It's springtime in Nashville. Dogwoods are unfolding. Forsythia is blooming. Cheekwood is a carpet of 55,000 tulips. The grill and front porch beckon. And starting Thursday at Regal's Green Hills theater complex, and continuing for the next seven days, tens of thousands of Music City movie lovers are going to forget all that exists.
Why forsake nature's glories for several hours holed up in a dark room with a bunch of strangers? The simplest answer is: It's fun. Now in its 44th year, making it one of the oldest film festivals in North America, the Nashville Film Festival has become as much a social occasion as a celebration of cinema. Anybody who believes the movies are dead hasn't tried to navigate the mobbed downstairs lobby, overflowing with laughter, long lines and excited conversations.
This year, the NaFF's giving people plenty to talk about. For the first time, the festival is incorporating a sidebar devoted to Kurdish cinema, culminating in Sunday's gala celebration at War Memorial. Augmenting those is a lineup of titles from the spring festival circuit, along with regional selections that may contain some of the fest's biggest surprises. Already numerous shows have sold out.
Which leads us to some tips for getting the most from the festival. Parking at the Green Hills garage is recommended; so is arriving 45 minutes early, especially if you're picking up tickets in the downstairs lobby that serves as festival HQ. Watch the boards posted downstairs for up-to-date info on last-minute screening additions, changes or cancellations.
Rush tickets are available for some sold-out features just before showtime. But if you get shut out of a popular movie, check to see if screenings will be added closing day April 25 (though director Jeff Nichols' opening-night selection, Mud with Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, will probably get just one, alas).
To help you navigate the many selections, we've provided more than 30 brief reviews of festival films below, along with recommendations each day for "Sure Shots" we haven't seen but are worth checking out. In addition, we recommend you peruse the schedule online at nashvillefilmfestival.org, get advance tickets whenever possible — and take a chance on something you've never heard of. We even offer a speed-selection chart to give you a head start.
So put away the sunglasses. It's time to start working on your projector-beam tan.
*= Highly recommended
* SUNSHINE BOYS
(6:15 p.m.; also 2 p.m. Monday, April 22) In Kim Tae-gon's accomplished feature, three friends meet up in Busan a year after graduating high school together, and the trio parties deep into the night, plied with a staggering amount of alcohol under sketchy circumstances. As an undelivered letter hangs like a cloud over the reunion, much goes unsaid and unexplained, and yet the tension, sadness and joy are palpable — intensified rather than diminished by inference and indirection. By the end, each friend carries his own private shame, but we've walked through his reasons for concealing it. The results are quietly devastating. STEVE HARUCH
* NASHVILLE 2012
(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
GOOD OL' FREDA
(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
• INDELIBLE: THE CASE AGAINST JEFFREY WOMACK (6 p.m.) An expanded version of Demetria Kalodimos' WSMV documentary about the 1975 murder of Marcia Trimble and the longtime suspect who was eventually cleared.
• WORM (10 p.m.) Local filmmaker Doug Mallette expands his prize-winning 48 Hour Film Festival sci-fi short, in which a parasite that restores the ability to dream comes with troubling side effects.
