Tennessee's embattled film community got a shot in the arm Wednesday with the announcement that the state's shrinking film/TV incentive fund will get an extra $2 million in funding, after changes to the state's incentives program.
As part of a budget implementation bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, the change does away with the refundable tax credit available to film productions and "ends a complex system of incentivizing productions through both Tennessee Film Entertainment and Music Commission (TFEMC) grants and refundable tax credits issued by the Department of Revenue," according to a release from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
"We recognize the importance of the film industry not only to the economy of the state but to the welfare of countless Tennesseans whose livelihoods depend on it,” said Norris in the release. “This new program simplifies, streamlines and strengthens our commitment to the film industry."
Norris was the Senate sponsor of a stand-alone incentives proposal filed this year, but the bill stalled in both chambers.
Jan Austin, founder and executive director of the Association for the Future of Film & Television in Tennessee, tells Pith that while she always wants more money for film work, the funding boost is "absolutely positive news" and praised Norris and the Haslam administration for working together on the issue.
"It gives us a place to start in this state," she said. "Wonderfully thought out by all the parties. As the economy improves, I expect we’ll continue to look at that. I don’t find negatives in it, whatsoever."
She adds that she has heard "nothing but thankfulness from members" around the state, who have been pleading for a life line to keep them from leaving the state in search of work.
The full text of the ECD release, with more details on what the news means for film work in Tennessee, is after the jump.
The black-clad crowd of around 100 film workers and supporters hovered beneath the state’s equestrian Andrew Jackson memorial and lined Charlotte Avenue soliciting supportive honks from passers-by. Creative bunch that they are, their signs included more than a few clever references to Tennessee films that got away.
Underscoring one of the group’s main arguments — that in the absence of competitive incentives, state film workers and their families are being forced to leave Tennessee in search of more consistent work — some came to the rally with children in tow.
In this week's Scene, Steven Hale discusses the growing concerns of Tennessee's film industry that without competitive film incentives — the financial breaks that lure production work to the state, as with every other business that Tennessee officials try to entice — the state will lose its film base and substantial spending to neighboring states such as Georgia and North Carolina:
As chronicled last year in a Scene cover story ("The Money Shot," Feb. 17, 2011), Tennessee's film workers have watched in recent years as films that should have been shot here took their lights and cameras to states more kind to their bottom lines. Even the dirt-cheap backlots of Central Europe have subbed for Tennessee on multiple occasions. In light of everything that could or should have been, the occasional successes — last year's Country Strong, or more recently the Nashville-shot Nicole Kidman psychological thriller Stoker — have offered little comfort.
With the state legislature back in session, local film workers and industry advocates are renewing their push for an incentives package that might reverse the trend. At stake, they say, is not just the boon to state and local economies when in-state stories are kept at home — or outside projects are reeled in — but also to Tennessee's crew base, which is said to be shrinking as workers follow the work.
A meeting and panel discussion will address the need for film incentives 1 p.m. today at The Belcourt in Hillsboro Village. The panel will be moderated by NPT personality Janet Ivey and includes Jan Austin, founder and executive director of the Association for the Future of Film & Television (AFFT); former Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission staffer Nathan Lux; Talent Trek owner and SAG representative Juanell Walker; Local 798 Hair & Makeup's Lindy Dunn; David Deeb from Encore Media representing local post-production facilities; and Pat McMakin from Ocean Way Studios. Among the topics on the table will be SB354/HB555, aka the Tennessee Entertainment Industry Investment Act, the incentives bill AFFT is pushing in the state legislature.
Admission is free and open to the public. Tomorrow, film, music and entertainment industry professionals are scheduled to mount a rally on the steps of the Capitol at 600 Charlotte Ave. from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Congratulations to Nashville talk-radio host Phil Valentine, whose new doc An Inconsistent Truth — a riposte to An Inconvenient Truth that takes a few pages from the Michael Moore playbook in setting up Al Gore as an elusive foil — actually topped the nation's per-screen box office chart last weekend.
