If at some point in the next week you hear someone say there's nothing to see at the movies, kindly reach over for us and swat them with a rolled-up newspaper. Better yet, use this one — the Scene's annual guide to the Nashville Film Festival, which gets under way Thursday at Green Hills for a week of premieres, parties, panels, celebrities, visiting filmmakers and out-of-town guests.
We've been attending Nashville's hometown celebration of the cinematic arts for nearly 30 of its 42 years — little more than a decade after the late Mary Jane Coleman established the festival once known as Sinking Creek as an early champion of independent, experimental and documentary film. Over the past decade, along with the name change has come a broader range of interests, including an emphasis on music films — a no-brainer in Music City — and recent indie and foreign films from the international festival circuit.
It's the latter that really stands out this year. Not only can local audiences catch the film that took the Palme d'Or last year at Cannes — the acclaimed Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Friday and Sunday), as much of a must-see as we can imagine — but they'll likely come away stunned by new-to-Nashville works such as England's The Arbor, Romania's Tuesday, After Christmas, Rwanda's Kinyarwanda, Japan's 13 Assassins and Sweden's Sound of Noise. Some or all of these may well appear in 2011's year-end Top 10 lists.
Yet in every category the Scene has previewed this year — be it music films, documentaries, new directors, the competition lineup or local features — we've found unusually strong entries. In fact, we'll just go out on a limb and say this looks to us like the most potent NaFF lineup yet. We've seen first-rate music docs on everyone from the late Memphis punk tyro Jay Reatard to John Mellencamp. We've seen at least one astounding directorial debut — an experimental feature by a Clarksville native, no less — and a pair of deeply unnerving features that will shatter preconceptions about the kinds of movies filming here.
So how do you see them? First, go to www.nashvillefilmfestival.org and purchase advance tickets, especially for films that will have celebrity guests or local ties. These include Friday night's screening of the William Gay adaptation Bloodworth (shown last year as a work-in-progress under the title Provinces of Night), with Kris Kristofferson in attendance; Friday's premiere of the Chely Wright documentary Wish Me Away, hosted by country singer Wright; Saturday night's screening of Road to Nowhere, with director Monte Hellman attending; and Harry Shearer hosting his New Orleans doc The Big Uneasy the same night. Be warned that many of the hotter films will have single shows only — but you can check the downstairs festival box office at Green Hills for added screenings, especially on closing day April 21.
Arrive at least a half-hour early — not just because long lines can form at the will-call windows and theater doors, but because one of the most appealing aspects of the fest is being around fellow movie lovers. Be sure to ask what other people have seen, and "ride the buzz" accordingly — in many cases, this will be your only chance to see these films on the big screen, especially with the filmmaker or actors there. One reason the NaFF has grown so much in recent years is that it's getting a rep as a great hang in an exciting city, and any hospitality you can show visitors bodes well for its future.
Below, we've previewed more than 50 selections at this year's festival, and we'll be offering NaFF updates throughout the week online at Scene blogs Pith in the Wind and Nashville Cream. So get your highlighters ready, and pause for a moment to close your eyes — it's probably the only rest they're going to get in the next seven days.
★= Highly Recommended
★THE LAST SUMMER OF LA BOYITA
(7:15 p.m.; also 7:45 p.m. April 18)
Young Jorgelina (Guadalupe Alonso) goes with her father to spend the summer in the Argentinean countryside, and develops feelings for an adolescent farmhand she's known for years, Mario (Nicolás Treise). To say much more about the plot of Julia Solomonoff's quiet meditation on budding sexuality and the meaning of gender would risk a spoiler. But the two young co-stars are terrific, the direction is artfully understated and the production values are strong. Solomonoff's show-and-don't-tell approach may leave some loose ends, but the understated script only magnifies Alonso's and Treise's precocious performances. In Spanish with English subtitles. —JACK SILVERMAN
In British comedian Richard Ayoade's directorial debut, Craig Roberts plays a smart, sensitive teenage kid trying to save his parents' failing marriage while winning the heart of an aloof classmate (Yasmin Paig). Submarine is funny and stylish, and shot in a way that gives the early '80s an archaic glow, as though lit by candlelight and the setting sun. It ranges too far at times into Wes Anderson-y indie-quirk, but like Anderson, Ayoade is able to convey the painful awkwardness beneath the stylization. This is a movie about immature emotions that uses its own poses to keep genuine feelings at bay. —NOEL MURRAY
(9:30 p.m.; also 3 p.m. April 20)
Calling this a gay Before Sunrise isn't a flip cocktail-napkin reduction: It's telling you this countdown-to-farewell romance will stay with you, may break your heart a little — and shouldn't be missed. Bashful lifeguard Russell (Tom Cullen) hits the London clubs and goes home with Glen (Chris New), who asks him to record his take on their night together — ostensibly so Glen will have a record when he leaves for America in two days. But when Glen unexpectedly shows up at Russell's pool, the fling turns into a (surprisingly hot) weekend affair made bittersweet by its impending deadline. In his second feature as writer-director, editor Andrew Haigh — the one degree of separation between Ridley Scott and Harmony Korine — gives their deepening intimacy the thrilling unfamiliarity of a space walk. —JIM RIDLEY