* POST TENEBRAS LUX
(1 p.m.; also 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 24)
You'd think it'd be hard for certified Mexican oddball Carlos Reygadas to go much further off the deep end after films like Battle in Heaven or even the relatively placid but otherworldly Silent Light. But here he is again, dancing on the edge of coherence like a Surrealist hermano to Terrence Malick. This is a film (sort of) about domestic anxiety, and it begins with the filmmaker's children at sunrise, in a kind of nod to the birth of the universe. Almost immediately after, a CGI red devil invades the home of an upper-middle-class family as they sleep. It's a highly original, allegorical, sensual and heretical film; you might not like Lux, but I guarantee you won't soon forget it. In subtitled Spanish. MICHAEL SICINSKI
(3 p.m.; 4:15 p.m. Sunday, April 21)
Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) cut together rehearsals for an unfinished project to make a strange and beguiling enigma. Phon and Tong are young, and they're falling in love at a hotel that overlooks the Mekong River. Phon's mother is a Pob — a ghost — and then Phon is a ghost, too, after her mother devours her entrails. A man plays guitar peacefully, hypnotically. And then Tong is not really Tong, but a projected double made possible by some kind of soul-body splitting device. The river glides by serenely. It's not easy to describe this dream state of a filmic experiment, but it's hard not to get absorbed by it. STEVE HARUCH
(5:45 p.m.; also 5 p.m. Monday, April 22)
Rola Nashef's strong feature-length debut follows the exploits of Sami (EJ Assi), a young Lebanese-American man with big dreams who gets stuck tending the family gas station after his father is murdered. But when the lovely Naj (Nada Shouhayib) drops by to deliver long-distance phone cards from her brother's cellphone store, Sami's dreary existence suddenly brightens up, and a romance blooms. Both leads exude a low-key charm, and as Sami's high-strung cousin Mike, comedian-actor Mike Batayeh is terrific, kind of an Arab-American Joe Pesci. The film's funniest moments center around Sami and Mike's interactions with the predominantly African-American customers of their station, and display a blend of humor and insight that recalls Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. JACK SILVERMAN
* A LETTER TO MOMO
(4 p.m.; also 1 p.m. Saturday, April 20) Creepy yet comical, heartwarming and bittersweet, Hiroyoki Okiura's feature is a tender morsel of a film. Brooding over an unfinished letter from her recently deceased father, young Momo leaves Tokyo with her mother for the remote, summer-soaked island of Shio. There she becomes the hapless companion of guardian spirits Iwa, Kawa and Mame, mischievous and kleptomaniacal bumblers with penchants for binge eating, sacred booty-dancing and aggressive flatulence. Burgeoning with tangible textures and psychedelic visuals, this gorgeously animated tale of love, loss and new beginnings begs to be sampled by film lovers of all ages. Itadakemasu! SARAH BROWN
IF YOU DIE, I WILL KILL YOU
(6:30 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 23)
Two Parisians — sad-sack ex-con Philippe (Jonathan Zaccaï) and his roommate Avdal (Billey Demirtas), a Kurd pursuing an Iraqi war criminal — have lives stuck in neutral. Their accidental friendship energizes them, until Avdal is betrayed by a bad ticker. The tragedy brings in members of Paris' Kurdish community, along with Avdal's fiancée (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani) and his glowering fundamentalist father. The film's tone veers from Jarmuschian humor to Gallic ooh-la-la (look for cameos by three lovely actresses of a certain age) and female empowerment story. Odd, yes, but expatriate Kurdish director Hiner Saleem knows these worlds and assembles a diverting ride. DANA KOPP FRANKLIN
(7:30 p.m.; also noon Sunday, April 21)
Something of a Trekkies for the moon-obsessive set, Simon Ennis' clever doc follows a handful of lunartics: among them astronaut-turned-lunar-landscape-painter Alan Bean, lunar real estate salesman Dennis Hope, and endearingly awkward but wildly passionate Luna Project founder Christopher Carson. Lunarcy!'s tone is playful and knowing rather than mocking, following this gaggle of guys who are more idealist wonks than outright crackpots. After all, each moon fanatic profiled comes off as exceptionally intelligent, if a bit gawky, and they have a very good point: Why in the hell aren't we colonizing the moon by now? D. PATRICK RODGERS
(7:45 p.m.; also 5 p.m. Saturday, April 20)
