AV Club Does Music City: Noel Murray on Nashville Film Festival

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Come and play with us forever and ever: Dogtooth
  • Come and play with us forever and ever: Dogtooth
Make sure you check out longtime Scene contributor Noel Murray's excellent round-up of last week's Nashville Film Festival in his regular gig at The Onion's AV Club. For my money — what am I saying, it's free — the AV Club is the most exciting thing going in pop-culture coverage at the moment: a kaleidoscopic jamboree where lengthy book and film coverage flourishes, good writers are encouraged to follow their passions, and the tone and content are an invigorating mix of wit and substance. It doesn't have the know-it-all tone of an EW or the above-it-all tone of a Pitchfork, and its best writers (including Noel) reclaim earnestness from being a pejorative.

Anyway, Noel offers his take on nearly a dozen festival standouts while providing a sketch of the festival's history and its significance to the area. If you missed Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard, the chilling "bogeyman" documentary Cropsey, or Dogtooth — whose climactic dance sequence was the great WTF moment of the festival, according to the dumbfounded people I spoke to afterward — you'll be kicking yourself.

He also raises an interesting point about regional festivals being an alternative distribution circuit for otherwise sure-to-vanish films. This is undoubtedly true — but when are distributors going to recognize the value of regional fests as a marketing tool for films that have nationwide distribution, however limited?

The so-called heartland is an enormous untapped audience that many distributors have written off because it requires cultivation. At (I think) the same SXSW Noel mentions in his piece, a veteran indie distributor told an audience he'd pretty much given up on releasing foreign films outside the major markets because the returns just weren't there — only to be challenged by audience members frustrated that his films never played their cities.

The Nashville festival has often found itself competing unsuccessfully for films with Tribeca, the vastly larger, amorphous fest that runs at roughly the same time in New York. But playing a festival like Tribeca surely will cannibalize the audience in a market where films by name directors are known quantities. In a smaller market such as Nashville — where the average moviegoer wouldn't know Bruno Dumont from Margaret Dumont, or Gaspar Noe from Noel — it could only raise the profile of the filmmaker and the film. Raising a movie's name recognition is the strategy of any marketing campaign. One easy way would be to provide regional fests with advance screenings, ensuring word of mouth when the movie arrives weeks/months later in theaters.

One last stray note about this year's NaFF (an abbreviation Noel notes with amusement regarding the Kinks-related documentary Do It Again): If attendance held this year at around 22,000, as the festival said in its wrap-up press release, it's amazing how much audience the fest retained without much help from star power. Maybe that's another reason people need to come to Nashville — here Mario Van Peebles rates not only a separate VIP section within the VIP tent, but also an afterparty.

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