Your user’s guide to the 45th annual Nashville Film Festival 

Reel Nashville 2014

Reel Nashville 2014
click to enlarge mag.jpg

Illustration: Jordan Proper

The Nashville Film Festival is many things — among them a showcase for independent film, one of the city's biggest arts events and a growing tourist destination — but there's one thing it is decidedly not: a Johnny-come-lately. At age 45, the city's annual celebration of regional and international film (which began life in 1969 as Sinking Creek) stands as an elder statesman alongside the likes of Sundance (established 1978), Toronto (1976) and Telluride (1976).

With the festival nearing the half-century mark, NaFF artistic director Brian Owens, executive director Ted Crockett and development director Deb Pinger are making a concerted move this year to expand the event beyond its regular attendance of approximately 25,000 patrons. When the fest kicks off Thursday at Green Hills, it'll not only boast an expanded run — over two consecutive weekends through April 26 — but a new downtown campus at Walk of Fame Park, where condo dwellers and city visitors can enjoy nightly parties interspersed with free screenings of favorites such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Pulp Fiction.

But for loyal viewers who've followed the NaFF from Sarratt to The Belcourt to Regal over the years, one concern trumps all others: the movies. And the larger the festival grows, the harder it is to choose among its spread of locally shot features (like James Clauer's When the World's on Fire), hotly anticipated documentaries (like Joe Berlinger's portrait of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger), music films (like the Memphis blues doc Take Me to the River), late-night cult items (like the offerings in this year's Graveyard Shift), and festival-circuit conversation pieces (like the experimental program and the two features by director Josephine Decker). In that spirit, the Scene offers this annual guide to making the most of your time in Green Hills' warm, dark screening rooms over the next 10 days.

First, some practical concerns. Advance tickets are available at until the day of the show, or at the Regal Green Hills Cinema's downstairs box office. Get them — anything that cuts your wait in line is worth it (as long as you budget a half-hour or so before show time to pick up your tickets at will-call). Plus you'll be assured tickets to reliable NaFF sell-outs like the Tennessee-related features and shorts opening night, or anything with a visiting celebrity. This year that roster includes The Identical's Ray Liotta, Seth Green, Joe Pantoliano and Ashley Judd, Chasing Ghosts' Robyn Lively, and Grace's Sharon Lawrence and Annika Marks, who'll be walking the same red carpet as teenage Nashville screenwriters Jaida Utley and Jessica Polk (screening their short films made through the ICiT program 10:30 a.m. Saturday). Already some of these are in "rush" status — i.e., all advance tix are sold out, but more may open up right before show time.

As for making your selections, we've watched more than 35 films at this year's NaFF, and we've got picks below for those we feel you shouldn't miss (and a few you can). If your time is limited, we've assembled a list of recommendations if you can only see five movies, organized according to your taste and interest. We've also assembled a list of some of the fest's hottest tickets that hadn't been screened at press time.

But as always, it's fun to take a chance on a movie you know nothing about — an increasing luxury in our PR-besotted, spoiler-studded film culture. Swap tips with other viewers — every year a previously unknown quantity such as last year's sci-fi musical The History of Future Folk will emerge from the week as an audience favorite. Watch the downstairs lobby for information about sell-outs, cancellations and added screenings, and we'll pass along updates and daily dispatches over the Scene's arts blog Country Life and its Twitter feed.

So take your seat — the lights are going down.

* = Strongly recommended

Thursday. 17th

click to enlarge The Identical
  • The Identical

(7 p.m.; also 5:45 p.m. April 23; 4:30 p.m. April 26) Fifties rock icon Elv — excuse me, "Drexel Hemsley" had a twin who not only didn't die at birth, he had the same preternatural gifts. But the twin grew up unawares in the cradle of the church, drawn to the flame of rock 'n' roll despite the warnings of his adoptive revival-preacher dad (Ray Liotta). There are a dozen ways this premise could have gone, all of them intriguing, but director Dustin Marcellino and screenwriter Howard Klausner have taken the one least likely to rouse a certain Memphis rock legend's litigious estate: a tepid faith-based musical drama too cautiously innocuous to produce much excitement. As the twins, newcomer Blake Rayne is well cast as a pretty good state-fair Elvis impersonator (with a song score to match); what keeps you watching the handsome Coke Sams-Clarke Gallivan production are that premise, the Middle Tennessee locations and a top-notch supporting cast that includes Seth Green and Ashley Judd. And let it be said there isn't a movie that veteran character actor Joe Pantoliano cannot juice up. Jim Ridley

