The following blog entry is an article I wrote for TheFilmTalk.com in 2011. That site removed all of their content, so I am gradually reposting my articles here.
2011 Nashville Film Festival Reviews
My first day of The Nashville Film Festival was filled with some pretty spectacular cinema. Takashi Miike’s new film 13 Assassins is a few dials less crazy and a few notches more assured than his average fair. Cut from the SEVEN SAMURAI mold, the film follows a group of samurai as they plot to kill a corrupt leader. I really enjoyed the film’s strategic plot and unrelenting fighting scenes. Four out of five.
The best film of the first two days is by far Tuesday, After Christmas, a Romanian drama following the logical conclusions of extra-marital affairs. Romania is on fire lately with stark and truthful cinema like 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days and The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu. Tuesday, After Christmas holds its own against those great films. Five out of five.
Last year, Bloodworth screened as an in-progress print under the title Provinces Of Night, the title of the William Gay book it was based on. This year, the film returned finished with stars Kris Kristopherson, Reece Thompson, and W. Earl Brown (also the writer) and director Shane Dax Taylor in attendance. After the screening, Kristopherson announced that it was probably the best film he’s ever been in. I have to respectively disagree. The southern drama about a dysfunctional Tennessee family living deep-county felt artificial from start to finish. I saw the actors playing roles and never fell into the characters. I really admire writer and actor W. Earl Brown who hails just 30 minutes from my home town of Mayfield, Kentucky. (He knocked it out of the park as Deadwood’s cheery henchman Dan Dority.) But this film is played with a little too much gravitas. Two out of five.
I’m a few days behind on my day-to-day Nashville Film Fest posts, and for that I blame the Nashville Film Fest. The schedule is so chocked full with must-sees, I don’t have a moment to catch my breath. I am trying to get this particular post out in the 25 minutes left on my lunch break. Let’s see how I do.
On Saturday, April 16th — my second day of the fest (but technically the third) — I began the day by engineering The Film Talk podcast interview with Monte Hellman in the lobby of the Green Hills Landmark theater. (Check it out here.) Hearing the legendary director’s conversation with Jett and Gareth was the highlight of my day (and my year!).
My first film was Most Valuable Players, a documentary about the 2008 Freddy Awards — a competition that could be called the Tony awards of high school musical theater in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The film follows three high schools as they put on productions for the 2008 school year. I really enjoyed all of the personalities in the film and the constant tug the students and teachers faced between “must win” stage lust and a positive, educational experience. Do awards shows make us better, or do they just redefine our definition of success? The overall pacing, presentation, and editing of the movie was fairly ho-hum; and I feel like the producers could have looked a little deeper. For instance, the perception that gay male students have a higher involvement in musical theater than other school activities was brought up but brushed aside without any real analysis. This is a fun documentary, but I was left wanting. Three out of five.
After being pumped up by the Monte Hellman interview, I couldn’t wait to catch his first film in 21 years, Road To Nowhere. Hellman and the producer/writer Steven Gaydos introduced the film and led a Q&A after. I had high hopes, but I am sad to say I was left scratching my head. A friend of mine quipped later that she knew there was going to be problems when the writer told us how to watch the film. Gaydos also thanked an audience member for “truly seeing the film” after the member asked an insightful question. Gaydos similarly praised the foreign press, indicating, I suppose that the U.S. press (who largely panned it) and anyone who dislikes the film is simply not “truly seeing it.” To me that feels like a convenient way to write off criticism. I followed Gaydos’ advice by not attempting to piece together the largely incoherent plot about a movie within a movie within a . . . (how far this goes is debatable and/or unknowable). But still, even after “experiencing” the work without trying to dissect it, I was left without any real insights or enjoyment. A movie doesn’t need to make sense for me; but I need at least one of those two things. Yet still, I feel like my appreciation can improve with further time to reflect and another screening. But for now: three out of five stars.
