Sometimes The Belcourt seems to be doing the work of five theaters on two screens. Leaving aside the concert calendar, the lobby art gallery and the event space, the historic Hillsboro Village arthouse spent last week juggling five major releases in constant rotation. Nor will the pace let up as the theater enters the fall awards season, mixing at least four film series with new releases, midnight movies and special cinematic events in its autumn calendar.
Since 1998, Filmmaker magazine has issued a yearly list of talents to watch in independent film, honoring talents such as Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Danfung Dennis (Hell and Back Again) and Matt Porterfield (Putty Hill) as well as Nashvillian Brent Stewart (The Colonel's Bride). This year, the magazine is sponsoring a series of screenings around the country in conjunction with the issue, accompanied by filmmaker Q&As and appearances. The Belcourt is one of only four theaters in the U.S. where the series will show.
It starts Wednesday, Sept. 19, with a screening of Terence Nance's debut feature An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. Nance is a member of Cinema Stereo, the New York-based filmmakers' collective that describes itself as "a community of filmmakers focused on restoring the humanity and diversity of Black narratives, while making the dopest shit of all time." He's given it a run for his money. The film (which screened both at Sundance and in New Directors/New Films) employs split screens, stop-motion and hand-drawn animation, dolls and a breezy quasi-Nouvelle Vague style to chart the director's fling-that-never-was with actress Namik Winter (who plays herself). Picture a hybrid of Annie Hall, a Prince vehicle and William Greaves' landmark filmmaking-as-social-experiment doc Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, and you've got this near-romance of great charm, playful spirit and restless self-questioning, featuring two leads whose chemistry is powerful enough to motor the movie.
Of special note is the Nashville premiere of Patrick Wang's In the Family (Oct. 9), a Tennessee-set drama about a gay man who faces an uphill battle for custody rights, which Roger Ebert has already championed as one of the year's cinematic discoveries. And those of us who missed Jillian Mayer's short "Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke" at this year's Nashville Film Festival will be delighted to get a second chance before the Sept. 26 showing of Wu Tsang's Latino LGBT-bar documentary Wildness. How could you miss a retooling of the late Chris Marker's La Jetée starring 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell and a squad of irradiated Miami mutants?
What we've seen of The Belcourt's first-run calendar looks enticing, from Robert Pattinson opening Friday in David Cronenberg's Don DeLillo adaptation Cosmopolis (see the review here) to the movie that's being hailed as the marvel of the 2012 festival circuit, Leos Carax's Holy Motors, starring Denis Lavant and Kylie Minogue (set for November). Much of October will belong to the theater's annual "Doctober" survey of contemporary documentaries, starting Oct. 6 with the hit Sixto Rodriguez documentary Searching for Sugar Man. Other confirmed titles include Baraka director Ron Fricke's visually spectacular spiritual survey Samsara (Oct. 12); the acclaimed health care examination Escape Fire (Oct. 5); a true-crime identity-theft saga beyond belief in Bart Layton's The Imposter (Oct. 19); and the return of an audience favorite from this year's Nashville Film Festival, Neil Berkeley's Beauty Is Embarrassing (Oct. 30), whose subject is artist, Pee Wee's Playhouse puppeteer and native Middle Tennessean Wayne White. White will attend in conjunction with the Nash-Up creative summit Oct. 31 (see more here).
The theater's repertory schedule fizzes like a sack of lit fireworks, with a number of holy-grail items for local cinephiles. Next week, the theater screens two newly restored movies by the groundbreaking independent filmmaker Shirley Clarke: The Connection (Sept. 23, 25 & 27), her frank 1962 drama about heroin addicts waiting for their man, and Ornette: Made in America (Sept. 21-23), her 1985 study of avant-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. They're followed by Daisies (Sept. 28-29), an antic psychedelic gem from Czech New Wave filmmaker Vera Chytilova that's highly recommended to fans of previous Belcourt audience discoveries like Hausu and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.