Friday, 18th

click to enlarge Vic + Flo Saw a Bear
  • Vic + Flo Saw a Bear
(Noon; also 5:45 p.m. April 25) This dark lesbian romance jumps from genre to genre — comedy, film noir, even horror — yet remains cohesive throughout, yet again reaffirming Quebecois auteur Denis Côté as a talent to watch. The tale of a couple (Pierrette Robitaille and Romane Bohringer) who met in prison and are trying to make a life for themselves in rural Quebec under the watchful eye of a gay male P.O. and creepy neighbors, it avoids the voyeuristic pitfalls of most films about lesbians directed by straight men. Where many filmmakers would find the promise of a new life in the woods, Côté shows danger and the difficulty of escaping old patterns of behavior. Vic + Flo recalls Fargo, but without all the snark. In French with subtitles. Steve Erickson

(12:30 p.m.; also 5:45 p.m. April 24) The latest product of Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab, which brought us the stunning Leviathan last year, Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez's experiential documentary consists of 11 10-minute shots taken from a stationary camera in a Nepalese people-mover as it goes to a mountaintop temple. It's the kind of film that sounds boring on paper, but casts a hypnotic spell if you give it a chance. Little details take on huge importance. Additionally, the film's world — with its panoramic view of Nepalese life, which includes elderly religious devotees, heavy metal fans and even a group of unaccompanied goats — suggests greater social significance than one might expect from such a simple concept. Steve Erickson

(3:15 p.m.; also 9:45 p.m. April 21) Don't show up for this screening expecting a typical narrative experience, but by all means do show up. The experimental film from Ben Rivers and Ben Russell recently screened at MoMA, and a fine arts mentality will serve you well here. That's not to say this is a difficult film — it's enjoyable from beginning to end, once you abandon attempts to uncover a narrative and fall into its meditative trance. Divided into three distinct phases — a hippie commune in Estonia, a trip through the quiet wilderness of Northern Finland, and a death-metal concert in Norway — A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness is cohesive only in its inclusion of a main character, played by Kranky and Thrill Jockey artist Robert AA Lowe. Laura Hutson

(3:30 p.m.; also 6:45 p.m. April 24) Turkey and Ukraine both reside geographically at the nexus of East and West, and both nations are wracked by struggles to reconcile the conflict. Maryna Gorbach and Mehmet Bahadir Er's funny, bittersweet romance, a joint Turkish and Ukrainian production, never mentions culture wars or geopolitical crisis, but that's the implicit backdrop to the comedy of errors that befalls its odd-couple protagonists. Sasha (Viktoria Spesivtseva) is a model trying to support her mom and grandmother in post-Soviet Ukraine — while juggling the demands of her rich, neglectful married boyfriend. Cemal (Ushan Cakir) is a Turkish tourist dragged reluctantly to Kiev on a bachelor party trip organized by his businessman uncle. The resulting story has the heart, mind and soul that American rom-coms always seem to lack. In Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish with subtitles. Dana Kopp Franklin

(7 p.m.; also 10 a.m. April 19, 1:30 p.m. Apr. 26) Walk the Line producer James Keach's unflinching documentary could just as easily been titled The Man Who Wasn't There, given its almost voyeuristically personal look at Glen Campbell's unprecedentedly public battle with Alzheimer's disease. Allowed startling access, Keach chronicles the country legend as his memory deteriorates over the course of a 2011/2012 farewell tour on which his children serve as his backing band. Seeing the iconic singer struggle to remember where the bathroom is in his own home, or forget why he's at The Grammys (to receive a lifetime achievement award) makes I'll Be Me a difficult experience for fans. But that's the point: Showing Campbell at his most vulnerable, the singer and his family draw attention to just how dreadful a disease Alzheimer's is. Though many of the concert scenes capture an out-of-sorts Campbell during trainwreck moments, many others show him blazing through jaw-dropping guitar solos, singing in astoundingly fine voice and enrapturing crowds, making the case that the tour prolonged Campbell's grasp on his faculties. But even the best nights are marked by the tragic inevitability that with each performance, Campbell is holding on less and less to his gift of song — and to personal and musical memories of his extraordinary American life. A must-see. Adam Gold

