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The Long, the Short & the Tiny of It!
By Jakob Esaw & Raeanne Rubenstein

The Nashville Film Festival used to be called the Nashville Independent Film Festival, and so as one might expect, the movies shown at the film fest nowadays are often all about pushing the limits. They take us out of our comfort zone, making us question our ideals and values. Many of the movies at the festival blend genders and bend genres, bringing an expert alchemy to the big screen. For that reason, this year Dish is not just focusing on the best of the fest, but rather several of the films that made a lasting impression because they were both fantastic to watch and just plain screwy. These are the films, in other words, that did a really good job of introducing something new and exciting.

And so here they are, five reviews written by Jakob Esaw: 

April and the Extraordinary World

April and the Extraordinary World
Family friendliest feature with a talking cat and megalomaniacal lizards

A narrative set on an alternate timeline, April and the Extraordinary World explores what the world might have looked like if certain famous scientists suddenly disappeared and were therefore never allowed to create the innovations that we have become so accustomed to (especially those from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries). It’s a steampunk realization of pre-World War II Europe, and with a talking cat, murderous black thunderclouds, and reptilian overlords, there’s also a generous helping of science fiction and magical realism thrown in, which may sound like they’re at odds (how can science be magic and fiction be real?), but in this case, nothing could be further from the truth. The movie works flawlessly even though (or perhaps because) so many disparate genres have all been meshed into one.
Beginning in 1931 after the world’s most promising young scientists have mysteriously disappeared, this is an age of steam and soot where countries war over antiquated resources like charcoal. Among the scientists remaining are three chemists who are trying to develop the “Ultimate Serum,” a chemical mix that grants invincibility to whomever it is administered to.
Even when we fast-forward ten years, we’re still in a steampunk past, but now our heroine April’s best friend, a talking cat named Darwin, is on his deathbed and we find her hoping to create the miraculous potion that her parents, two of the three scientists mentioned above, were frantically trying to perfect before a lightning storm snatched them away from her.

Perhaps one of the most chilling queries the film makes, without ever explicitly posing the actual question, is, “What might our world have been if those who perished in massacres like World War I and II had been allowed to live?” This is a great film for lots of reasons, including its silliness and imaginativeness, not to mention its willingness (despite being a movie for kids) to ask a lot of hard questions. But most importantly, this movie is a great role model for kids. With a girl playing the role of the hard scientist, we have a heroine in every sense of the word, and you’re with her all the way as she fights the impossible good fight in an extraordinary world.

Most shocking documentary about a simultaneously horrifying and hilarious subject
A reporter named David Farrier based in New Zealand stumbles across a bizarre fetish online: men agree to be filmed while tied down and tickled mercilessly. It may not sound like much of an interesting story at first, but as soon as blackmail, homophobia, and shady individuals all rear their ugly heads, this pop culture reporter soon has to don his investigative journalist hat and follow whatever trail he can find as he documents “the weird and bizarre side of life.”
Farrier is the film’s narrator, and his strong and hilarious voice come through at the most unexpected moments. He really is a master of comic timing. He discovers this fetish has a name—“Competitive Endurance Tickling”—and he wonders aloud if this is the “strangest sport of all time?” Later he says, “I’m convinced this is not a real sport.” Thanks to his strong command of comic timing, these are laugh-out-loud moments, even as the subject matter is cringeworthy.
When he starts to confront people whom he suspects are at the center of this Internet fad, he meets with resistance, with some even lobbing homophobic threats at this out gay man and others demanding that he shut his camera off. “We have this thing in New Zealand,” he retorts, “that allows us to film in public spaces.” The film soon becomes a staging ground for the battle between New Zealand rights and protections versus the gargantuan U.S. legal system, and it’s both a great surprise and an indication of his moral character that Farrier never considers backing down. In fact, as the threats mount, he gets even more dogged in his quest for the truth.
What is this fetish? Who are the people bankrolling the young men who agree to be tied down and tickled? And why are these young men so often the victims of blackmail, cyberbullying, and character assassination when they try to push back against having their images splashed across the Internet? Perhaps Farrier is in over his head at times, but the absurdity of his situation is exactly what makes this film so unbelievable and, yes, even humorous at times. “I’ve never had threats like this, and all over competitive tickling,” Farrier says.
The movie explores some important topics, such as the link between homophobia and closeted homosexuality. But what makes this movie such a winner is that it shows the important role that journalism can still play in this day and age. Even a pop culture reporter, who may, in the opinion of many, just be writing a fluff piece, is still honing the skills necessary to write, shoot, and direct a fantastic documentary about a bizarre topic that needs to be discussed. Hearing a synopsis of it, you may not believe that the funniest documentary at the Nashville Film Festival was intended, at least in part, to be a comedy. In its absurdity, it teeters on the border of mockumentary. It’s shocking that it’s all true.

