I am a big fan of documentaries. Over the past few years, the Nashville Film Festival has brought some of the very best documentaries being made to Middle Tennessee. I’m sure 2011 will be no exception.
Once again in 2011, the Documentary Channel will be sponsoring the documentary competition. This year’s feature-length documentaries include:
An African Election – Will democracy work in Ghana? That’s the question being asked by director Jerreth Merz. The 2008 election serves as a backdrop as Merz looks behind the scenes of a third-world democracy struggling to legitimize itself to a doubting world.
Autumn Gold – Five athletes between the ages of 80 and 100 prepare for the 2009 track and field World Masters Championships in Lahti, Finland. Director Jan Tenhaven tell the life-affirming story of these five senior citizens as they race against time and the natural degradation of their bodies to reach the medal podium.
The Big Uneasy – Well-known actor and humorist Harry Shearer (“This is Spinal Tap,” “A Mighty Wind”) directs this hard-hitting look at the disaster that befell New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. He talks to investigators who poked through the muck as the water receded, and to an Army Corp of Engineers whistle-blower to learn that same of the same flawed methods that led to the catastrophic levee failures following Katrina are actually being used to rebuild the system.
Connected: An Autobiography about Love, Death and Technology – Tiffany Shlain’s vibrant and insightful documentary, “Connected,” explores the visible and invisible connections linking major issues of our time such as—the environment, consumption, population growth, technology, human rights, and the global economy— all while searching for her place in the world during a transformative time in her life. Employing a splendidly imaginative combination of animation and archival footage, plus several surprises, Shlain constructs a chronological tour of Western modernization through the work of her late father, Leonard Shlain, a brain surgeon and best-selling author of Art and Physics and The Alphabet Versus the Goddess.
Fambul Tok – Victims and perpetrators of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war come together for the first time in an unprecedented program of tradition-based truth-telling and forgiveness ceremonies. Through reviving their ancient practice of fambul tok (family talk), Sierra Leoneans are building sustainable peace at the grass-roots level — succeeding where the international community’s post-conflict efforts failed. Filled with lessons for the West, this film explores the depths of a culture that believes that true justice lies in redemption and healing for individuals — and that forgiveness is the surest path to restoring dignity and building strong communities. Director Sara Terry’s film will be making its Tennessee premiere.
If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front – Director Marshall Curry tells the tale of Daniel McGowan, a mild-mannered, middle class citizen driven to extremes and brought to trial on terrorism charges for his participation in an arson plot planned and carried out by the Earth Liberation Front. The film poses difficult questions about the possibility of effecting change either from within or without the system. It also examines the changing stakes for activists today in a world determined to brand all dissenters as “terrorists.”
The Interrupters – Acclaimed director Steve James (“Hoop Dreams,” “Stevie”) recounts the gripping stories of former gang members who disrupt violence in their neighborhoods as it happens. They strive, with bravado, humility and humor, to protect their communities from the very same brutality they once employed. “The Interrupters” is both a voyage into the stubborn persistence of bloodshed in our cities today and a beacon of hope.
Just Like Us – Director Ahmed Ahmed follows a group of comedians as they travel across the Middle East with a double mission: to disrupt the pervasive image of Muslims as solemn, threatening, and inhumane, while also delivering some much-needed relief and laughter to the intense reality of everyday life in the region. Both thoughtful and entertaining, “Just Like Us” offers an incredibly timely glimpse into a world the West is only beginning to understand.
A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt –Paul Liebrandt is one of the youngest chefs to ever receive 3 stars from the New York Times. He is also one of the most controversial chefs in the food world. “A Matter of Taste” reveals Paul’s creative process, and the extreme hard work, long hours and dedication it takes to be a culinary artist. It also looks into the complicated relationship between food critics, restaurant owners, and chefs by looking at the life of a dedicated young chef who is ahead of his time.
Most Valuable Players – “Most Valuable Players” follows three theater troupes on their creative journey to the Freddy Awards, a live television event that recognizes excellence in local high school musical theater. Director Matthew D. Kallis’ film looks at how budget cuts have eviscerated various arts programs at high schools across America, and shows that arts education encourages the same kind of teamwork, camaraderie, and confidence as sports.
My Life With Carlos – When director Germán Berger-Hertz was only one year old, his father Carlos was brutally murdered by the Pinochet regime’s death squads. The deeply personal “My Life With Carlos” breaks 30 years of silence as the director pieces together fragments of his father’s life. Through interviews with uncles, friends, neighbors and political colleagues, Berger-Hertz reconstructs one man’s history – and unveils the truth behind a nation still recovering from a brutal past.
One Lucky Elephant – Nine years in the making, “One Lucky Elephant” follows the poignant journey of circus producer David Balding as he tries to find a nurturing and permanent home for Flora, the 18-year-old African elephant that he rescued as an infant, raised as his “daughter” and made the star of his circus. David’s love for Flora is put to the ultimate test when he realizes he made a terrible mistake keeping her as a solo elephant. Knowing Flora will outlive him, David sets off on a quest to find a home where Flora can live freely with other elephants. “One Lucky Elephant” raises vital questions regarding mans’ relationship to, and love for, wild animals.
The Sons of Tennessee Williams – “The Sons of Tennessee Williams” tells the story of the gay men of New Orleans who created a vast and fantastic culture of wildly popular ‘drag balls’ starting in the late 1950s. These men worked with the traditions of Mardi Gras to bring gay culture into public settings in the early 1960s. By the 1969 Stonewall Riots, there were four gay Mardi Gras clubs legally chartered by the state of Louisiana, throwing yearly extravaganzas at civic venues around the city and bringing down the laws that targeted gay people during this period. They staged a flamboyant, costumed revolution without politics, and won freedoms during a time, as now, when laws and people fought against them.