(7:30 p.m.; also 4 p.m. April 21) Tommy Oliver's intimate miserabilist melodrama takes you back to the early days of the crack epidemic, as a blue-collar family man (Hill Harper) tries to keep his home life together when his ex-addict spouse (Sharon Leal) gets hooked on the drug and abandons him and their daughter (promising newcomer Troi Zee). Harper does some Denzel-caliber work, while Ruby Dee, Bokeem Woodbine and The Blind Side's Quinton Aaron show up for all-too-brief supporting turns; meanwhile, the villainous drug dealer who breaks up Harper's happy home is played by — I shit you not — a miscast Wayne Brady. Craig D. Lindsey

(9:15 p.m.; also 3 p.m. April 21) The third film in Joel Potrykus' "Animal Trilogy," Buzzard centers on small-time scammer Marty Jackitansky, a disaffected temp clawing his way through life, one fraudulently returned stapler at a time. It's tough to feel much sympathy for Marty, who oscillates between being a total scumbag and a victim of an unfair world, but Potrykus' stark low-budget squirm-fest does as fine a job of portraying Marty's complexity as Marty does in smashing a Power Glove in the opening. Lance Conzett

(9:30 p.m.; also 9:30 p.m. April 24) Director Andrew Stubbs tags along with former Dr. Dog drummer Juston Stens on the latter's "Kerouac-ian" cross-country quest to record a collaborative album with the likes of Wilco's John Stirratt, Spoon's Jim Eno and more — not to mention past and present Nashvillians including Jessica Lea Mayfield, David Vandervelde and former Those Darlins member Kelley Anderson. I Lay Where I Fall is an intimate and evenhanded portrait, highlighting both the triumphs and the frustrations of the creative process and the life of a motorcycling free spirit who doesn't always know the right way to execute his vision. Vexing as some of the more difficult moments may have been for those involved, it's a consistently rewarding experience for the viewer. And it doesn't hurt that some of the music is genuinely quite good. D. PATRICK RODGERS

Saturday, 19th

(1 p.m.; also 12:45 p.m. April 23) Director Ágnes Sós hits the personality jackpot in this charming (if somewhat meandering) documentary, which explores the past lives and loves of the elderly residents of a small Transylvanian village that time forgot. Sós trades overall narrative arcs for vignette storytelling, and in the process gets her subjects to gamely open up on their attitudes about love and sex, both past and present. The film's scope is almost too small at times, but the exuberant stories contained within make up for any shortcomings of ambition by embracing the warmth and character of the people. In Hungarian with subtitles. Carrie Raisler

click to enlarge The Ballad of Shovels and Rope
  • The Ballad of Shovels and Rope
(3:15 p.m.; also 2 p.m. April 23) If this were only a documentary about a little Southern band that goes from sleeping in Walmart parking lots on tour to gracing the cover of the Nashville Scene — er, to playing the Ryman as conquering Americana heroes — or was just an intimate look at a married couple fighting like hell to build a life together doing what they love, it'd be fantastic. Somehow it manages to be both. Whatever your opinion of the band going in, it's impossible not to root for them, even though we see the basic shape of their trajectory in the very first frames. As in his other work with the Nashville documentary outfit Moving Picture Boys, director Jace Freeman shows an incredible eye — compiling one accidentally perfect shot after another in a way that allows even the smallest gestures to resonate deeply and beautifully. Steve Haruch

(6 p.m.) Being openly bisexual — never mind HIV-positive — might be considered a liability in the world of country music songwriting. But Jimbeau Hinson isn't your run-of-the-mill Music Row songsmith. A gregarious force of nature with a rafter-rattling laugh, Hinson has written hit songs for The Oak Ridge Boys, David Lee Murphy, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea and Brenda Lee, to name a few. Filmmaker Rex Jones, from the University of Mississippi's Southern Documentary Project, sits down with Hinson to discuss his career, a couple of near-fatal bouts with AIDS, and his 33-year marriage with wife Brenda. Seeing a notable force in the conservative world of mainstream country music speak so openly about his same-sex relationships is refreshing, and Hinson offers sage words of advice for aspiring songwriters. Jack Silverman

