"Maybe we're plain Southern people, but that doesn't mean we don't have taste and aren't willing to expand our horizons," says the Nashville Film Festival's energetic artistic director, Brian Owens. In his second year with the event, Owens presides over a full-spectrum program of 110 features and 12 world premieres that comprise the festival's 41st edition. The longest running film festival in the South is located in Tennessee's capital, nicknamed "music city," and is appropriately peppered with music-oriented and country-flavored selections.
All screenings take place in a single Regal multiplex in the tony Green Hills neighborhood, home to such luminaries as Al Gore, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill. "There are fewer blistered feet at this festival," says Owens, "and a single site festival builds community. When a movie is over you can talk about it right here and then go back in for your next one."
"Our audience members here are good talkers. If they like a film, word-of-mouth is going to spread like wildfire," he adds.
Highlights so far:
The John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy kicked off the festival on April 15. An unusually accomplished first feature by female British artist Sam Taylor Wood, the film centers on Lennon's teen years in post-war Liverpool. Aaron Johnson plays the cocky young Lennon, caught in an emotional struggle between his unstable birth mother, Julia, and her strict sister, Mimi, who raised him from age five. The Weinstein Company will release the film during awards season this fall, surely with an eye toward nominations for Kristin Scott Thomas as Mimi, and especially Anne-Marie Duff as party-girl Julia. Sumptuous cinematography, and 1950s set design and costumes, along with a bopping soundtrack of early rock n' roll by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Wanda Jackson, and the like, make the fully satisfying film a treat for the senses.
Tennessee based work-in-progress Provinces of Night screened for its hometown audience at the festival. Val Kilmer, Dwight Yoakam, and W. Earl Brown play the Bloodworth brothers, whose father, played by Kris Kristofferson, returns after a 40-year absence. Fine work by first-time local director Shane Dax Taylor and photography by Tim Orr lift the story propelled by one cliché after the next for the stereotypical Southern characters, including an alcoholic womanizer, a loose mother and daughter, and an earnest academic son who yearns to escape his backwoods family.
A world premiere at the festival, Art House boasts current It Girl Greta Gerwig in the lead as an attractive art student who attempts to save a communal campus house. Punk rock legend Iggy Pop plays her eccentric father. Group art projects, a pet chinchilla named Thrilla, and a house webcam give the creative environment an authentic feel. The film is reminiscent of 1980s comedies, but falters from uneven pacing and awkward acting by some of the cast. Shot in Ann Arbor, the film is directed by University of Michigan professor Victor Fanucchi and produced by one of his students.
Inspired to examine the honeybee depopulation when colony collapse disorder made headlines in 2007, director Taggart Siegel traveled internationally interviewing beekeepers and experts in biodynamic farming for Queen of the Sun, another world premiere at the festival. It examines the detrimental effects of single-crop farming, pesticide use, and genetic modification to bees and our food system, and includes stunning close-ups of honeybees in action. "The whole world is connected," Siegel says. "We are affected in the U.S. and Europe and this problem is possibly spreading to Australia and New Zealand." This must-see food advocacy film is Siegel's follow-up to The Real Dirt on Farmer John from 2005.
A consideration of God, devotion, and self-care in the world of public altruism are at the fore in Wm. Peter Wiedensmith's Raw Faith, a portrait of Marilyn Sewell, a beloved Unitarian minister who decides to retire from the work that's consumed her for 17 years and pursue love for the first time. Sewell consults spiritual and psychological advisors to revisit her tumultuous childhood and marriage in the two-year process of making the life change in this touching film. Nashville resident Sheryl Crow wrote the closing song, "Love Will Remain," specifically for the film. The casually dressed, petite musician mingled with fans in the festival's party tent at the film's world premiere.
The Nashville Film Festival runs from April 15 to 22.