In its first week of release, on one screen at the Regal Hollywood 27, the documentary grossed a whopping $20,733 — more than twice as much as the next closest film, the Bollywood action drama Agneepath. That's also more than three times as much as the weekend's No. 1 movie in total box office, the Liam Neeson thriller The Grey, made on average at each of its 3,185 screens.
In a comment earlier on a separate Country Life post, my friend and co-worker Christy described the scene this weekend at the Hollywood 27:
I was half expecting to walk into a sleepy theatre with a few curious liberals and a handful of cranky conservatives. Instead the room was filled with the most vivacious and interactive movie-watching crowd I’ve experienced. Throughout the 90 minute film there was plenty of laughter and more than a handful of condescending comments thrown toward various clips of Al Gore’s responses and declarations about Global Warming pulled from both his testimony before the Senate and his film. ... Between the combination of amens, laughter and synchronized nods, it reminded me of sitting in a charismatic church service.
Above: a deleted scene for Valentine completists. Below: a glimpse of Valentine in his first film role. Watch for Poison's Bret Michaels and "a special appearance by Charlie Sheen."
Like the Terminator himself — accept no substitutes, unless it's this one — Lady Terminator kicked in the doors of The Belcourt last Halloween weekend, blew the minds of everyone assembled, then vanished from the screen ... only to deliver a parting, "I'll be back." Now here it is — the next candidate for cult discovery on the level of House (playing on Turner Classic Movies next weekend!) or The Room.
Back by popular demand, this 1988 marvel from the mind of Indonesian schlockmeister H. Tjut Dhalil (Mystics in Bali — look if you dare) is a nutbrain masterpiece in which James Cameron and South Seas folklore couple to produce one butt-ugly baby. It's mullets vs. mall hair when a vengeful witch possesses a busty anthropologist and takes out the locals in a double-digit body count — whether by machine gun or the secret weapon tucked away in her bikini bottom. (Let's just say she'd make a formidable adversary for Thong Girl.) And the dialogue! Sample gem of tough-guy talk: "We've seen more dead bodies than you have eaten hot dogs, so shut up and eat!"
It plays two weekend shows at midnight today and tomorrow at The Belcourt. See it now, thank us later. (The very NSFW trailer above will give you the barest inkling what to expect.) And in the meantime, here's a cool interview with leading lady Barbara Anne Constable.
Crispin Hellion Glover Live
Where: The Belcourt
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 6-7
The last time actor, filmmaker and multimedia irritant Glover appeared at The Belcourt, for a screening of his 2005 debut feature What Is It? — an indescribable phantasmagoria of unfaked snail homicide, dueling deities and sexual spectacle, performed by actors with Down syndrome — the disconnect between the assaultive film and the host’s eagerness to please once the lights went up produced instant hostility. But even some people who found the movie agonizing admitted to a certain respect for it — mostly because Glover gives people routinely patted on the head (and avoided) as “the handicapped” room to express the same erotic obsessions, angry impulses and fantasy lives as everyone else.
He raises those stakes in his 2007 follow-up It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE., written by and starring the late Steven C. Stewart — an actor whose mind was imprisoned in a body gnarled and stifled by cerebral palsy, yet who was granted this chance to unleash a lifetime of pent-up self-expression and psychosexual fixation. If you’re expecting either the wacko who terrorized David Letterman or the lovable eccentric who played Michael J. Fox’s dad in Back to the Future, Glover’s post-film Q&As deliver something much more interesting: an almost disturbingly earnest auteur who can articulate precisely why his punishing visions piss people off, and why he thinks they shouldn’t.
Glover will conduct a two-night stand at The Belcourt this weekend, performing his Big Slide Show Part 2 with It Is Fine! Friday, then doing an encore of his Big Slide Show Part 1 with What Is It? Saturday. (Oh, and the trailer above is waaay NSFW.)
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
Where: The Belcourt
When: Through Jan. 4
In Brazil, this crackling action thriller trampled Avatar to become the country's highest-grossing film ever — but citizens must have found it the complete opposite of escapism. A thinly veiled account of the police corruption that has thoroughly permeated the country's cities and slums, it's an epic of scalding ironies: the story of how a well-intentioned tactical-squad commander (Wagner Moura) leads a quasi-fascist crackdown on bloodthirsty druglords — only to deliver their former victims into the ruthless and far more efficient hands of shakedown militias made up of dirty cops.
As in his 2007 hit Elite Squad, director Jose Padilha (who also made the gripping documentary Bus 174) sees folly in both right-wing thuggery and left-wing hand-wringing: the former makes the innocent side with the outlaws, while the latter does nothing to stop the genuine criminal threat. But the pervasive cynicism gives the movie an engine of cold fury. Padilha's film rivals the Godfather saga as a portrait of top-to-bottom societal rot — even as its large-scale, high-stakes shootouts and battles make it the year's most exciting crime drama.
The good movies aren't the problem. Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in Meet Me in St. Louis is just as heartwarming (and wrenching) in August as it is in December. Unfortunately, for every good Christmas movie there are five interchangeably lame ones. If it has wacky elves, live-action talking reindeer, a soap-opera star who learns the joy of giving, or Mickey Rooney, skip the eggnog and head straight for the bourbon.
Or opt for something a little more vinegary — a palate cleanser, if you will, to cut your Yuletide sugar intake. Below, you'll find a list of offbeat Christmas movies to suit every mood. We're not talking Bad Santa. That's too easy, and besides, a foul-mouthed, foul-smelling, alcoholic shopping-mall Santa just makes me nostalgic. Instead, here are some oddball seasonal favorites that either cast the holiday in a weird new light or offer an alternative to the 2,357th rerun of Jingle All the Way.
"Here's your stocking," these films say, in their own inimitable way. "Now stuff it."
At once the most elating and depressing Christmas movie ever made, Frank Capra's 1946 classic isn't something to watch alone at home between commercials, where you might doze off into an eggnog-laced funk. Last year, the dud economy left us a bit, shall we say, less than sympathetic to the story of a bank owner who loses his customers’ money, only to have the poor saps bail him out with their life savings. In real life, it wasn’t George Bailey we bailed out but Mr. Potter, and instead of greeting us with wet-eyed gratitude he pretty much lit his cigar with $100 bills and blew smoke rings in our faces.
But this year, we're ready to rejoin Occupy Bedford Falls. Who could feel uncharitable at The Belcourt's festive annual screenings, where folks have been known to bust into "Auld Lang Syne" along with Zuzu, Uncle Billy and that woman who almost turned out to be ... a librarian! Talk about a cup of kindness. Speaking of which, did we mention The Belcourt serves alcohol? Have Nick the bartender set you up (or cut you off — we don’t need any characters givin’ the joint atmosphere).
The case of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. — the West Memphis teenagers who were railroaded in 1994 for killing three 8-year-old boys, then taken up as a cause celebre until their release from prison just months ago — has already been covered at length in the Paradise Lost documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. But Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and his collaborator/wife Fran Walsh have given financial support to the West Memphis Three's legal defense, and they're among the producers of Berg's documentary.
The New York Times recently reported on a controversy brewing between Berg's doc and the closing chapter in the Berlinger-Sinofsky series, which premiered in Toronto two months ago while headlines about the West Memphis Three's release were still dripping ink. (It airs Jan. 12, 2012 on HBO.) As reported, with many of the participants angling for movie deals and competing projects, it's an ugly but fascinating story. And the notoriety will only raise interest in Berg's project — as will curiosity over how it will handle a lurid saga the previous docs have owned up to now.
The movie will show one night only at The Belcourt Jan. 26, and in keeping with previous "Sundance Film Festival USA" events, at least one of the primary filmmakers will attend. (Plus there's always the possibility of special guests.) The ticket link is going live on the Belcourt site any moment, and the $15 tickets will almost certainly sell out fast. In the meantime, if you're curious about what the other cities will be getting, the press release follows below.
UPDATE: Ticket link here.
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