(6:15 p.m.; also 3:45 p.m. April 23) Bela Fleck's extraordinary technique, boldness and imagination as an improviser, bandleader and composer have been reflected in a host of brilliant recordings covering multiple idioms over his career. This intriguing documentary spotlights Fleck tackling another unique challenge: penning a classical work featuring his instrument and an 80-piece orchestra. How To Write a Banjo Concerto follows him from the piece's early stages to its debut presentation with the Nashville Symphony. Fleck also served as director and producer, and the film encompasses reflections, insights and viewpoints from such musical greats and friends as Earl Scruggs, Chick Corea, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, Zakir Hussain and Abigail Washburn. There's the added bonus of biographical nuggets that include the origin of Fleck's first name and the inspirations that fueled his drive to become a premier soloist and innovative, versatile personality. Ron Wynn

(6:30 p.m.; also 1 p.m. April 21) A recording-equipment and American musicology wonk's dream, The 78 Project follows director Alex Steyermark and recordist Lavinia Jones Wright on their Alan Lomax-inspired quest to document performances on a 1930s Presto direct-to-acetate disc recorder. The film features contemporary performances of classic blues, country, zydeco, folk, ragtime and gospel songs by artists from Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, California and beyond — Holly Williams, John C. Reilly and Tom Brosseau, John Paul Keith and The Bo-Keys among them — alongside tours of archives and an acetate manufacturing facility. At times, The 78 Project dips into geeked-out collectors' and experts' somewhat technical audio-speak. But the charm of the performances and surprisingly interesting history of this old machine, entangled as it is with American music's roots, make for a compelling watch. D. Patrick Rodgers

click to enlarge Undiscovered Gyrl
  • Undiscovered Gyrl
(7 p.m.; also 1 p.m. April 20) What are Christian Slater, Martin Sheen, Justin Long and Robert Patrick doing in a low-budget indie? Most of the time, they're being completely outshone by Under the Dome's Britt Robertson, whose vivid performance as the emotionally adrift Katie Kampenfelt channels the bewildering angst of teenagedom — including, but not limited to, a compulsion to bed older men — amid the newly colliding pressures of the adult world. The ingenious structure of Undiscovered Gyrl — named after Kampenfelt's gap-year blog, which gains a large and sometimes hostile following — helps deliver a startling turn. But even with the twist, which you'll never see coming but is no standard-issue wool-pulling, Robertson is the real revelation. Steve Haruch

(9:30 p.m.) Brendan Gleeson plays a spiritually torn and death-obsessed priest in Calvary, Irish filmmaker John Michael McDonagh's alternately hysterical and grim neo-noir. As Father James Lavelle, Gleeson searches for answers after a mysterious parishioner threatens to kill him in a week's time. Lavelle's descent into doubt is consistently compelling thanks to Gleeson's towering performance, the film's amazing cast (including M. Emmet Walsh, Chris O'Dowd and Isaach De Bankole), and McDonagh's biting dialogue. Calvary stands out in any festival's lineup; don't miss it. Simon Abrams

(9:30 p.m.; also 3:30 p.m. April 22) Eugene Olivier, the delusional theater geek played by Jordan Kenneth Kamp, is a mash-up of the worst parts of Arrested Development's Buster Bluth and Waiting for Guffman's Corky St. Clair; his former girlfriend and best friend have the misfortune to find him on their doorstep in L.A., clutching a dream project to his bosom: a musical version of Othello, which quickly falls through. If only there were a true-crime story of lingering notoriety that might offer fruitful parallels for a rewrite. ... The title is the ballsiest thing about writer-director Jeff Rosenberg's farce, which starts Guffman sour and ends Rushmore sweet (and skates too long in between on the outrageous promise of its title). But even if the movie rarely lives down to its tasteless premise, it's hard to dislike an original musical whose big "Let It Go" number is called "I'm Gonna Drive That Fucking Bronco Right Off the Road."Jim Ridley

Sunday, 20th

click to enlarge Blackout: On Swan Pond
  • Blackout: On Swan Pond
(1:30 p.m.; also 4:15 p.m. April 25) There's a lot to unpack in this riveting chronicle of the 2008 coal ash catastrophe at TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County, Tenn. — the largest industrial spill in U.S. history. And while a few threads don't get fully resolved, such as why previous warnings about the facility were ignored, Blackout does a terrific job putting a human face on the accident, the aftermath and its historical context — mostly by simply letting the people who lived it speak. "I wish everyone knew where their electricity comes from," says a resident who still lives in the shadow of the smokestacks. You may never look at a light switch the same way again. Steve Haruch

(3:30 p.m.; also 6:15 p.m. April 24) Joshua Overbay's Kentucky-shot indie about the final days of a rural religious cult has the bad luck to follow Martha Marcy May Marlene and Sound of My Voice, two more tightly wound and unnerving films with similar subject matter. But the premise has inherent fascination, and Overbay's film has a clever slant: What happens when the cult leader dies, and the guy who steps up to fill the void is a little unclear as to what the vision is? The largely subdued movie could use a little obsessive visionary madness of its own, but Chris Nelson, the replacement guru, has an Opie-gone-Jonestown look that gets freakier as the movie progresses. Jim Ridley

(4:15 p.m.; also 4 p.m. April 24) The story of Irish-born children's welfare advocate Christina Noble (played here by Deirdre O'Kane) is a dramatic one. Stephen Bradley's biopic alternates between two tales: her struggle to set up care for street children in Vietnam in 1989, and her own brutal youth as an abandoned child in 1950s Ireland. The film isn't as compelling as the material: It often resembles a joint U.K.-Irish-Vietnamese version of a sudsy Lifetime cable movie. On the other hand, the filmmakers are earnest, the settings are compelling, and Game of Thrones fans can enjoy a cameo by Liam Cunningham as Christina's bad-news dad. Dana Kopp Franklin

click to enlarge American Commune
  • American Commune
(4:30 p.m.; also 3:15 p.m. April 21) Does a fairly uninteresting narrative about an extremely interesting subject make a good story? In this case, it does. American Commune is a documentary about the Tennessee hippie commune The Farm, made by two sisters who were born and grew up there. Rena Mundo Croshere and Nadine Mundo's filmmaking chops are still developing, and the low-budget quality of the current-day interviews compared to the archival footage is slightly jarring. But this is a highly personal document about a truly unusual upbringing, which makes it more than worth your time. Laura Hutson

(6:15 p.m.; also 1:30 p.m. April 21) Tomer Almagor's moody relationship drama has budding indie horrormeister Amy Seimetz as a reckless, heartbroken gal who hooks up with a brooding, distant musician (Bret Roberts) and ends up having a relationship, mainly because they're such trainwrecks they'd scare off anybody saner. Donal Logue proves to be the movie's bright spot as a boozing country-music legend who learns a thing or two from Roberts' artiste. Other than that, you'll most likely spend the movie wondering why you're watching a love story about two people who barely like each other. Craig D. Lindsey

(7:30 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. April 21) Sean McNamara's historical drama is based on a compelling true story about a group of Virginia Military Institute cadets (including young Franklin actor Luke Benward and Modern Family's Nolan Gould) assigned to fight as part of the Confederate army at the Battle of New Market. (Several of the cadets lost their shoes as they trudged through the muddy battlefield, thus the film's title.) But two-dimensional characters, a cliché-ridden script and a healthy dose of melodrama make Field of Lost Shoes feel more like an ABC Family film than a notable motion picture — and since McNamara is known for his work on Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel and the Cartoon Network, perhaps that's intended. There are some big-name actors — Lauren Holly, Tom Skerritt and David Arquette — but they all turn in perfunctory performances in ancillary roles. If you're a Civil War buff or want to take your kids to see a historical drama, this might be worth a look. Jack Silverman

(9 p.m.; also 2:45 p.m. April 21) Imagine if the naive coming-of-age love story of Gas Food Lodging were interspersed with The Fisher King's fantasy elements, and the whole thing was shot by one of the teenage photographers from Rookie Yearbook One. From the opening credits — which include stop-motion vestiges of childhood like melting cupcakes and baby-doll heads — to scenes of the protagonist painting her toenails on the dashboard of her rebel boyfriend's rusted-out Datsun, Leah Meyerhoff's engrossing feature debut will make you miss being a teenager ... until it reminds you of all the ways it sucks. Laura Hutson

