After assembling my list of films to see at the 2012 NASHVILLE FILM FESTIVAL, I worked out a schedule. Unbelievably, Saturday (the day with potentially the largest audience of the fest) was bare. I had PILGRIM SONG at 1pm and V/H/S at 10pm with nothing in between. So I re-studied the films and worked out three pick-ups — films I didn’t have high confidence in but would keep me in the seats and (hopefully) surprise me. This is a bit of a shame considering how many films I wanted to see but couldn’t because of scheduling conflicts: LAST CALL AT THE OASIS, DAYS OF GRASS, GEORGE THE HEDGEHOG, ABSENT, and GIRL MODEL most notably.
I started the day with a film I had high hopes for: PILGRIM SONG, a piece about a Louisville teacher’s hike through the Sheltowee Trace Trail directed by Martha Stephens. There are many reasons to be suspect of American films shot on video with partially non-professional casts at regional American film festivals. I usually avoid them like the plague. But there was something about the trailer (and, admittedly, an early review) that made me want to give this one a try. I passed over the safe bet LAST CALL AT THE OASIS for this. So I entered the theater expecting a nice little film with pleasing bluegrass music shot in my home state of Kentucky.
The film took my expectations and shot them through a canon! This is a beautiful, touching, skillful, and mature work about a man’s passage from boy-child to adulthood. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Martha Stephens is definitely a director to watch. PILGRIM SONG plays again on Tuesday, Apr 24, at 4:30. Go see it!
Next up were two rock documentaries: THE GODMOTHER OF SOUL: SISTER ROSETTA THARPE and LOUDER THAN LOVE: THE GRANDE BALLROOM STORY. I try and avoid “subject” documentaries at film fests because I feel the films take a back seat to that which is being profiled. In the case of these two films, the subject is extremely fascinating. I knew little about the pioneer rock & roller Rosetta Tharpe and even less about Detroit’s 60s rock bastion the Grande Ballroom. The films educated me, and I’m glad I saw them. Subject matter: 5 stars. Now on to the production.
THE GODMOTHER OF SOUL is well enough made, but I can’t help but feel that its home is the small screen — and indeed, as it turns out, it was made for British television. LOUDER THAN LOVE was the labor of love of television producer Tony D’Annunzio. He produced it over the course of four years, as money came in and as former Grande bands toured through Detroit. Hats off to Tony for finishing this film and capturing so many memories about the Grande. But there are problems. First, the interview clips are edited so tightly, that there is no room to breath. I quickly became exhausted from sound-bite after sound-bit. It felt like Tony had a wealth of material that he was trying to cram into 75 minutes. Next: stylistic choice. Interviewee after interviewee talked about Detroit’s lack of pretensions and affectation. From the town that created the MC5 and the Stooges, substance ruled over style. Crowds were brutal to what they perceived as bullshit. And yet, LOUDER THAN LOVE is extremely slick, glitzy inter-titles zooming over scenes of the now-abandoned Grande Ballroom. Come on now, Tony, kick out the jams!
Ok, I have about 10 minutes before I need to leave for today’s crop of films. (BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING, TALES OF THE NIGHT, INTOUCHABLES, and ALPS.) I’ll have to make the last two reviews quick.
SAVE THE DATE is an American romantic comedy starring Lizzy Caplan, Martin Starr, Allison Brie, and Mark Webber. Caplan and director Micheal Mohan attended the screening. After the film, Micheal told us that the film was being considered for widescreen distribution and that he wanted to move out of this studio apartment. He pleaded with us to “like” the film on Facebook and tell all of our friends how great it was. I have no desire to hurt Michael’s chances. . . so I’ll move on to the next review.
The last film of the night was V/H/S, a found footage horror anthology by David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Ti West, Adam Wingard, Radio Silence and Joe Swanberg. (Joe and I attended the Cinema & Photography department at Southern Illinois University around the same time, though I don’t recall ever meeting him.) Joe and Producer Roxanne Benjamin spoke after the film. Roxanne said the filmmakers were each told to go make a found footage horror and that no one knew what the others were doing. That was unfortunate. The result is an extremely uneven, radically tone-shifting, overly-long, and unforgivably-silly horror anthology made by 10 white dudes in their 20s and early 30s. The problem with commissioning big-name directors to make an anthology film is the way it ties your hands. Ti West’s segment about a pair of wild west vacationers should have been cut. But who’s going to tell that to Ti West? My favorite segments were by Joe Swanberg and Radio Silence. Joe’s idea was innovative — the whole film a screen capture of a Skype conversation. Radio Silence’s short was everything the others should have been: economical, doing exactly what it set out to do and getting out of the way.
I’m late! More write-ups tomorrow.
–> NaFF Day 4
Tony Youngblood is a film and music snob and producer of the experimental improv music blog and podcast Theatre Intangible. His favorite films include Eric Rohmer’s The Green Ray, Abbass Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us, Ingmar Bergman’s The Magician, Lee Chang Dong’s Oasis, and Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap.