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For one week out of every year, the cinematic focus of Nashville fixates on the lower level of the Green Hills Commons 16, where several thousand filmgoers gather to glean through over two hundred different cinematic opportunities, spanning the globe and countless cultures without ever leaving the 37215 zip code.

What follows are the films, documentaries, and shorts that brought joy to my heart or fear to the hippocampus, inspiring some intense kind of feeling, rewarding the urge to seek and to see. Here’s hoping next year’s lineup will be just as strong.

1. THE SUN (France/Italy/Russia – Aleksandr SOKUROV)

Nashville Premieres has a remarkable track record when it comes to presenting films at the Nashville Film Festival. Last year was Jia Zhangke’s The World, the year before that the Jørgen Leth/Lars von Trier collaboration The Five Obstructions, preceding that was Hong Sang-soo’s Turning Gate, and in 2002 was Tarr Béla’s Werckmeister Harmonies, which to this day remains simply the baddest-ass film experience of the decade in the entire city.

This year, continuing a track record of home runs, they presented this masterful exploration of three days in the life of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito at the end of World War II. Director Sokurov’s 2002 arthouse smash Russian Ark was gimmicky and serviceable, but with this effort he hits on all cylinders, and the end result is a quiet reconciliation between humanity and divinity. Ogata Issey’s performance as the emperor is an impressionist masterpiece, and even as I write these words I am caught up in the film’s finely-textured vision.

A gift of chocolate is a boon of heartbreaking generosity, a vision melding flying fish and fighter planes the surreal stuff of nightmares. Sokurov’s film encompasses all these things, so great is its emotional center.

2. BROTHERS OF THE HEAD (UK – Keith FULTON and Louis PEPE)

I knew I was sold on this UK dissection of celebrity and documentary mechanics when Ken Russell showed up about a minute and a half in. Tom and Barry Howe were conjoined twins, joined like their artistic forebears Chang and Eng at the lower chest, who were brought from reclusive boggy living by an entrepreneur who set them up in a physically and emotionally abusive environment to become part of a band. The story of their group, The Bang Bang, encompasses several decades, several great songs, heartbreak, and a serene sense of beauty.

Some critic with a better capacity for analogy than I called it “David Cronenberg’s Behind The Music,” which sums the film up rather well and manages to accurately encompass its expected elements (rivalries over women, Rashomon-like discrepancies in stories told, drug and alcohol abuse) as well as its innovations (the remarkable performances by twins Luke and Harry Treadaway, the poetic sense of composition in every frame, the remarkable musical performances, the weird intimacy injected into every scene). In fact, “Intimacy,” as a title, better serves this film than Patrice Chéreau’s 2001 hardcore character study. It lingers in the subconscious.

Brothers of the Head has distribution in the U.S. through IFC Films, who are planning an August release.

3. INTERKOSMOS (US-Jim FINN)

A previously untold Sci-Fi/Musical/mockumentary of several socialist nations’ attempts to colonize the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, this Chicago-made marvel deployed a witty sense of words, deep emotional feeling, and a strong sense of place and look. I expected to be entertained. I was profoundly moved.

4. MY DAD IS 100 YEARS OLD (Canada/US-Guy MADDIN)

The most achingly personal film exhibited at this year’s festival was this collaborative short between Director Guy Maddin and actress/screenwriter Isabella Rossellini, in honor of the centenary of her father’s birth. Both a history of Roberto Rosselini’s filmmaking and philosophy of cinema and a dialogue between Rossellini the father, Rossellini the daughter, Alfred Hitchcock, David O. Selznick, Charlie Chaplin, Federico Fellini, and Anna Magnani, My Dad is 100 Years Old has a timeless sense of beauty and feels like both a requiem and a rallying cry.

This film, distributed in the U.S. by Zeitgeist Films, will be playing at the Belcourt Theatre beginning May 26th during their run of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, also starring Isabella Rossellini.

5. THE TAILENDERS (US-Adele HORNE)

For several decades, Gospel Recordings has been translating Bible stories into every form of language than can find on the planet. In the process of doing so, they have advanced new forms and reverse-engineered old forms of playback technology, even as they’ve amassed a sizable monument to languages that have now died out and are no longer spoken anywhere.