Joel Potrykus' bizarre offering may look like (and contain some acting reminiscent of) a high school project and play out like a low-rent Black Swan, but it's definitely worth a look. Friendless, jobless, talentless and clueless, comedian Trevor Newandayke seems to be the butt of some unfathomable universal joke. In a hundred menial ways, he allows the whole world to use him as its doormat, until the seething resentment boils over in bursts of misguided vigilante heroics, vandalism, brutal violence and compulsive arson. Oh yeah, and he's being followed by a man in a gorilla suit. When he sells one of his stinkers to the devil for an apple, that's when things get really weird. SARAH BROWN
* PIT STOP
(8 p.m.; also 11 a.m. Monday, April 22)
One of the NaFF's best finds of recent years was the gay romance Weekend; similar territory yields strong results in this convincing, warmly observed slice-of-life drama from director Yen Tan and co-screenwriter David Lowery (an indie utility man who edited Shane Carruth's Upstream Color and directed the much-anticipated feature Ain't Them Bodies Saints). Broken family man Gabe (Bill Heck) and recovering romantic Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) inhabit different worlds within the same small Texas town. Under Tan's close, unemphatic direction, how they come together seems less like plot schematics than the natural course of guarded lives. If you wished Brokeback Mountain had ended happier, here's your movie. JIM RIDLEY
WE ALWAYS LIE TO STRANGERS
(8:30 p.m.; also 10:30 a.m. April 20)
Over the course of five years, documentarians AJ Schnack (Kurt Cobain: About a Son) and David Wilson chronicled life in Branson, Mo. — the shining rhinestone of family-friendly kitsch nestled in the crook of the Ozarks. As easy as it may have been to focus in on the weird patriotic hyperreality that is Branson's bread and butter, We Always Lie to Strangers manages to paint Branson as a complex tourist town struggling against a flailing economy. Or, if nothing else, a little bit more than just "Las Vegas if run by Ned Flanders." LANCE CONZETT
* THE HISTORY OF FUTURE FOLK
(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
• LAURENCE ANYWAYS (3 p.m.; also 5:15 p.m. Sunday, April 21) The NaFF introduces local cinephiles to the work of acclaimed Quebecois phenom Xavier Dolan, starting with his epic account of the 10-year relationship of a male-to-female transsexual (Melvil Poupaud).
• FOLK (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.
• THE SPECTACULAR NOW (7 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 20) Sundance audiences fell in love with James Ponsoldt's bittersweet teen romance about a high-schooler with a drinking problem (Rabbit Hole's Miles Teller) and his unexpected new hope (The Descendants' Shailene Woodley).
* RHINO SEASON
(12:15 p.m.; also 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25)
Kurdish-Iranian poet Sahel (Behrouz Vossoughi) is released from an Iranian prison after serving nearly 30 years for writing poems considered "against the state." When he's released, he learns that his wife Mina (Monica Bellucci) thinks he's been dead for many years. The latest work from acclaimed director Bahman Ghobadi (A Time For Drunken Horses, Turtles Can Fly), Rhino Season is based on the true story of a Kurdish-Iranian poet known as Sadegh Kamangar, some of whose poems are used as narration, giving the film an impressionistic, dreamlike quality. It's an extremely dark and disturbing tale, but it's artfully told, and Turaj Aslani's cinematography is fabulous, with many of the scenes bathed in sepia hues that accentuate the characters' faded memories and broken hearts. JACK SILVERMAN
THE ISLAND PRESIDENT
What if your country was sinking into the ocean and nobody cared? That's the story of President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, the center of the fascinating documentary The Island President. Nasheed — recently freed from confinement and torture at the hands of a dictator to lead his country into a new democratic era — tries every possible way to get the planet's major polluters to take global warming seriously before his nation disappears to rising sea levels. His diplomatic tactics — clever PR, inspiring idealism and political sausage-making in equal measure — are brilliant, and The Island President is both charming and urgent. (Since the film, Nasheed resigned from office — he says under duress — and he faces charges that may keep him out of this fall's election.) Presented by ITVS Community Cinema, the screening is free and open to the public. DANA KOPP FRANKLIN
PERSISTENCE OF VISION
(3:15 p.m.; also 4 p.m. Monday, April 22)
Connoisseurs of documentaries about failed film projects — like the Terry Gilliam doc Lost in La Mancha, or the Henri-Georges Clouzot Inferno — won't want to miss this agonizing account of brilliant Roger Rabbit/Pink Panther animator Richard Williams' nearly three-decade struggle to realize his groundbreaking feature The Thief and the Cobbler. We'll never know whether a masterpiece was buried in all that obsessively detailed cel animation — my sinking suspicion says no — but what's there is astounding enough to lament its sorry fate. JIM RIDLEY
* SAFETY LAST!
