Nashville Film Festival

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Awesome.

Decisions Decisions Decisions

So my pilot didn’t make it to the final round at the Nashville Film Fest.  I’m a little sad but I’ve never placed in a screenwriting competition so it’s still amazing to me.  I’ve been struggling with trying to figure out if this script was ready or not.  I really do feel that it is, which is the best thing I could ask for out of all of this.

I get a badge to the festival with being a semi finalist.  My boss is fine with me going.  I’m just not sure if I should.  Any advice? 

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Caught this film this weekend at the Nashville Festival. Awesome, awesome, awesome. See it if you get the chance.

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Musica Campesina will have its U.S. premier at the Nashville Film Festival on Sunday, April 17th.  I’ve been anxiously awaiting a trailer for this, cuz I know a couple of people in this movie, and one of them seems to have a pretty significant part.  But now all I’m left wondering is if the phrase “musica campesina” is Spanish for “shirtless Cathcart”.

Something Big Just Happened

For the last 4 years i have entered countless screenwriting competition and nothing has ever come of it.  Until Friday….My pilot that i had spent the better part of two years developing made it to the semi finals at the Nashville Film Festival.  In two weeks i’ll know if it made it to the finals…but honestly I’m just made it.  This pilot was my baby and the best thing I’ve ever written, but I didn’t know if it was good.  The notes from my professors (it was my thesis project) weren’t the most positive and I kept comparing them to my classmates notes.  Their work was so much more positive.  It seemed they were ready to go out with it while mine had stalled.  

For the last 5 months I haven’t been able to get that out of my head and it’s made writing a little bit harder then it use to be…but with this Nashville thing I feel myself coming back to how I use to be.  I know this script is good and my writing is good.  I don’t care what else happens now, because I have my confidence back.  

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Rust, trailer

I’m happy to finally be in the position to say that my short film, Rust, will be playing in the Nashville Film Festival.

I made this film alongside a cast and crew that understood and cared, and it was one of the most satisfying creative experiences of my life. After seeing my film at a school screening in December, the programmer and artistic director invited Rust to the festival, and I’ve spent the following few months shaping it up.

Above is the trailer.

Nashville Film Festival: The Last Four Days

Caterpillar, directed by Kôji Wakamatsu
This may be somewhat odd for me to say about a Japanese film about a wife having to take care of the physical and sexual needs of her hideous WWII soldier husband after he loses all of his limbs and his ability to speak, but I expected it to be a lot weirder than it was.  Which, don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty weird and disturbing, but not as much as I was led to believe.  The visual style of the film was actually very cool, taking on a late ‘70s/early '80s look with its film stock and aesthetics, even down to the font of the subtitles, and the effects work was very convincing.  It’s easy to get behind the film’s message of how war dehumanizes us, both those fighting in it and those at home, as well as warning viewers to the dangers of unwavering patriotism, but these messages are well established by the halfway point in the film and everything after that just feels like beating a dead horse.  On top of that, the treatment of the man’s deformity as monstrous seems really insensitive to real-life quadruple amputees who aren’t at all monstrous.  It’s certainly an interesting film, but I’m still on the fence as to whether I’d actually recommend it to anybody.

Le Quattro Volte, directed by Michelangelo Frammartino
Frammartino made this film, essentially a visual essay with a loose narrative, using Pythagoras’ idea of the the migration of souls through four phases - human, animal, vegetable, and mineral - for its structure.  I knew that going in, and if you see this film, you should know that too, because it makes the film much easier to grasp and makes it seem like an actual story, not just a random series of scenes.  The visuals of simple life in this Italian village are absolutely mesmerizing; the landscapes, the people, the architecture is all beautiful, and the lighting is phenomenal, as well as the camera moves that give you a God’s eye kind of view over this contained world.  Frammartino does a great job illustrating Pythagoras’ concept as well as connecting the four phases to each other in ways that aren’t immediately obvious, i.e. the old man that is the film’s first main character mixing swept-up dirt from a church into a glass of water as a homemade remedy, connecting the first and last phases as well as suggesting the notion of superstition and supernatural that surrounds the very concept of a “soul”.  The film’s pace is slow, but not boring slow; it’s the pace of everyday simple life.  If nothing else, you internet people will love the goat scenes.  Yes, intellectual art-house foreign cinema and YouTube have found their connecting point: goats being goats. 