This, in and of itself, would be fascinating viewing, but Director Horne and her crew also explore the impact that this kind of focused evangelization has, both on indigenous cultures and assimilationist converts. The film’s focus expands and contracts like the soundwaves that it demonstrates, finding the link between the mechanical and the spiritual.

6. THE ALUMINUM FOWL (US-James Clauer)

Believe the hype. This is easily the most exciting film to come from a Nashville filmmaker in all the time I’ve been a critic, and its majestic surreality remains undiminished by repeat viewings. Accepted into the Cannes Film Festival (which should be getting major local media attention), expect an opportunity to see this Fowl at some point in the next couple of weeks in order to help raise funds for a 35mm blowup. Not to be missed.

7. RECKLESS EYEBALLING (US-Christopher HARRIS)

ne of the joys of this year’s Experimental Film section was seeing the technique of rescanned and rephotographed film footage, perfected by Austria’s Kunst collective, being applied to American sociopolitical history. Harris’s film basically allies Angela Davis and Pam Grier against images from D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, and it provides a nicely-timed visceral jolt.

8. WASSUP ROCKERS (US-Larry CLARK)

This picaresque about Latino skate kids into punk rock was one of the nicest surprises of the festival. Director Clark delivers the relaxed semidocumentary feel and twisted sense of humor one associates with all his films, while at the same time sidelining his usual predilections for youthful flesh in the service of an interesting story. Accessible, brash, and reactive in the face of reactionary policies, it may be the most effervescently political film of the year that makes no attempt to be explicitly political.

First Look Media has picked up this film for distribution in the U.S. They plan a theatrical release at some point in 2006.

9. STOP! (Netherlands-Mathijs GEIJSKES)

An intertextual singularity of a film, compressing the entire cinematic oeuvre of Brian DePalma into seven minutes. Nimble and deft in its caressing tweak of media, one can only hope that Director Geijskes gets some future attention in the world of international cinema.

10. DANIELSON: A FAMILY MOVIE (US-JL ARONSON)

A fascinating portrait, intriguing travelogue, and loving document of the history of maverick musician Daniel Smith, whose recordings as (with his brothers, sisters, and extended network of friends) the Danielson Famile, Danielsonship, and (on his own, sometimes in a tree costume) Brother Danielson have challenged the notion of what defines Christian music for the past twelve years. Band documentaries can be illuminative even without a gifted hand filming them, but this immersive experience travels well beyond simply documenting a history of Daniel Smith’s musical projects.

This effort has more interesting things to say about Christianity and art in tiny throwaway anecdotes than most editorial spaces cover in a year, even as it illustrates the pernicious way that the music industry is made nervous by things that can’t be easily qualified. Danielson’s spiritual companion piece at this year’s NaFF was Byron Hunt’s Beyond Beats and Rhymes, which mercilessly took the hip-hop world to task for its misogyny, homophobia, and rewarding the peddling of racist and hateful clichés. Both films will hopefully get some form of distribution, thought not if the dominant power structure of the music industry has its way.

Also, the extended performance of Danielson adjunct Sufjan Stevens’ “To Be Alone With You” was simply electric, the only thing in the entire festival rivaling Maddin and Rossellini’s My Dad is 100 Years Old for raw personal expression.

11. QUIET PLEASE (US –Ronnie CRAMER)

Far too often, experimental film feels overbearingly serious. This is understandable, when the elision of a splice or edit can explode a film’s possibilities of meaning, but it also tends to shortchange the playful possibilities of the form. This short presents a man, sitting in front of a bookcase, speaking… but all the words have been removed. We are given only the pauses, exhalations, caesuras, and inhalations that lie in between the speaker’s words, and the end result is a two-minute crash course in subtext that is delightfully funny and wickedly smart.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

The cinemascope financial theory folktale The Offshore Reserves, the look and infectious and goofy fun of Mary Harron’s The Notorious Bettie Page (opening at the Belcourt on May 12th), the burnished black-and-white cinemascope snarkery of Vránik Roland’s Black Brush, American treasure Phil Chambliss and his sui generis oeuvre, gracious and personable star quality and sex appeal from attendant celebrities Kiefer Sutherland and Joshua Jackson, the exceptional sound design of opening night disappointment An American Haunting, the smooth unease of Eric Williams’ Early Retirement, the NaFF outreach project’s promising Nightmare, and the delightful subjects of Tai Uhlmann’s For The Love of Dolly.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 57 - September 2018
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