I’ll be back soon with my impressions of days 3 and 4, including my takes on Steve James The Interrupters and James Marsh’s Project Nim. Tonight after work, I’ll be engineering The Film Talk live at the festival. I don’t know if I am allowed to mention who Jett and Gareth are interviewing; but let me just say, I’m looking forward to it!
For my third day at the Nashville Film Festival, I screened three of the best movies in the fest: Steve James’ The Interrupters, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and James Marsh’s Project Nim.
I began the day engineering The Film Talk podcast live at the festival. Jett and Gareth interviewed Writer’s Guild Of America East Lead Strategic Organizer Ursula Lawrence. If you’re looking for tips on how to make it as a writer in the film and television industry, then you need to check out this episode immediately. (<– No longer online.)
Steve James, co-director of the milestone documentary Hoop Dreams and director of one of my favorite films Stevie, brings a new project to the festival almost every year. This year he brought The Interrupters, an exceptional documentary about violence interrupters — volunteers who seek out conflicts in inner city Chicago and attempt to diffuse them before they reach a boiling point. James’ greatest gifts are compassion and an eagerness to seek out marginalized points of view. These are hallmarks of all of his documentaries, and The Interrupters is no exception.
The film makes a case for community empowerment. The political officials may talk about solutions– perhaps more vocally when a deadly beating is captured on video — but ultimately nothing substantial is ever accomplished. The remarkable thing about the violence interruption program in Chicago is that it is a private entity, employing community members (many former gang leaders) and empowering the neighborhoods to have a hand in solving their own problems. The film addresses the popular misconception that the majority of inner-city violence is gang-related. Most of the violence (an interrupter claims) spawns from disputes between individuals. James follows several interrupters as they speak to troubled teens, give speeches at schools and funerals, and stand between a powder keg and a flame. Time and time again, the solution lies in the hands of the slighted. Bravery sometimes means walking away, forgiving, and being strong enough to endure accusations of weakness. Four and a half out of five.
Next up was the Palme d’Or winning film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives by Thailand’s premiere auteur Apichatpong Weerasethaku. The director’s slow, lush, contemplative style fits me like a glove; and I wrote about him in my The Film Talk article on the emerging genre of Cinema Anima. His new film is one of the most celebrated films of the last few years, but I couldn’t connect with it in the same way I did his previous works. Another viewing is definitely in order. Uncle Boonmee focuses on a dying man and his family in the deep-green jungles of Thailand. As death approaches, he is visited by ghosts and jungle man-beasts. The film meanders and darts toward the next shiny thing, be it a memorable catfish mythological tale or a quiet conversation on the docks. I need to revisit this film when I’m not sleep deprived. For now, three and a half out of five.
My last film of the day was the documentary Project Nim by James Marsh, the director of the acclaimed Man on Wire. This is the story of Nim, a chimpanzee plucked from his mother’s arms by a scientist determined to unlock the secrets of communication. Nim begins his journey as a part of a human family, but they soon discover that a baby chimpanzee is not a human child. Nim is moved from place to place as researchers attempt to teach him communication through sign language. I found Project Nim to be an engrossing and emotionally-powerful indictment on human curiosity. Our desire to know is often so insatiable that we overlook the injustice and cruelty we wreak in its pursuit. (You could say we miss the gorilla for the pass counting.) I support Peter Singer’s Great Ape Project, which seeks to extend human rights to chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans; and I have a hunch you will too after watching this film. James Marsh has the Errol Morris gift of turning any subject into living cinema. Four and a half out of five.
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.
This entry was originally posted on Friday, April 22nd, 2011 at 6:22 pm.
Tony’s note from April 14, 2016: Shortly after I published this article in 2011, two people posted comments. I’m not making it a practice of reposting the comments from my original blog articles to their new home here, but I couldn’t resist posting these, from Road to Nowhere producer/writer Steven Gaydos and director Monte Hellman. (Btw, Road to Nowhere now has a Metacritic score of 59, so my initial impressions were in line those of most other critics.)