Your user’s guide to the 2011 Nashville Film Festival 

Reel Nashville

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Friday, 15th

(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

(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

(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

(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

(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

(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

(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

(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

(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

(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

(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

(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

(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

(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


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