The Troll Hunter, directed by André Øvredal
Maybe the biggest surprise of the festival for me.  Based on the trailer I saw and blurbs I read, I assumed this film, the purported “found footage” of a group of college journalism students tracking down and videotaping a suspected bear poacher who claims to actually be a troll hunter, would be somewhere between The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, big creatures on shaky video killing people and scaring the audience.  In fact, the film isn’t horror at all.  It’s an adventure, and even more than that, a comedy.  The film doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and it’s all the better for it. The humor works very well, playing with the silliness of the concept and the old fairy-tale tropes (at one point the hunter attempts to lure a troll out of the forest by tying three billy goats to a bridge) as well as poking fun at government bureaucracy and secrecy.  The visuals also are much steadier and less headache inducing than most “found footage” films, and the trolls themselves are impressive in design and appearance.  The film perhaps goes a little longer than necessary, but overall it’s an unexpectedly fun and lighthearted experience. 

The Off Hours, directed by Megan Griffiths
I didn’t even mean to see this movie.  The festival switched theaters on me without me noticing and without any of the ushers telling me.  When I saw the opening credits say The Off Hours instead of the movie I meant to see, I thought it was a short film preceding the film I wanted to see…until it kept going.  By the time I realized I was in the wrong place, it was fifteen minutes in and I didn’t want to fuck with switching out.  I decided to be adventurous and stick out this mystery film, and what did I get for it?  The worst film I saw in the whole week.  The story involves the lives of workers at a small-town diner and their regulars.  The film splits mainly between two different characters, a twenty-something girl and a divorced middle-aged man, with some other story lines sprinkled in.  Unfortunately, none of these stories were strong enough or interesting enough to make me care.  The characters were lifeless and boring, and the relationships were largely unconvincing.  And worst of all, the film was almost entirely underexposed.  Faces were constantly too dark, even in the middle of the day inside a diner surrounded by windows, and even in the middle of the day while standing out in the sun.  How can you underexpose people standing in direct sunlight?  I entertained the notion that the projector was to blame, but turning up the overall exposure would have only made lights and reflective surfaces in the shots overexposed.  In the end, there’s just no excuse.  The only bright part of this film was its female lead, Amy Seimetz, who manages to be watchable and engaging even within a bland script and who I imagine could really get some attention if she were put into a movie worth watching.

Weekend, directed by Andrew Haigh
This film won the grand jury prize at the fest only a few hours before I saw it, and although I only saw a few of the other films that were up for the award, I’m quite confident this film deserved it.  The film is a simple but beautifully done romance about two twenty-something guys who meet in a gay bar and end up spending the weekend together.  The film deals frankly with the issues of modern homosexuality in ways that aren’t at all stereotypical or patronizing to either a gay or straight audience.  Russell (Tom Cullen, who also deservedly won the best actor prize) is uncomfortable with publicly displaying his sexuality and is somewhat fixated on other gay men’s coming out stories since he never had parents to come out to, while Glen (Chris New in just as strong a performance) is more of a gay rights advocate using art to address the problem of gays having to hide their sexuality in public while straight love is seen everywhere, but meanwhile he’s got commitment issues after his last boyfriend repeatedly cheated on him.  The film develops the characters and the relationship between the two men beautifully.  I especially enjoyed a motif of reflections used with Russell, suggesting how concerned he was with how other people saw him, a motif that disappears once Russell lets down his guard.  The blocking and framings are excellent, the camera using a handheld (but not shaky) feel that succeeds in making the viewer feel as if he is following the two guys over the weekend.  Simple, beautiful, honest, and on point in showcasing the issues the LGBT crowd still faces even as the world grows evermore open to them.