Thank Janus Films for the festival's safest bet: a 90th anniversary remastered version of the 1923 Harold Lloyd classic, featuring the silent comedian's iconic dangle from a clock face high above a city street. Watch it aware that Lloyd performed his stunts with only eight fingers — he'd lost two digits (including a thumb) earlier in his career to an explosives mishap. JIM RIDLEY
* BREAKFAST WITH CURTIS
(3:30 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21)
Strongly recommended to fans of Richard Linklater's Slacker or Robert Altman's woollier ensemble pieces, Laura Colella's balmy, ingratiating feature has a bohemian household's loquacious leader (Theo Green) making conciliatory gestures to the neurotic neighbor kid he inadvertently traumatized five years earlier. The twist is that Colella cast her own squirrelly housemates (and house) essentially as themselves and fabricated a movie around them; the result is a sweet, amusing summer breeze of a movie that's like stumbling upon a neighbor's moonshine party. Suggested tagline: "More fun than ping-pong without panties!" JIM RIDLEY
(7:30 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21)
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer (Party Girl) and adapted by Neil LaBute from his own play, Some Girl(s) casts O.C. heartthrob Adam Brody as an unnamed, recently minted author who pinballs across the country on a chilling pre-marital romp of emotional sado-masochism. Revisiting his top five exes (including Kristen Bell, Emily Watson and Zoe Kazan), he manipulates each situation for maximum drama, subjecting his unwitting victims to the wringer so as to cannibalize their interactions in his fiction. Fortunately, the sniveling little douchelord gets as good as he gives. The somewhat unremarkable film might work better onstage, but the ladies, widely varied in age and personality, all turn out exceptional performances. SARAH BROWN
VERY EXTREMELY DANGEROUS
(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
* I AM DIVINE
(9:30 p.m.; also 8:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21)
Jeffrey Schwarz follows his documentaries on adult film star Jack Wrangler and Celluloid Closet author Vito Russo with a figure who, appropriately, combines smut with queer activism: Harris Glenn Milstead, aka Divine. Divine seems so fully formed in her earliest work with John Waters that it's easy to underestimate the lengths she went through to create her unique, disgusting and sexy persona. The film fills in those gaps nicely, with insightful interviews with Divine's mother and high school girlfriend, as well as interviews with Waters, Ricki Lake, Mink Stole, Michael Musto, Bruce Vilanch and more. LAURA HUTSON
• DEAD MAN'S BURDEN (8 p.m.) Clare Bowen (Scarlett on ABC's Nashville) has received good notices for Jared Moshe's indie Western about a frontier woman whose plans to sell the family homestead take a twist with her long-lost brother's return.
• A BAND CALLED DEATH (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.
• EAST NASHVILLE TONIGHT (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.
(7 p.m.; also 4:15 p.m. Monday, April 22)
Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl's legendary 1951 balsa-wood raft journey across the Pacific is an old-fashioned epic of the highest order — immense, exciting, and full of determined, foolhardy, irony-free characters drawn in broad strokes. Directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg's film follows earnest Heyerdahl (Pal Sverre Hagen) as he goes about putting together a (mostly) amateur crew designed to prove that pre-Columbian Polynesians could have made this treacherous journey across the seas with the basic technology available to them. But for all that, the film (like Heyerdahl's original book and documentary) is very much about the pluck and drive of white Europeans. Don't worry too much about issues of representation, however: This gorgeous, absorbing film is very much worth seeing — especially on a big screen. BILGE EBIRI
SLEEPY LaBEEF RIDES AGAIN
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
* THIS AIN'T NO MOUSE MUSIC!
(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
• I KILLED MY MOTHER (3 p.m.) The brash 2009 debut of 19-year-old filmmaker Xavier Dolan (Laurence Anyways), drawing from his own experiences for the story of a gay teen's tumultuous relationship with his mother.
