Music-Related Films at This Year's Nashville Film Fest



  • Illustration: Matt Smith
No matter how hard I lobby (i.e., whine about it to a friend or a beer or no one in particular), the third weekend in April always proves to be overbooked, overcrowded and absolutely swollen with really promising local events. There's Record Store Day at local shops around the city, there's Boro Fondo (nee Tour de Fun) down in Murfreesboro, there's Rites of Spring at Vanderbilt, and of course, there's the kickoff of Nashville's annual film festival. Our NaFF coverage comprises this week's Scene cover package.

Plenty of intriguing films will be screening over the next week, and a big ol' chunk of those have one thing or another to do with music. (I personally was able to preview Very Extremely Dangerous and Good Ol' Freda, both of which were enjoyable and enlightening.) Follow me after the jump to see our blurbs on some of the music-related films, along with screening times and so forth.



(6:30 p.m; also 9:45 p.m. Friday, April 19) When people talk about Nashville being an "It" city, they're certainly talking about glitzier subjects than those portrayed in Nashville 2012, a 75-minute series of black-and-white shorts that chronicles the year. There's no food porn, indie rock stars or high-gloss prime-time soap opera at work here. Yet filmmakers Jace Freeman and Sean Clark's fly-on-the-wall focus on subjects from Occupy Nashville to speedway racers to local theater produces a portrait of the city infinitely more interesting by comparison. STEVE CAVENDISH


(9 p.m.; also 3:15 p.m. Friday, April 19)

Like a very condensed, somewhat cursory Beatles Anthology, Ryan White's Good Ol' Freda follows the Fab Four's story from start to finish — only through the eyes of the band's longtime secretary, Freda Kelly. While Beatles wonks might consider the rather charming Freda a must, it offers few truly exclusive Beatles trivia morsels. Instead, there's an affectionate portrait of a sweet young lady who was pals with the Liverpool lads and never too keen on bragging about it. Until now, anyway. D. PATRICK RODGERS

FRIDAY, 19th


(9:15 p.m.; also 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, 1:30 p.m.)

When a comet threatens to destroy planet Hondo, Hondonian Gen. Trius (Nils d'Aulaire) is sent to Earth to destroy the human race and prepare the planet for resettlement. But after landing in Brooklyn, he falls in love with music, changes his name to Bill and starts a family. When fellow Hondonian Kevin (Jay Klaitz) is sent to investigate, he too abandons his mission, and the two space aliens form an acoustic duo: Future Folk, natch. John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker's endearing low-budget sci-fi comedy leans more toward sweet than ironic, and Future Folk's music shtick — kind of a cross between Flight of the Conchords and Tenacious D — is pretty hilarious. Bonus points for a Dee Snider cameo. Definitely worth a look. JACK SILVERMAN


(6 p.m.; also 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 23)

Sara Terry's documentary follows three modern-day troubadours — Raina Rose, the Flyin' A's' Hilary Claire Adamson and Dirk Hamilton — at various stages of their careers as they navigate the contemporary folk scene from living-room concerts to festivals.



(8:15 p.m.; also 2:15 p.m. Monday, April 22)

Somewhere between Jesco White and Rodriguez in the annals of myth-enshrouded American ramblers is Jerry McGill — a onetime Sun Records signee who ran around with Elvis, Waylon and Jerry Lee, but has as much of a penchant for boozing and armed robbery as for songwriting. Directed by Irish filmmaker Paul Duane and produced by longtime Memphis music journalist Robert Gordon, the movie rides warily with a pill-popping, gun-toting McGill, looking every bit of his 70 years. As much a meandering glimpse into the occasionally terrifying McGill's twilight years as a proper narrative, the film forms a compelling portrait of a wily, charismatic old coot who, sadly, probably could have had a real shot at the big time if he didn't like breaking the law so damn much. D. PATRICK RODGERS


(9:45 p.m.)

Never heard of Detroit's Hackney brothers, three African-American teens making proto-punk music in the 1970s in the cradle of Motown? Directors Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino tell the story.


(10 p.m.)

From the NaFF website: "In February 2013 the Barnes Brothers were commissioned to make a documentary on Todd Snider. Its purpose was to present Todd to a wider audience. They failed. Instead, drugs took over." It's billed as a work in progress; a cast featuring local musicians from Elizabeth Cook and Tim Carroll to Paul Griffith and the Turbo Fruits' Jonas Stein makes this pretty much a must — whatever it is.

SUNDAY, 21st


(7:30 p.m.)

With James Brown no longer around, Thomas Paulsley LaBeff — aka Sleepy LaBeef — may well be the hardest-working man in showbiz. The roots-rock journeyman started gigging in the late 1950s, and at age 77 still does about 200 shows a year. More live concert film than documentary, Sleepy LaBeef Rides Again captures the 6-foot-7 mountain of a man performing last year at Nashville's Douglas Corner with a crack band featuring longtime LaBeef sideman Gene Dunlap on piano, Kenny Vaughan on guitar, Rick Lonow on drums and Dave Pomeroy on bass. (Pomeroy produced the film, and his son Seth directed.) The performance footage is interspersed with archival clips and shots of the band recording at the hallowed RCA Studio B. A fitting tribute to the man music journalist Peter Guralnick calls "one of the greatest live performers of this or any other era." (In addition to the NaFF screening, Douglas Corner will host a CD/DVD release party 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 23.) JACK SILVERMAN


(8:30 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. Monday, April 22)

Though he was born a count to an aristocratic family in prewar Germany, Chris Strachwitz would eventually become one of American roots music's greatest champions. As the founder and president of Arhoolie Records, Strachwitz has made preserving and promoting a wide variety of folk music — from Delta blues to Cajun, Dixieland to bluegrass, Tejano to sacred steel — his sole mission in life. Maureen Gosling and Chris Simon's documentary features a treasure trove of footage of Arhoolie artists such as Lipscomb, Fred McDowell, Big Mama Thornton, Clifton Chenier and Flaco Jimenez, not to mention commentary from Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and Richard Thompson. A must-see for roots music fans. JACK SILVERMAN

MONDAY, 22nd


(3:45 p.m.)

Festival staffers are touting this doc about the 800-year-old boys' choir as a heartwarmer along the lines of Spellbound or last year's Brooklyn Castle.



(5:45 p.m.)

In 2011, shaggy Canadian retro-rockers The Sheepdogs garnered international attention and a deal with Atlantic Records upon winning Rolling Stone's "Choose the Cover" competition, the magazine's fan-voted answer to American Idol. Unfortunately, director Jeff Kennedy's documentary doesn't exactly follow the framework of a certain song Shel Silverstein wrote for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. Beware barely touches on the seven years The Sheepdogs spent living hand to mouth, and even less time focusing on their arena tour opening for Kings of Leon, the record they made with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney producing, or the three Juno Awards they won after their victory. Instead, Kennedy dedicates as much screen time to performance and interview footage of the band's competitors — most of whom, frankly, aren't all that compelling. ADAM GOLD



(7:30 p.m.; also 2:15 p.m. Thursday, April 25)

One of two docs in this year's fest training the lens on Nashville, Chris McDaniel's enlists a celebrity roster including Vince Gill, Pam Tillis, Larry Gatlin and Montgomery Gentry. Paul Cain and Jeffrey Stanfill did the cinematography.

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