Septien, directed by Michael Tully
Like Jess + Moss, I know several people who worked on this film, but I didn’t have the same prior knowledge or connection with it and thus had less of a personal relation to it going in, which means that when I tell you that this film was really good, you can rest assured there is no bias.  Trying to explain the plot of the film coherently is a somewhat futile enterprise, so here’s a simple version: there are two adult brothers and a simpleminded farmhand living on a decrepit farm.  A third brother returns home after 18 years giving no explanation why he was gone.  Then a bunch of weird stuff happens.  "Weird" is probably the best word to describe this movie, but that should be considered a positive.  It’s not weird for the sake of weird, it’s weird for the sake of intrigue, fascination, and often for humor.  The film takes on a surreal quality as events occur and characters appear with little explanation beyond assuming something unexplainable has taken place.  It’s almost like sci-fi, except that there’s no sci.  The film’s structure sets up a lot of elements as mysterious, which may make the first half or so confusing, but everything comes together quite unexpectedly and satisfyingly by film’s end.  The production design for the farmhouse is excellent, and the camera and lighting work all add to the surreal and slightly unreal mood.  You could possibly argue that the script suffers somewhat from characters that are defined by their quirks instead of being truly developed and from various moments of “deus ex machina”, but you could just as easily argue that those elements add to the otherworldly aura of the whole film.  Regardless, it’s a very unique and gratifying film to watch, expertly directed by Tully.  Oh, and the artwork in the film and the promotional materials, done by actor Onur Tukel, is absolutely awesome.  

My Joy, directed by Sergei Loznitsa
This was one of the films I was most excited to see when the festival’s slate of films first came out.  I’d read that it was bleak but superb.  I definitely agree with half of that statement.  The film is essentially one big depressing trip as a truck driver makes his way through Ukraine, encountering all sorts of unsavory, unhappy, and ungrateful people until he gets lost in the woods, beaten, and robbed of his truck and his mental capacity.  I am not Ukrainian, I have never been to Ukraine, and if this film is any indication, I never want to go.  There is nary a redeeming quality on display here; instead it’s all corruption, crime, greed, poverty, anger, violence, sadness, and despair, with just a dash of underage prostitution thrown in for good measure.  This is obviously meant to be a statement on the state of affairs in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union, so certainly not a boon for their tourism industries.  The film’s structure is somewhat hard to follow as it jumps between time periods with no obvious signals, so you have to do a lot of the structural heavy lifting yourself.  The truck driver’s situation is very Kafkaesque as he finds himself in worse and worse situations for no reason but bad luck, but I never found myself compelled enough by him or anyone else to truly care about their plight.  The acting was all good, and the visuals were too, but none were particularly exciting.  In fact, nothing about this film was exciting, which may explain why I couldn’t get into it, because I was so tired at this point that I was struggling to stay awake through it.  Maybe another viewing when I was awake would make me more apt to praise this film, but as it stands, I was underwhelmed.  And I don’t think sleepiness was a factor at all in my distaste for the ending - it didn’t fit the truck driver’s character for me.  But then again, what character was there?

Terri, directed by Azazel Jacobs
Out of all these films, this might be the one you have the best chance of seeing, because it’s going to be released in theaters this summer and has trailers out and about on the web.  It’s funny that I ended up bookending the festival with two teen coming-of-age films, Submarine and this, but they’re two very different films.  Terri is a funny film, but it’s comedy is quite a bit darker than Submarine’s and it’s a little more frank about young sexuality and being an outcast.  What seperates Terri from most outcast teenagers in film is that he’s not trying to stop being an outcast or change himself to make friends; he’s too busy to do that anyway as he takes care of his elderly uncle.  The lead performance by Jacob Wysocki is dead on, and the other performances are strong too, including a surprising turn by The Office’s Creed Bratton, but John C. Reilly steals the movie in his scenes.  He’s a brilliant comedic actor who can make the slightest change in the position of his eyes or mouth hilarious.  The house that Terri lives in with his uncle is great production design, and the rest of the technical work is solid.  The film lulls from time to time, and I would have liked to see the relationship between Terri and Heather Miles, the pretty girl turned outcast that only Terri will talk to, get a little more focus and time to develop before its climax, but overall it deserves praise for managing to feel like a fresh take on the oft-used subject of teenage outcasts.