• REMOTE AREA MEDICAL (4:15 p.m.) Filmmakers Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman follow up their Gerrymandering doc with a look at a three-day pop-up clinic in Bristol, Tenn., whose volunteers administer the health care their patients can't get or afford. Sound like any state where you live?
• THIS IS MARTIN BONNER (5:45 p.m.) Advance word is strong, both on Chad Hartigan's redemption drama and Australian actor Paul Eenhoorn's meaty title role as an ex-con who helps a vehicular manslaughter parolee (Richmond Arquette) find peace.
• GMO OMG (6:15 p.m.) Jeremy Seifert's doc explores a hot-button topic among farmers, food producers and environmentalists: the role of genetically modified seeds and vegetables in combating world hunger.
• FLICKER (7:15 p.m.) In Patrick Eklund's deadpan thriller/absurdist comedy, another Fantastic Fest prize-winner, mishaps ranging from electrical catastrophe to radiation poisoning befall those connected to an all-thumbs Swedish communications company.
• THE COLD LANDS (8 p.m.) After too long a time since his fine 1999 debut Spring Forward — 14 years, to be exact — writer-director Tom Gilroy returns with this drama about an orphaned boy who escapes to live in the nearby forest.
* AFTER TILLER
Since the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009, only four doctors in the United States continue to perform third-trimester abortions. Filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson document all four in this wrenching, candid documentary that will leave you with a lump in your throat no matter where you stand on the abortion debate. The access the doctors and patients provide is at once captivating and repellent, and the film's compassion only serves to bring the audience in closer — this is by no means a pro-anything film. The subject matter is powerful enough to speak for itself. LAURA HUTSON
* GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES
A grail item for the many fans of Japan's Studio Ghibli, this seldom-shown 1988 anti-war drama by master animator Isao Takahata exists worlds apart from the gentle visions of Hayao Miyazaki. It's a grim and ultimately wrenching drama in which a teenage boy tries to keep his little sister alive in the aftermath of the World War II firebombing of Japan. "Yes, it's a cartoon, and the kids have eyes like saucers," the late Roger Ebert wrote, "but it belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made." Not to be missed. JIM RIDLEY
* IL FUTURO
A strange and wonderful mix of Italian kitchen-sink drama and Sunset Boulevard-style black humor, with an undercurrent of otherworldly weirdness and gladiator-movie kitsch, Il Futuro is unlike any other movie you've seen. Bianca and Tomas are Roman teens whose world jolts when their parents die in a car crash. In a fog of grief — which manifests as blazing, surreal sunlight — Bianca (Manuela Martelli) enters a steamy sexual union with reclusive former film star Maciste (Rutger Hauer). Chilean director Alicia Scherson, working from a novel by the legendary Roberto Bolaño, takes a Roman apartment block into Outer Limits territory and back again. In English and subtitled Italian. DANA KOPP FRANKLIN
• DIE THOMANER: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF THE ST. THOMAS BOYS CHOIR OF LEIPZIG (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.
• STORIES WE TELL (7 p.m.) Not to be missed. Actor-director Sarah Polley (Away from Her) mixes documentary and dramatic recreation — using her own family history as material — to examine decades-old secrets about her parents' past.
• PARADISE: LOVE (9 p.m.) The first in Austrian provocateur Ulrich Seidl's trilogy of largely improvised films on the search for paradise, initially shot as a single five-and-a-half-hour film. (All three, including Paradise: Faith and Paradise: Hope, are showing at this year's NaFF.) In this one, a 50-year-old Austrian woman goes on a sex-tourism holiday in Kenya; we can only pass along Variety reviewer Leslie Halperin's description of the movie as "Salo with sunburn."