Monday, 21st

click to enlarge Art War
  • Art War
(6:45 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. April 22) The more political-minded among us will find plenty of reasons to love this German documentary about Egypt's involvement in the Arab Spring. But slightly less obvious is its relevancy for Nashville's contemporary artists. The art historical timeline between ancient art and political propaganda is what makes Marco Wilms' film truly special — graffiti writers tell the filmmakers that their agenda is "to create an alternative propaganda to counter the government's," like the face of a police sniper they stenciled throughout Tahrir Square as a warning for potential victims. This is graffiti at its most basic — as an honest-to-God last gasp against violent revolution. Laura Hutson

Tuesday, 22nd

(11:30 a.m.) If you missed it during its brief run at The Belcourt, see this special ITVS Community Cinema presentation sponsored by Nashville Public Television — it's one of the best movies screening at this year's festival. Last year was studded with remarkable, form-stretching documentaries, from The Act of Killing to Leviathan, but none was better than Jason Osder's damning inquest into the 1985 stand-off between the radical urban commune MOVE and Philadelphia police that resulted in 11 deaths. What makes Osder's gripping film even more impressive is that it's meticulously assembled from found footage: archival coverage of city post-mortem hearings, interviews and on-the-spot reportage that looks like dispatches from a war zone — which indeed the area proved to be. Jim Ridley

(6:15 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. April 23) When 7-year-old Paul Gray goes missing in his own home, a platoon of detectives led by Detective Skok (John Curran) descend upon his family to leave no stone unturned and no surface unplastered with missing posters. Congratulations! fancies itself as a wry, absurdist dark comedy, but first-time writer/director Mike Brune's ultra-dry sense of humor and fondness for repetition makes this debut less of an entertaining romp and more of an endurance test. Lance Conzett

(6:45 p.m.) There's a tendency in 21st century discourse to romanticize the civil rights movement and downplay the level of opposition blacks faced as they fought to secure their constitutional rights as American citizens. But acclaimed director Stanley Nelson's extraordinary documentary about a historic three-month period in 1964 shatters illusions regarding that era. While a coalition of volunteers, activists and local Mississippi citizens worked to register voters outside the state Democratic Party's racist apparatus, they encountered a vicious and violent backlash. There were more than 35 churches and community centers burned, 70 homes bombed, and four civil rights workers lost their lives. Despite this, the Freedom Summer succeeded in creating alternative educational and voting structures and even sent a 48-member Mississippi Freedom Party contingent to the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. Freedom Summer is an evocative account of triumph over repression and brutality, and a chronicle of courage that should never be forgotten. Ron Wynn

(9:15 p.m.; also 9 p.m. April 25) Was there a second shooter on the grassy knoll? Was 9/11 an inside job? You can add this to the list of great American conspiracy theories: Did Led Zeppelin play at a small youth center in Wheaton, Md., on their first American tour, or was it a mass hallucination? Some area residents swear they were there, while others are just as certain it never happened. Ostensibly a documentary exploring the controversy, Led Zeppelin Played Here is ultimately another lighthearted ode to small-town rock 'n' roll nostalgia — and an enjoyable one at that — by filmmaker Jeff Krulik, the man behind the cult classic Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Jack Silverman

Wednesday, 23rd

click to enlarge Bethlehem
  • Bethlehem
(6:30 p.m.) Both a gripping thriller and a nuanced look at the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bethlehem is a remarkable achievement, particularly given that it's Yuval Adler's first directorial effort, and that none of the the three leads — Tsahi Halevy, Haitham Omari and Shadi Mar'i — had acted professionally before. The film centers on the relationship between an Israeli intelligence officer and a 17-year-old Palestinian informant, and the external forces that seal their fate. Adler, a veteran of the Israeli army intelligence services, co-wrote the script with Muslim journalist Ali Waked, and Bethlehem does an admirable job examining both sides of the conflict. As the Israeli officer, Halevy gives a solid performance, but Omari (as an al-Aqsa Brigades leader) and Mar'i (as the teenage informant) are exceptional. One of the best films you'll see at this year's NaFF. Jack Silverman