Two cult favorites getting their first local screenings in at least three decades should have cinephiles marking their calendars in ink. Nouvelle Vague master Jacques Rivette's 1974 metatextual romp Celine and Julie Go Boating (Oct. 6-7) remains one of cinema's great head trips, whisking a pair of heroines in and out of a danger-filled narrative that becomes an alternate universe worthy of Lewis Carroll. And do not, under any circumstances, miss the restored version of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's heart-swelling 1943 epic The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Oct. 13-14), cited by some among the most gorgeous movies ever made. There's also a rare showing of the Beatles' psychotropic ramble Magical Mystery Tour Oct. 2-3, which will have to tide you over until that long-awaited Give My Regards to Broad Street reissue.
For horror lovers, finally, the theater's October promises a veritable pumpkin patch of spooky fare. The mighty Alloy Orchestra returns Oct. 18 after three previous packed-house Belcourt visits to perform live accompaniment for the 1925 Lon Chaney The Phantom of the Opera. Now that's music of the night. That segues into a trio of classic Universal Horror double features, starting Oct. 21 with a Karloff-Lugosi title match of James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein and Tod Browning's Dracula. Come for Oct. 28-29's delicious pairing of The Black Cat and The Bride of Frankenstein; return for the original Creature from the Black Lagoon in a Belcourt first — 3-D!!! — on Halloween night.
And by popular demand, there'll be a second installment of the Scene-sponsored horror marathon 12 Hours of Terror, this time bringing you the ultimate in blood-dripping, gut-ripping, flesh-stripping mayhem on Oct. 27 (a Saturday!). The seven frightful features will be announced soon; all we can say for now is there'll be the Nashville premiere of one of the most outrageous, original American movies of recent years, Joseph Kahn's sci-fi/slasher/end-of-the-world/ursine-porn mindblower Detention, starring The Hunger Games' Josh Hutcherson. Add a father-child tag-team of hardcore Italian splatter and a balls-out '80s gorefest written by some of the rulers of modern-day Hollywood — co-starring a future Oscar winner and some enormous insatiable hedge clippers — and you've got one more reason to keep refreshing belcourt.org.
• Cheap movie dates don't come any more edifying than the ITVS Community Cinema series, which offers free screenings of timely documentaries culled from PBS' outstanding Independent Lens series (shown locally on co-sponsor NPT-Channel 8) plus pre-film receptions and post-film discussions. The 2012-13 season looks typically strong, starting with Saturday's preview of the much-anticipated miniseries Half the Sky, based on the best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The four-hour documentary enlists Diane Lane, America Ferrera, Gabrielle Union, Olivia Wilde, and Eva Mendes to profile women from Cambodia to Zimbabwe who escaped the ravages of sex trafficking, forced prostitution and gender-based violence.
In the segment screening 3 p.m. Saturday at the downtown Nashville Public Library, Kristof and Meg Ryan talk to Somaly Mam, a Cambodian survivor of sex slavery who now leads the fight against trafficking. After the film, representatives from End Slavery Tennessee will discuss the problem and how to join the crusade. Also featured in the series this fall are Brad Lichtenstein's As Goes Janesville (Oct. 16), which surveys unemployment, union troubles and the collapse of the middle class in Wisconsin, and Jehane Noujaim's Solar Mamas (Nov. 10), a look at how women around the world are attempting to seize the reins of their countries' energy futures.
• The city's best free film series, Vanderbilt's International Lens, continues the tradition established by the campus's venerable Sarratt Cinema, bringing to Nashville films that haven't played commercial theaters — some documentaries or American indies, others acclaimed or even obscure foreign titles that slipped through the cracks. This year, those offerings include Elisabeth Coronel's Moi, Petite Fille de 13 Ans (As a Young Girl of 13) (Oct. 2), a documentary portrait of Auschwitz survivor Simone Lagrange and her role in prosecuting the infamous "Butcher of Lyon" Klaus Barbie; Bertrand Tavernier's historical romantic drama La Princesse de Montpensier (Oct. 30); and the enigmatic new feature by The Death of Mr. Lazarescu director Cristi Puiu, Aurora (Nov. 28).
We're also pleased to get a second chance to see 2011 Nashville Film Festival award-winner Hipsters, the terrific high-energy Russian musical that's a kind of Soviet period-piece teens-in-revolt variation on Swing Kids. By far, though, the most exciting title is Bertrand Bonello's House of Pleasures (Nov. 13), an account of the waning days of a turn-of-the-century brothel that placed in the upper reaches of critics' polls last year, yet never played Nashville theaters. See for a full schedule.