BEWARE OF THE DOGS
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
(5:45 p.m.; also 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 24)
"Even my darkroom is a haunted place," says Don McCullin in the opening scenes of the documentary film about his life's work — photos of war-torn landscapes and people. McCullin speaks with disarming calm about shots he's taken of women holding mattresses on their heads to deflect bullets, or Congolese children being dragged behind vehicles and skinned alive. The film, directed by David Morris and Jacqui Morris, is a profile of an extraordinary artist and his moving, ambitious work, but it's also an effective treatise on the importance of candid photojournalism. LAURA HUTSON
British director Ben Wheatley's latest was quite a cause célèbre in the U.K., where polite, seemingly ordinary murderers are kind of a national institution. Here, it's a mild-mannered Midlands couple –— Tina (Alice Love) and her new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) — who hitch a trailer to their car and go on a holiday, and then slowly begin to take out anyone who crosses them the wrong way. Wheatley's earlier films Kill List and Down Terrace had darkly humorous streaks to them, but they still played things mostly straight: Here, he and his cast have crafted a dark comedy that you wish would take itself a bit too seriously. Without much at stake, it's hard to get particularly interested in the couple's journey — and without much to actually laugh at, it's hard to really call the thing a comedy. Heavily stylized and tonally all over the place, Sightseers is audacious on the surface, but scratch it and you'll get tedium. BILGE EBIRI
• I USED TO BE DARKER (8 p.m.; also 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 24) Matt Porterfield's Putty Hill was one of 2011's best-reviewed indie releases; Porterfield follows it with a drama about a Northern Irish girl whose visit heightens tensions among her Baltimore family. Produced by Ryan Zacharias and co-produced by Brooke Bernard, the team behind Brent Stewart's Nashville-shot feature The Colonel's Bride and Michael Tully's upcoming comedy Ping Pong Summer with Susan Sarandon and Amy Sedaris.
• THE WAY, WAY BACK (9 p.m.) Fox Searchlight is putting out this much-buzzed Sundance item later this summer, so don't worry if you can't get in. The Descendants Oscar winners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash make their directorial debut with this comedy about a put-upon teen (Liam James) who seeks refuge from his mother's overbearing boyfriend (Steve Carell) at a water park run by good-natured goofball Sam Rockwell.
The latest feature from Korea's Kim Ki-duk won the top prize at last year's Venice Film Festival, which is baffling: It's an unsubtle, knuckleheaded film about a thug (Lee Jeong-jin) who makes his living destroying the limbs of those who run afoul of his loan-shark boss. One day, a mysterious old woman (Jo Min-soo) tries to insinuate herself into his life, by cleaning up his hovel and making him soup. "Go away, crazy bitch!" is his oft-repeated reaction to her inexplicable kindness. Who is she? Director Kim had a few promising films in the early Aughts, most notably the Buddhist parable Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring. But his general mien is a kind of Neanderthal pseudo-formalism that revels in violence only to "apologize" in the final minutes. Ugly stuff. In subtitled Korean. MICHAEL SICINSKI
• A RIVER CHANGES COURSE (6 p.m.; also 12:15 p.m. Thursday, April 25) Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at this year's Sundance, Kalyanee Mam's film examines the ruthless effects of global commerce on three Cambodian families, each feeling the pressure of deforestation, overfishing and cheap labor.
• THE KINGS OF SUMMER (7 p.m.; also noon Thursday, April 25) A terrific cast — Alison Brie, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullaly, Hannibal Buress — heads up Jordan Roberts-Vogt's hit Sundance comedy about three teenagers who decide to build a house and live in the wild.
• MUSIC CITY U.S.A. (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.
• A TEACHER (9 p.m.; also 12:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25) An Austin high school teacher (Lindsay Burdge) spirals into freefall after an affair with a student (Will Brittain) in Hannah Fidell's award-winning SXSW drama.
For more on the Nashville Film Festival:Three priceless visions of bygone Nashville at NaFF 2013, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame's Moving Image Collection
Jesse Boyce's remarkable career starts at Muscle Shoals
Want to do the 2013 Nashville Film Festival in just five films?
Songwriter Desmond Child's modern family includes a partner, twin boys — and the boys' surrogate mother
- Illustration by Matt Smith