2:33 – I was running late today and made it to the theater just in time to sneak in to see “The Red Chapel,”a film about two Danish comedians and their manager who get invited to perform in North Korea by posing as Communist sympathizers. The idea is wacky. The truth is that the manager is actually documentary filmmaker Mads Brugger, and the trio is actually ardently opposed to the regime of Kim Jong-Il. Their goal is to expose the evil that exists within the country. In order to do that, the put together a comedy show they claim is designed to honor the North Korean leader.
The film starts out funny and contains several funny moments, but there is also a serious undertone to it. Director Brugger reminds the audience through his narration of the film that the people of North Korea today are very much like the people of Nazi Germany before and during World War II. Certainly they are afraid for their lives, but their silence and refusal to fight against the government simply empowers the government to continue with its evil and brutal regime.
My description of the film makes it sound more serious that it was. The seriousness of the film was most often kept in the background. The ridiculousness of the project was in the forefront most often. This made for a very good balance of comedy and drama in the film and made “The Red Chapel” a very enjoyable film to watch.
4:25– In 2009, John Mellencamp had a really unusual idea. He asked his friend Kurt Markus to film his tour and recording sessions, and to create a documentary from his footage. The thing was, Kurt wasn’t a filmmaker. He had never made a documentary. Also, Mellencamp said he wanted the film to be about Kurt.
Sound crazy? That’s what Kurt thought too. But it turned out great. Kurt is a photographer from Montana and has been a friend of Mellencamp’s for about 20 years. To make “It’s About You”, Kurt and his son Ian followed Mellencamp’s tour across America in a rented minivan. Along the way they saw the country, from the corn fields of Indiana and the urban landscape of St. Louis, to the African-American churches of Savannah and the abandoned rural towns of Texas. In addition to a film about John Mellencamp, Markus created a film about America.
“It’s About You” itself is unusual in a couple of different respects. First, the entire thing was shot on a Super 8mm camera. In case you don’t know, that is yesterday’s technology. But it is the perfect way to capture the raw, unrefined nature of Mellencamp and is music.
Second, the film is more of an art piece than a regular tour documentary. The different layers and textures of the film are palpable. The film overlays Mellencamp’s tour on top of Markus’ experience of traveling with the music icon, hanging out with his 21-year old son Ian, seeing America, and recording a documentary. These various layers and textures are complimented perfectly by actual visual texture and graininess of the Super 8 film. Had the film been shot with a digital camera it would have been good, but on Super 8, it’s a work of art.
I don’t have any illusions about this film being everyone’s cup of tea (or Mellencamp and his music for that matter), but I thought it was terrific and enjoyed it immensely.
7:00 – “Whirlygig” is the story of Nicholas, as 25-year old failure who returns to his parents home to try to figure out his life. When he ends up in bed with the wife of a neighbor, Nicholas finds himself more confused and lost than ever. But when he finally starts to find some direction, he must figure out a way to reunite his lover with her husband and 12-year old child.
I enjoyed “Whirlygig”despite the fact that it was a bit quirky, a bit disjointed, and it never did turn into the very good film it could have been. The story started out with a great deal of promise, but slowly strayed off course and never did quite get back on track. It felt like at some point, director Chaz Thorne lost his vision for the film and still hadn’t found it by the time of the final cut. This is another film I would file under the heading, good, but not great.
7:24 – And now a word about our sponsors… It takes a lot of work and a lot of money to put on an event as big and world-class as the Nashville Film Festival. The festival has lots of sponsors, but I wanted to point out some of the biggest.
Nissan is the presenting sponsor and has a very big presence and the film fest. They have cars on display, Nissan banners are up everywhere, they are showing their commercials prior to the showing of each film, and their people have been here in force, acting as volunteers and attending the shows. With their corporate headquarters just up the road in Smyrna, TN, Nissan has been a very good corporate citizen.
Bridgestone has also been very involved. They are sponsoring the narrative competition and they have handed out tire gauges at a few select shows. Bridgestone has been involved with the festival for many years and like Nissan, their people have been visible at the fest.
The Documentary Channel is once again sponsoring the documentary competition. Unlike Nissan and Bridgestone, The Documentary Channel is not a corporate citizen of the area. Even so, their involvement is vital and appreciated.
Gibson Guitars and Lightning 100 are both sponsoring the Music Films/Music City competition. Gibson is also having a drawing for a new guitar at the show (which I would very much like to win).
The New Directors competition is being sponsored by Creative Artists Association, and the Audience Choice Award (a big deal for the filmmakers) is sponsored by Southwest Airlines.
Other gold sponsors of the film fest include Xfinity, Curb Records, Regal Entertainment Group, and the Country Music Association.
9:44 – I only have a few minutes to tell you about “Good Day For It,”a film written, produced and directed by Nick Stagliano. The plot involves a father who rendezvous with his estranged daughter. He is on the lamb after stealing money from his criminal gang boss 15 years earlier, and as luck would have it, the boss and his gang show up at the same restaurant where he is meeting his daughter.
Stagliano wrote a very inventive script. As he explained during the Q&A following the show, all he had was the title and a very rough idea of what the film would be about when he pitched it to legendary actor Hal Holbrook. The film was written as a vehicle for Holbrook and his wife, Dixe Carter. They immediately signed on. However, before shooting began, Carter took ill and eventually died. In time, she was replaced by Kathy Baker.
The film was 90% really good, but to get to the ending Stagliano wanted, he had to include some rather unrealistic action as well as some stilted dialogue. In order to enjoy the “Good Day For It” fully, I had to suspend belief a bit. That’s usually not a problem when watching a fantasy film, but this was no fantasy film. For me, that detracted a little from my viewing pleasure. Even so, I’d still have to give the film a thumbs up.
12:54 (Tuesday Morning) – I just got home after watching “The Troll Hunter,”a film from Norway that was directed by Andre Ovredal. The film tells the story of three college students who are making a film about a poacher who is illegally shooting bears. They think they’ve found the poacher and attempt to interview him only to find out that he actually is employed by the government to hunt down trolls.
The movie was filmed in the style of “The Blair Witch Project.” The premise is that some video tapes are dropped off anonymously at a TV station (I think it was a TV station. Where the tapes were dropped off was written in Norwegian, so I’m not exactly sure what it said.). The videos show a few different troll hunts (including plenty of footage of trolls) and explains why the disgruntled troll hunter is allowing the students to tag along with him. It also shows government agents tracking down the college students in an attempt to confiscate the tapes. The students disappear, but the tapes remain.
“The Troll Hunter” was incredibly creative and very entertaining. Not only did the film tell a very good story, but it was also very funny in places. Because the film expects the audience to buy into a rather unrealistic premise, it would not have been nearly as successful if it had been too serious. The filmmaker did a great job of including enough humor to keep the film fun and enjoyable.