Azazel Jacobs sets a solid foundation on the strength of the characters and builds to the classic teenage comedy setup a la Sixteen Candles where one legendary night among the three has the potential to change everything about their boxed-in lives. Jacobs will attend. —TOBY LEONARD

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