Five Cool Things About the Nashville Film Festival

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The 48th annual Nashville Film Festival, ongoing in Nashville, Tennessee, on its 10-day run until April 29, has continued to grow since its humble origins in 1969—when it was known as the Sinking Creek Film Celebration. Today, as the South’s oldest-running film festival, it’s been in existence almost a full decade longer than Sundance, and nearly 25 longer than Tribeca.

This year, the event is screening more than 300 films, culled from some 8,000 entries from around the world, at one of Nashville’s largest multiplexes (the Regal Hollywood Stadium 27).

Here are five cool things about this year’s Nashville Film Festival.

1. Music Docs

Because the Nashville Film Festival is based in Music City USA, it’s a natural hub for movies about music. This year, one of its key offerings is the world premiere of The Last Songwriter, a documentary in which a host of Nashville singer-songwriters, such as Matraca Berg, Marcus Hummon, Jason Isbell and Jamie Floyd—and their champions, including superstar Garth Brooks and Emmylou Harris—discuss the creative and financial challenges faced today by publishers and writers as they deal with diminishing returns from online and streaming services. Another fantastic documentary, Score, spotlights the music of movies, the people who make it, the science and art behind it, and how it’s changed and evolved over the decades. And I loved Kandyland, the raw and raucous chronicle about the local all-female punk-rock band Thelma and The Sleaze and their 2015 commitment to play a gig every day for a month in “nonconventional” venues like a McDonald’s, a Laundromat and a roller rink.

2. Breakouts

The festival introduces features—and actors—that will likely merge later into the mainstream. There’s already early Oscar-nom buzz for Sam Elliott, who’s fantastic in The Hero, about an ailing, over-the-hill actor coming to terms with his age and mortality, and the affections of a much-young woman (Laura Prepon from Orange is the New Black). Burt Reynolds plays a similar role—a faded and forgotten movie star—in Dog Years, and the festival “brings it home”: The movie was filmed in Nashville. The movie marks his first acting role in almost a decade, and festival-goers can get an early look at Reynolds’ comeback performance before it opens wider throughout the spring and summer. And the young cast of the coming-of-age drama Some Freaks is outstanding, notably Thomas Mann (from Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Kong: Skull Island) and newcomer Lily Mae Harrington, who hopefully will go on to even more significant roles.

3. Big-Star Surprises

If you think you’ve seen Cate Blanchett in a lot of roles, just wait until you see her in a movie like Manifesto, in which she plays 13 different characters. And I’ll bet you never knew Tom Hanks was a nut for typewriters; in the fabulous documentary California Typewriter, he—along with several other famous folks (including musician John Mayer and actor/playwright Sam Shepherd), collectors, sundry aficionados and the good people who run one of the oldest typewriter repair shops in California—extoll the merits of old-school typing machines over pads, tablets or computers.

4. Thrills & Chills

For night owls, a special feature called The Graveyard Shift introduces some of the best new and upcoming indie features, shorts and directors, especially if your tastes lean toward blood, guts, doom or existential dread. The Void is a low-budget creepshow set in an abandoned hospital. Three inept security guards and a fearless tabloid journalist protect the city of Baltimore from vampires in the campy, gory comedy The Night Watchmen. Nature is a real beast in Without Name. And A Closer Walk With Thee mixes exorcism, homoeroticism and evangelistic angst in a combo that clearly doesn’t cater to the Sunday School crowd.

5. More Than Movies

The Nashville Film Festival awards some $35,000 in cash prizes and scholarships to filmmakers of movies selected before and during the festival. And again—being Nashville and Music City—it has a special awards category for Original Song; this year the nominees included soundtrack selections written by Diane Warren and performed by Willie Nelson; another written and performed by Beril Guceri, the former lead singer of the Philadelphia-based band East Hundred; rock and country producer Julian Raymond and actor/singer Keith Carradine; Oklahoma folk-Americana singer-songwriter John Moreland; and Jamie Floyd and John Martin, a Nashville duo who record as Stranger Friends and recently signed a recording deal with Sony.