It’s April in Nashville and that means tulips, country trips, backyard fires, and the Nashville Film Festival. The event, marking its 47th year, is bigger than ever this year running from April 14 – 23 at the Regal Green Hills Stadium 16. Of course Nashville is known as Music City, but for nearly two weeks in the spring many of us escape the rain or damn the sunshine to sit in a dark room full of strangers from all over the world, sharing a mutual love of moving images.
Here’s a selection of films that will be of interest to BurnAway readers – some are bizarre, some are challenging, some point to art, and some are just great.
Fans of Banksy’s Exit Through The Gifts Shop will be interested to see this documentary about art, commerce, graffiti and how we compensate the creative people who make the market possible in the first place. Saving Banksy focuses on the street artist’s oblique relationship to the art market – an anonymous artist whose public works aren’t for sale. Or are they? This documentary would read like an art heist picture if the outrageous profiteering on display was actually illegal. This film includes interviews with street art superstars Ben Eine, Risk, Revok, Niels Mueman, Blek Le Rat, Anthony Lister, Doze Green, and Glen E Friedman.
Written and directed by Dusty Bias, The Great & The Small finds a young man named Scott (played by Nick Fink) squatting in an abandoned house where he heats a can of soup on a portable hot plate and cleans his filthy t-shirt while he showers. Scott has mostly raised himself, and he’s predictably in trouble and on parole. He spends the film negotiating a crooked boss, a motherly detective and two women who are connected to the children Scott’s never had a relationship with. Smart writing, editing and acting illuminate this story about anonymous lives and big choices in a small town. A notebook full of Scott’s fantastical drawings informs the plot here and points to the role that art-making plays in his day-to-day struggles.
Hunky Dory tells the story of a going-over-the-hill former glam rocker who’s now a “dive bar drag queen.” Even drag queens get old, but Sidney is the father of an eleven-year-old boy named George, and when Sidney’s ex-girlfriend – George’s mom – goes missing, Sidney is forced to become the dad his dying dreams won’t let him be. Hunky Dory is about both boys and men growing-up, and BurnAway readers will recognize Sidney’s oddball, bohemian Los Angeles friends and peers who represent those Hollywood artists, performers, and dreamers who might never see their names in lights. The film is directed by Michael Curtis Johnson who wrote the script along with his star, Tomas Pais.
Collective: Unconscious is an anthology film made-up of segments directed by Lily Baldwin (Sleepover LA), Frances Bodomo (Afronauts), Daniel Patrick Carbone (Hide Your Smiling Faces), Josephine Decker (Thou Wast Mild and Lovely), and Lauren Wolkstein (Social Butterfly). I love anthology films, and Collective: Unconscious’s loosely connected, surrealistic somnambulism – inspired by the directors’ actual dreams – offers an aesthetic that matches the inevitably uneven results of this kind of collaboration.
Based on a true story, Free in Deed takes viewers into the world of storefront churches where one man’s attempts to perform a miracle set this film spinning out of control. When a single mother brings her ailing young son to a lonely Pentecostal minister he’s forced to face his own spiritual sickness. Hands-down one of the most visually-striking movies I’ve previewed from the fest, Free opens with a quote from the serpent of the Book of Genesis, and it’s appropriate that the devil might make an appearance in a movie as damned good as this one.
I had a hard time sitting through Will Allen’s self-centered introduction to his life-in-a-cult-doc, Holy Hell. But, once the director gets out of his own way, his mind-boggling documentary about The Buddhafield sect in Los Angeles jumps right off the rails, becoming intensely gripping, bizarre, sensual, strange and sad. Allen was the group’s official filmmaker during his time in the cult and he captures the performative, artistic life of the collective as well as their unquestioning belief in their shirtless, Speedo-sporting leader from a chilling insider’s point-of-view.
In The Alchemist’s Cookbook, Michigan director Joel Potrykus sets a medieval-seeming story about an over-ambitious alchemist in a contemporary woods. This movie veers from an eccentric character study to something more like Evil Dead in its exploration of isolation, illumination and illness. It reminded me of Free in Deed not only because of its otherworldly occupations and its cinematic excellence, but also because both films feature largely African American casts. Black faces might be missing at the Oscar podium, but you’ll find them in the some of the very best movies at the Nashville Film Festival.
The Nashville Film Festival runs from April 14 – April 23 at the Regal Green Hills Stadium 16 in Nashville. Go to www.nashvillefilmfestival.org for tickets and a full schedule of screenings and events.
Joe Nolan is a critic, columnist, and intermedia artist in Nashville. Find out more about his projects at www.joenolan.com.