10:43 AM — Congratulations to the Nashville Film Festival. Big congratulations go out to Sally Mayne, Brian Owens, Ted Crockett, and all of the folks at the Nashville Film Festival. It was announced that as of yesterday, the film festival has set a new attendance record. That’s amazing because there are still two days to go in the festival. This new attendance record is testament to the great work being done by all the folks at the film festival who have put together a truly world class event.
I’m heading back to the theater in a few minutes and have a full day planned. I’ll be seeing five more films today including “How to Grow a Band,” a documentary about progressive bluegrass band, “The Punch Brothers,” and “Septien,” a narrative feature that was filmed right here in Nashville. It should be a great day.
2:26 – Imagine a film with no violence, no car chases, no gratuitous sex, and no language that would make a sailor blush. A movie like that couldn’t be any good, could it? Ah yes, it could. But how? Here’s how. Start with a good story. Then tell that story very well on film. That’s how they made “Take Me Home.”
“Take Me Home” is the brainchild of writer, director, producer, and actor Sam Jaeger. The film tells the story of Thom, a down-on-his-luck photographer and unlicensed taxi driver, and Claire, a woman who suspects her husband is having an affair. Claire hires Thom to take her to California (from New York) to see her father, who recently suffered a heart attack. Along the way, the two encounter one hilarious hardship after another, and also begin to fall in love.
At its heart, “Take Me Home” is an old-fashioned love story, although it qualifies as a comedy too. Everything about the film is good. The writing is good, the direction is good, the acting is good, and the music is good. In fact, the music in the film (written by Justin Beckett and performed by his band, The Bootstraps), won the Naxos Award for Best Film Music at the Nashville Film Festival.
There’s nothing fancy about “Take Me Home.” There are no huge names in the film and no outrageous special effects. It’s just simply a good film.
4:43 – “How to Grow a Band” is a documentary about the Punch Brothers and the tour they did in 2009 in support of their album “Punch.” The film is part tour documentary, part biopic of the band. It’s strength is that it has a very strong central character to focus on, former Nickel Back front man Chris Thile. The weakness of the film is that while first time filmmaker Mark Meatto tries to present a balanced view of the band, Thile is just too large of a presence and he overwhelms his fellow band members.
This observation is not a knock on Meatto or the film. Thile just happens to be the biggest personality and the creative genius behind the band. His composition, The Blind Leaving the Blind, is the centerpiece of the film. The song is a 40 minute string suite in four movements that is pushing bluegrass music in a whole new direction. As with many new things in music, not everyone is immediately accepting of the song or the direction it is taking bluegrass. That includes members of the band themselves. Despite this fact, the band perseveres through their European tour and receives a more warm welcome once they begin touring in the states.
“How to Grow a Band” is an enjoyable peek behind the scenes of a musical icon at the height of his artistic power, his band of often (but not always) like-minded musicians, and what may turn into a revolution in bluegrass music.
6:49 – Doesn’t it make you wonder how much truth there is in a film that is “based on a true story? “The Robber,” a narrative film from Austria, is based on the true story of Johan Rettenberger, a champion marathoner who leads a double life as a bank robber. In the film, Rettenberger (Andres Lust) is a prolific bank robber. He apparently is also addicted to robbing banks. Even after getting out of prison after serving a sentence for bank robbery, Rettenberger gets right back on the horse and picks up where he left off.
His robbing ways eventually lead to murder and, after being arrested, he escapes from police custody. I don’t know how true the film is to the real story, but the film was exciting and often intense.
9:18 – “Septien” is a weird film. Just when you think it’s gotten as weird as it can get, it gets even weirder. Even so, “Septien” is a good film.
Now, I want to be completely honest about this. Ten minutes into the film, I started thinking about walking out. The opening credits were run over drawings of people with their genitalia cut off and stuffed into various places on themselves or other characters in the drawings. This was followed by an introduction of some of the odder characters I have seen on film in recent memory. But I didn’t walk out. I stayed, and despite the fact that the film got weirder and weirder, it also got better and better.
“Septien” is about three brothers who live on what used to be their parent’s farm. Ezra is the oldest. He is apparently gay (although that is never specifically stated or demonstrated) and considers himself the mother of his two brothers. Amos is the middle brother and is the artist behind the grotesque drawings I mentioned earlier. Cornelius is the youngest brother. He has been absent for 18 years, apparently running away following a high school football game after the coach sexually abused him (this is never stated specifically, but it is alluded to very strongly). After Cornelius unexpectedly returns home, the brothers encounter a plumbing problem. When they call a plumber, the former football coach turned plumber shows up. The coach’s presence stirs up memories better forgotten, but also gives the brothers a chance to address the coach’s previous misbehavior.
Director Michael Tully co-wrote the script and played the role of Cornelius. Robert Longstreet was terrific as Ezra. Amos was played brilliantly by Onur Turkel. Both Longstreet and Turkel served as co-writers as well.
Everything about “Septien” was quirky and odd. But everything about “Septien” was also pretty good.
12:12 (Thursday morning) –Have you ever heard of the Atlanta-based band called Gringo Star? I hadn’t before watching the documentary “Hurry Up and Wait.” The film chronicles the band’s 2009 tour of Europe and introduces us to the five musicians who a lot of people think are going to be the next big thing.
Director Justin Malone convinced the band to let him follow them around Europe to film their tour and off-stage life. The band members were reluctant at first, but eventually agreed. They ended up giving Malone a tremendous amount of access, allowing the filmmaker to paint a very raw and vivid picture of the tour and the band members themselves.
The things that stuck out for me was the hardships the band (and the director) went through during the tour. This was no high dollar tour by any means. Both the band members and the filmmaker spent many nights sleeping in cars and showering in hostels. The band endured the hardships for the love of the music and the love of performing. Malone brought this out very clearly in the film. But what I think was equally impressive was Malone’s own determination to survive hardships he faced for the sake of a film project that he clearly loves.
“Hurry Up and Wait” is a very good tour documentary. Malone’s film introduces Gringo star to a whole new audience, and lets even more people know about a band that just might be the next big thing.