Nashville Film Festival - My Top 5:

1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives - I can’t get this movie out of my mind.  Meditative, trance-inducing, absolutely beautiful both visually and thematically.

2. Weekend - An excellent portrayal of a sudden, intense, frightening and simultaneously wonderful romantic connection, made even more exciting because it’s between two dudes.

3. Le Quattro Volte - A visual essay on the interdependence of man, animal, plant, and mineral that makes you appreciate the simple things all around you.  Plus, goats making funny noises.

4. Tie - Jess + Moss and Septien - I sincerely can’t decide which I like better, not only because I’m more personally tied to them, but because they’re surprisingly similar in their storytelling method, revealing strange bits of character that create a mystery not solved until the film’s end, but vastly different in their visual styles, both excellent in their own way.

5. The Interrupters - An inspiring and heartbreaking documentary that brings awareness to the epidemic of youth violence and homicide in Chicago and makes you wish you could somehow get involved, even if you’ve never been there.

Nashville Film Festival: The First Four Days

It turns out I haven’t had nearly the amount of downtime to write up these films that I thought I would.  So here’s a quick recap of what I saw from opening night on Thursday through Sunday.  I’ll do another post for the last half of the festival this weekend.

Submarine, directed by Richard Ayoade
The film’s synopsis - a 15 year old British boy tries to win the affection of his crush and keep his parents from divorcing - may sound like standard indie coming-of-age fare, but British comedian Ayoade infuses the simple premise with tongue-in-cheek humor and self-awareness, impressive visual playfulness, and a plethora of reverence for and direct reference to film history to set this film apart.  Some have compared it derisively to Wes Anderson because of the quirk factor, the family issues, and Ayoade’s clear infatuation with a bygone era, but Ayoade shows more unique talent and promise than the comparison suggests (although, hell, being compared to Wes Anderson sounds like a good thing to me).  If you’re adamantly opposed to anything that could remotely be described as “quirky” or “twee”, this film probably won’t win you over, but for the rest of us who aren’t cold-hearted bastards, this film is a welcome treat.

The Sleeping Beauty, directed by Catherine Breillat
The follow-up to last year’s similarly fairy-tale inspired Bluebeard, Breillat’s new film again explores the territory of female childhood, dynamics of gender, and young sexuality that she’s become known for.  The problem is that this film adds little to the discussion; it feels like a case of Breillat having “been there, done that”.  The film is interesting visually as it moves from one fantastical setting to the next, but the story feels aimless and the entire present-day-set end section is underwhelming.  Compared to the painterly composition and the more expansive themes of Bluebeard, this is a disappointment.  Breillat is a talented and fascinating director; if you’ve never seen her work before, you should.  Just make sure not to start here.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
This film is a hard one to review, because there’s so much going on within it and yet there’s not much there to describe.  The film isn’t about a strong, driving storyline but about depicting the life and experience of its characters and using them to express Weerasethakul’s themes of choice, many of which Western audiences might only subconsciously pick up on unless they’re well-versed in Thailand history and culture (or have read critical reviews of this movie).  Even if you don’t pick up on the political nuances or the underlying ode to film and photography, you can still bask in the beauty of the imagery and incredible lighting setups (the dinner scene’s single-source lighting is magnificent) and the interactions of humans with nature and the supernatural.  The film is largely atmosphere and space, which will put off many viewers, especially those not well-versed in independent or foreign cinema, but for other viewers it is a joyous and rewarding experience.