Most tragic feature in which we root for a war criminal who tries desperately to be a hero

Magallanes is about a former soldier who now stitches together a variety of low-wage jobs, just trying to make a living. The title character drives around his old colonel who suffers from dementia. Once he's finished with that job, Magallanes then slaps a “taxi” sticker on his windshield and hunts for fares. Early in the film we also meet a girl named Celina who owns a hairdresser’s shop called Salon de Belleza. When we meet her, she is getting into Magallanes’ taxi, intending to return a box of expensive beauty products that won’t sell. But the company that sold them to her, U-Life, insists she just isn’t trying hard enough to offload them. After dropping her off, Magallanes trails her, and we’re left wondering why he has such a strange curiosity about this girl. 

Soon we find out that the colonel, whom Magallanes drives around, once kept Celina as a child sex slave during wartime, and a photo exists to prove it. Magallanes gets the brilliant idea to blackmail the demented colonel’s attorney son, but nothing can ever be simple. Magallanes soon finds himself enlisted by the son, who also employs him to drive his ailing father around, to drop off the very money he is extorting. Meanwhile, the police will be in hot pursuit. What follows—an intense cat-and-mouse game that plays out on a cell phone—sets the stage for an expertly executed movie with many more suspenseful turns and well-developed characters. We find out that the root of Celina’s money problems is her disabled son for whom she must provide basic care. Also, despite the fact that he helped the girl escape while she was a sex slave, the question of why Magallanes still feels such a deeply burning guilt helps drive the plot forward.
The true genius of the movie plays out after Magallanes saves Celina from the thugs employed by her landlady who are coming to collect past-due rent, and following a brawl in which he steps in to protect her, he returns to her shop to ask for a haircut. She cuts his hair short and shaves off his beard—and then she finally recognizes him. This recognition does not give way to the love story one might wish to see. The movie just turns darker, and soon it has become so dark that it shines a bright light on a justice system that is both corrupt and indifferent. This is a story about trying to do the right thing in a world gone wrong, a story about war and the sins of the father haunting the son. But above all, it is a story of a man who desperately wants justice, not just for a victim, not just against the main perpetrator, but against himself and his own past sins as well.
Phil’s Camino

Phil’s Camino
Best short about a long and winding topic

The Camino de Santiago is the famous (mostly Catholic) pilgrimage that takes several legendary routes that all culminate at the cathedral where Saint James is supposedly buried in Northwestern Spain. The walk across Spain takes weeks or even months, and as one might expect in this capitalistic world in which we live, it has become not just a religious pilgrimage but also a tourist event. The pilgrimage has been depicted in films before, perhaps most notably in the 2010 Martin Sheen movie The Way, but this is bound to be one of the most intimate portrayals of a journey that brings many faithful people to a better understanding of the divine. That’s because Phil’s Camino is, just as it sounds, a documentary about one man and his desire to tackle this epic walk.