(7 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. April 24) For a certain kind of English actor, the volatile ex-con is just behind Hamlet and Lear on the cinema bucket list. Jude Law has played Hamlet and has considerable time to go before he's ready to do Lear, so plunking him into a Mona Lisa-like story of a parolee bad-dad should work just fine. And for a little while, it does: There's some old-fashioned Bob Hoskins-style head-butting right up top (followed by some decidedly un-Hoskins sexual merriment), and Law makes palpable his joy at brutishly spitting writer-director Richard Shepard's long, vulgar monologues at a Shakespearean clip. If this were a stage performance, the front row would taste Law's saliva by the faceful, fresh from the gaps in his prosthetic jailhouse teeth. But Shepard, who most recently helmed some episodes of Lena Dunham's Girls, loses his way as soon as Law's title character loses the cash he needs to start his new life. After a first act flush with gangster vinegar and bad-guy blood comes an unwelcome dousing of sugar water (and the saltwater of tearful self-pity). By the end, Law is stranded in a Nick Hornby version of Sexy Beast. At least he has Richard E. Grant playing his long-suffering best friend. Scott Wilson

(9 p.m.) An atmospheric feature set in Brazil, following a party-happy DJ forced to travel to the jungle in search of valuable drawings that might save his family's antique business. He winds up at a blighted cocoa plantation presided over by the ferocious wife and daughter of an elderly collector. A vein of sap runs through the story, but director Bernard Attal (who previously made a documentary about the plight of cocoa farmers in Bahia, Brazil) delivers a moving conclusion. In Portuguese with subtitles. Dana Kopp Franklin

Thursday, 24th

(6 p.m.) Americans and most people in Western nations take clean drinking water for granted. But many others around the world don't have that luxury. Inventor Dean Kamen, holder of 44 patents, has spent more than 15 years participating in efforts to provide safe water in nations plagued by the problems of disease linked to infected lakes, streams and rivers. More than half the world's pathogens can be directly traced to vile water supplies. Paul Lazarus' Slingshot views this struggle through the prism of Kamen's involvement, and examines his transformative invention, Slingshot. It is an energy-efficient vapor-compression distiller that can turn any source into portable, safe water without using chemical additives or filters. The documentary follows Kamen's quest to get Slingshot widely distributed internationally through a deal with Coca-Cola, and its implementation in Ghana. Slingshot is the ideal example of technical brilliance working for the betterment of humanity rather than simply maximizing individual profits. Ron Wynn

Friday, 25th

click to enlarge Wetlands
  • Wetlands
(10 p.m.) Imagine if Birdcloud made a movie. The title refers not to ecology but gynecology, and for its first half-hour David Wnendt's in-your-face coming-of-age comedy tramples so many taboos about female hygiene, sexuality and acceptable behavior it's easy to understand the shrieks that reportedly greeted its Sundance screening. Wnendt borrows from Trainspotting's visual hyperbole as teenage narrator Helen (Carla Juri, who comes on like a cheerfully deviant Pippi Longstocking) confides waaay TMI about her hemorrhoids, her carefully cultivated vaginal cultures and her hobby of swabbing the grossest of public toilets for new germs (rendered here in a credit-sequence plunge into a CGI sci-fi war zone). Alas, the movie can't sustain its liberating punk swagger, explaining away its heroine through dubious psychology and family trauma and trumping up melodramatic crises — but at its most militantly vulgar and explicit, it's a triple-dare gag-reflex endurance test that would get a slow clap out of John Waters. In German with subtitles. Jim Ridley

Saturday, 26th

(6:45 p.m.) It's tough to make a post-hurricane documentary in the wake of Spike Lee's stunning Katrina meditation When the Levees Broke, and wisely, the post-Hurricane Sandy This Time Next Year doesn't try to compete at that level. Following a small handful of New Jersey residents spanning a time frame starting directly after the devastation and culminating with Gov. Chris Christie's visit after the cleanup, This Time Next Year tells decidedly small stories about everyday people. The film's style may not be revolutionary, but the toughness and spirit of the those affected on the Jersey shore shine through. Carrie Raisler


  • Illustration: Jordan Proper

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