Jess + Moss, directed by Clay Jeter
Full disclosure: my roommate/fellow Planet Sun member Gregory Grover was production designer on this film, many other friends of mine worked on it in various positions, and I’ve met and made friends with several of the other people involved since it was shot, including Jeter.  Regardless of my personal interest in the film, it’s still an excellent feature debut.  The film develops its story and its two main characters gradually in bits and pieces that slowly begin to come together as things go along, turning what initially seems like a plotless film into a fully realized story.  The cinematography, art, and editing are strikingly gorgeous, and the acting by Sarah Hagan and Austin Vickers is pitch-perfect.  The film’s main theme is memory, how we are desperate to remember things we’ve long forgotten or are unable to forget things we should’ve let go, and the use of repetition in the storytelling and editing reinforces the message.  The film is perhaps a little long, or maybe just feels that way due to several scenes that seem like they could be endings that turn out not to be, but overall it’s a fascinating and eye-catching watch.  With the impressive festival run it’s been having, you may soon get a chance to see it yourself and decide if I’m just saying nice things about my friends or I’m completely sincere (or, as is most likely, both).

Kinyarwanda, directed by Alrick Brown
An audience award winner at Sundance, this film looks at the Rwandan genocide of the ‘90s, separating itself from other films on the same topic (Hotel Rwanda being the most obvious) by being produced by and starring Rwandans all working under the guiding eye of Brown, a former member of the Peace Corps who returned to the country for his debut feature.  The film intertwines a variety of stories of Hutus and Tutsis both during the genocide and many years later as the country tried to instill forgiveness in the people so it could move on past its horrible history.  The film is most striking for depicting these parts of the genocide story that those outside of Africa haven’t yet heard: the amazing notion that the country could only move forward if the victims learned to forgive and live as neighbors with the perpetrators, as well as the story of how Muslim mosques in the country stood against the genocide taking in refugees of all races, backgrounds, and faiths.  The film isn’t quite as visually impressive as some of the other fest films, but it’s certainly well-made.  There are some less-than-convincing performances (although considering the cast was largely non-actors, relatively few) and some overly predictable scenarios, but as a whole, the film is an uplifting and inspiring experience.

13 Assassins, directed by  Takashi Miike
Absurdly prolific director Miike’s new film is a departure of sorts - a samurai film (a remake, actually, although it doesn’t seem like the original is readily available in America) that employs a more classical visual style, but Miike still finds room for his trademark gory violence and dark humor.  The film starts out somewhat slow as it introduces its characters, gives historical context, and sets up the main battle, but once things get going, the intensity and excitement don’t let up.  The roughly 45 minute long battle scene is cleverly orchestrated and choreographed and stays thrilling throughout as it moves between characters.  The cinematography surprisingly brings to mind Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, as both films use largely natural lighting and candlelit interiors to create beautiful and historically accurate imagery.  It’s hard not to compare the film to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, considering the parallels in the title and construct and the obvious inspiration Toshiro Mifune’s character and performance had on the bandit character in this film, and in comparing, this film doesn’t quite measure up in terms of character development and addressing themes of heroism and duty.  But that comparison is also unfair - few could measure up to Kurosawa’s masterpiece.  My biggest problem with the film was more its gleeful depiction of violence as noble and fun entertainment.  At one moment, the audience I watched with laughed as the bad guy writhed and cried out in pain as he crawled through mud and blood.  I can’t decide whose more to blame for that disturbing reaction: the audience or the director.

The Interrupters, directed by Steve James
James is best known for the excellent documentary Hoop Dreams, and his new documentary is just as ambitious and moving in its depiction of inner-city African-American youth struggling to survive their childhoods, although in this case, the struggle to survive is much more literal.  The “interrupters” of the title are former gang members and criminals who have taken to the streets of Chicago to put an end to the troubling epidemic of homicides among the city’s youth.  Watching as the year goes on, we see the progress they make with some and the brick walls they run into with others.  The stories are inspiring and heartbreaking, and the work these women and men do is brave (they literally are putting their lives on the line) and noble.  Technically, the film is very strong - steady camera work and impressive editing of what must have surely been hours upon hours of footage.  Some viewers might complain of the 2 hour 40 minute length, but I was completely engaged with the film the whole time.  Honest, gripping, dealing with all sides of the issue, this is simply an excellent documentary that inspires thought and debate, as well as hope that one day these kids will be able to go to school, walk down the street, and sleep in their beds without fear of being shot.  Is that so much to ask?