He has a special reason for taking on this walk. Diagnosed with stage four cancer, he has decided that the best form of rehab will be walking every day, and luckily, he lives on a large plot of land with lots of woods. By calculating the overall distance of the Camino, he is able to approximate how many times he needs to walk around his property to “walk” the full length of the Camino. Meanwhile, he is having to undergo vicious rounds of cancer treatments that sap his strength and prevent him from traveling to Spain to walk the real Camino. He wants desperately to make the real pilgrimage. Will his terminal cancer allow him enough of a reprieve to do so? 

The documentary is just a short, and so, like the great American short story, it has to fit a quick and profound narrative into a limited amount of space. That’s why this documentary has earned its spot on this list. For taking up such a short amount of a viewer’s time, it nevertheless explores timeless topics in their much deserved depth, making us question what our place in the universe is. What is death? What does physical resilience look like? How does that feed into one's spiritual resilience? And how can we win in this life when the odds are so hopelessly stacked against us? Maybe the answer to these questions is religion or spirituality, but above all, the movie argues that we can only get through this life with our friends, family, and all of those others we happen to call our loved ones. 

Funniest horror movie about a haunted bathroom and space whales

CurtainThere’s nothing better than a late-night funny horror movie. Evil Dead, The Innkeepers, Cabin in the Woods—these are all examples of meta movies that are, like our modern world, hyper-aware of themselves. They ooze irony and self-reflexively critique themselves. And they also have what movie-going adrenaline junkies crave: a good jump-scare now and then. Curtain joins the ranks of these humorous stabs at horror because it is simultaneously hokey, intense, and well acted. Above all, it’s lovingly meta because even its title is a reference to the horror movie canon—the curtain in the shower scene of Hitchcock’s Psycho.
This film centers on a couple of young friends, a woman named Danni and a man named Tim, who work with a conservation group called “Whale Savers.” Tim is one of those intense and angry conservationists, while Danni is more even-keeled and polite. Both of them are hilariously ineffective at their jobs. The real story focuses on the haunted bathroom in the apartment where our heroine Danni has recently moved. The bathroom is not only haunted; there’s a portal in there that rips the shower curtains right off the rod and seemingly swallows them whole. She discovers that the shower curtains are not just disappearing, but are rather being teleported elsewhere, into the middle of the woods.
It's a really silly movie, and the characters make it work. Without them, it would probably be just another ridiculous experiment in the horror genre. She is a former hospice nurse and something of an alcoholic, and he is an idealistic whale saver who’s saving his money to get on with the big guys—the "Sea Savers." In the course of their investigations into where exactly the shower curtains are going, they enlist the help of a man named Willie who claims he can show them the way. They claim to be scientists and say he could make a lot of money by helping them. “You don’t look like scientists,” says Willie. And Danni responds with her own humorous incredulity, “What do scientists look like?”
Meanwhile, Tim speaks so poetically about the galactic ocean where space whales and shower curtains can finally live in peace—never mind the fact that clots of plastic products like shower curtains are exactly what torment sea life here on Earth. It’s insights—and oversights—like these that make Danni and Tim a funny duo and that make the movie a delight to watch. The movie is humorous like Ti West’s The Innkeepers, focusing on a couple of amateur paranormal investigators with plenty of sexual tension and witty banter to keep the story interesting. In fact, what make movies like these work are not the interesting ideas that fuel their plots—the haunted hotel, the haunted bathroom, the haunted cellar, etc.—but how the characters wrapped up in those plots interact with one another. 



And now, here are some additional and brief reviews of films that Raeanne Rubenstein particularly enjoyed. Be sure and check 'em out if you can!

Louder Than Bombs
Louder Than Bombs

An aging schoolteacher, played by Gabriel Byrne, who is grappling with the recent death of his photojournalist wife, played by Isabelle Huppert, attempts to reconcile with his two very different sons. Awesome actors Jesse Eisenberg and David Druid, star in the first English- language feature directed by the famed Norwegian director Joachim Trier.

A Tale of Love and Darkness
A Tale of Love and Darkness
  PREMIERED 2015 in ISRAEL. USA Date announced later in 20016

Presented by the Nashville Jewish Film Festival, and starring the beautiful Natalie Portman, this film is a drama based on the memoir of Amos Oz, a writer, journalist and advocate of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This fascinating glimpse into true historical events that took place in Jerusalem, in the last years of Mandatory Palestine, and the first years of the newly independent Israel


In the Spring of 1864, after not receiving a letter from her soldier husband in almost a year, and mourning the death of her only son, Josephine Robinson takes matters into her own hands in a most unusual way! She cuts her hair, puts on her husband’s clothes and enlists in the army in her husband’s name. Now calling herself Joseph, she enlists in the army of Tennessee in order to find him. For the next 5 months, she struggles to keep her female identity a secret, as she battles the enemy and her suspicious sergeant, who also has a secret of his own. Josephine’s journey leads her into a final battle, where she has to choose between the man she loves and the men to whom she sworn allegiance.


Chase is a frustrated artist living a bohemian lifestyle. He is living with his lover, Alexis, a free spirited dancer. The couple shares an apartment building with another couple, their good friends Allen and Courtney. When a horrible home invasion results in Alexis’ death, Chase’s world begins to unravel. Soon, he distances himself from his former friends and starts down a mind-altering road. But when he cannot uncover who the killers are, Chase turns to the unlikely person that can guide him! Surprisingly, the person is........Alexis.


In January 2014, a horrible murder shook up the the normally peaceful city of Budapest, , when one of the most high-profile courtisanes in the city, Elza Mignas was strangled, and her body thrown into the wintry and icy water of the Danube. Demimonde chronicles the last four days of Eliza’s life, and delves into her complex relationship with her housekeeper, her patron and her lover. Seen through the eyes of her young and naive housekeeper, the story unfolds before her eyes. This compelling and tragic tale is based on a true story about love, passion, sex, power and murder! This film is ably directed by the Hungarian Attila Szasz.

Sidemen: Long Road to Glory
Sidemen: Long Road to Glory

In an intimate look at the lives and legacies of three legendary bluesmen, the magic world of this amazing music comes to life. Featuring piano player Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie   ‘Big Eyes’ Smith and Guitarist Hubert Sumlin, this film demonstrates the moving and passionate music of the blues played in the long-ago 1920’s. This film also captures some of the last interviews and final live performances, before their deaths in 2011.

Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows
Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows

Directed most skillfully by Rob Hatch-Miller, this bio-pic features famed (and colorfully named) musical legends including RZA, Prince Paul, Peanut Butter Wolf, Jazzy Jay, Jonathan Lethem and of course, the beloved Syl Johnson. A musician throughout his life, Johnson struggled for decades before leaving the music business in the 1980’s to open fried fish food chain of restaurants. Since then though, he’s become one of the most sampled artists in hip-hop! The list is impressive, and includes (you won’t believe this!) Run-DMC, NWA, Public Enemy, the Wu-Tang Clan, Beastie Boys, Kid Rock, Michael Jackson, Jay Z and Kanye West  among the of artists who’ve used his 1967 song Different Strokes, to name just a few! With a lively soundtrack and an original score, this fascinating and lively documentary celebrates a man who’ll never, ever give up the music!


Last But NOT Least! Movies we haven’t seen, but want to!

The Film Festival's greatest strength is also, arguably, its greatest weakness: there are just too many good movies to catch in such a short amount of time. Here are some films we know will be great even though we didn’t have enough time to screen them all ourselves (all 280 of these films, in fact!)

The Lure - A Polish mermaid horror musical

Hunt for the Wilderpeople - An orphan and an old man are on the run in the New Zealand wilderness

Saving Banksy - Exploring some of the questions surrounding what it means for private collectors to “own” the graffiti of everyone’s favorite anonymous street artist

Weiner - Documentary about the disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner

Cameraperson - A filmed memoir about the acclaimed documentarian Kirsten Johnson / Issue 180 - September 2018
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