Despite these record-breaking numbers—and even billboards strategically placed around town advertising the event—it didn't seem like most people I talked to last week knew or even cared much it was going on. I'm not saying this is either good or bad, just pointing out that NaFF is largely an "insider" ordeal. Which isn't in the least surprising, considering that tickets for non-laminate holders range anywhere from twice that of your average matinee up to $75 for the opening-night film and proceeding party. That's assuming you don't have a few hundred bones to buy a laminate of your own. Again, I have no opinion as to whether this is cool or not, as film festivals certainly aren't cheap to run. But if you want the full NaFF experience, you're going to need one of these sweet-ass badges.
The whole shebang kicked off on Thursday the 17th. There isn't much on the marquee that first night. It's mostly all about the opening-night film and party. I showed up to find the red carpet had been set up and lit, and, just like last year, I was not allowed to walk down it (yes, I tried). Rather, this thing is reserved exclusively for the festival's super-special guests—which this year were professional-sad-old-man-typecast William H. Macy and director Steven Schacter, there to present their new film The Deal. Two theaters were packed solid to watch this mediocre presentation starring Macy, Meg Ryan, and LL Cool J among others. It's a comical account of a washed-up producer who manipulates the studio system into producing an action flick about 19th century English statesman Benjamin Disraeli. I can't deny it had a few hilarious moments, but otherwise this movie managed to trip into every imaginable, predictable pitfall you've come to expect from anything starring Meg Ryan.
Immediately following was the opening-night gala, which is always advertised as being at the BMI building on Music Row, but always takes place in the building's lobby instead of its much cooler rooftop area. Macy and Schacter made the rounds, taking photos and signing autographs, while a cavalcade of local music biz and film industry (which could be more accurately described as “film business”) folks schmoozed, rubbed elbows, and talked a whole lot of shit while guzzling free booze and chomping down on microwaved pigs-in-a-blanket. Besides Macy and Schacter, the biggest celeb on site seemed to be Big and Rich crony Two Foot Fred, if that tells you anything. Still, the most entertaining part of functions like these is indeed the avalanche of bullshit casually bandied around the party as these folks lay it on thick, planning movies, proposing projects, and offering each other jobs that will probably never come to fruition.
The rest of the festival I basically spent chugging free drinks in the VIP tent between films, trying to get to the free food before it was completely devoured. Yes, the festival is most definitely all about films, but I can't overstate the essential element of complimentary drinks and eats for laminate holders. Top shelf liquor and Sam Adams beer are available all day and served up by comely young barmaids with precious smiles and a fondness for big tippers. The food is nothing short of top notch. Catered daily with gourmet vegetarian grub from Whole Foods, the tent also hosts a different local independent restaurant such as Noshville, Cabana, White Trash Cafe and PM every night. Having spent no less than seven years in college, I dare say no one savored this combo of delicious and free more than myself.
It takes some very advanced training in lethargy to be content spending up to 10 hours a day sitting in a movie theater, chugging beers and watching movies—a Zen-like focus that even a master such as myself needs a day or so to prepare. No wonder that, with the festival now four days behind me, recollection of the films I saw is a blur. But a few have fought through the fog and risen to the top of my short-term memory.
Werner Herzog's Encounters at the Edge of the World is a visually stunning, often brazenly critical examination of the landscape and wildlife of Antarctica, as well as the community of scientists that occupy it.
Director of the cult hit documentary DiG!, Ondi Timoner was in attendance to present and answer questions about her new film Join Us. Much like DiG!, Timoner uses an overwhelming stock of fly-on-the-wall video footage to tell the shocking story of four families struggling to recover from the control of an abusive cult leader in rural South Carolina.
Some of the best narrative features I saw were actually some of the oldest entered into the festival.
Memphis trash enthusiast and B-movie auteur John Michael McCarthy presented an early, incomplete cut of his 1995 feature Teenage Tupelo. Apparently the version we saw (marred by inexplicably alternating black & white and color footage and occasionally muted sound) was apparently shown by accident, but McCarthy's off-the-cuff attitude made it seem more like a treat. The film itself is a fictionalized account of the real-life woman who gave McCarthy up for adoption. She has an affair with a washed-up, womanizing rockabilly singer who gets her pregnant, then falls in with a band of man-hating lesbian reactionaries who kill her abusive baby daddy and take her on a pilgrimage to meet their idol—a feminist porn star named "Topsy-Turvy.”
Another was from L.A. experimentalist Damon Packard, who showed his 2002 opus Reflections of Evil as well as a collection of shorts and trailers the following night. Packard mashes up archival 70's TV clips, guerrilla-style filmmaking, dubbed-over sound, and over-the-top filters and effects to create some of the most disturbing works I've ever seen. You'd either hate it or like it, but it's very hard to actually love.
Closing night featured a documentary about legendary studio band The Wrecking Crew, followed by a party and performance by Crew members at the Cannery Ballroom. I've never been one of those people who actually believes in too much of a good thing, but at this point even I’d had enough free beer, grub and entertainment. Well, enough to last until next year.
As of last Thursday, the 39th Annual Nashville Film Festival came and went with an attendance record that apparently broke the one set last year. It's the second oldest film festival in the country, but something that's still somewhat new with me, this being only the second year that I've attended. Being loosely affiliated with the festival's youth outreach program, I managed to finagle a VIP pass for the second year in a row.