Feature Article, Film Festivals

Amber and I - NAFF 2016

So here I am, for the second time, enjoying myself at the Nashville Film Festival. It’s a little less daunting since I know more of what to expect this go round. I also happen to know more people here; when I came in 2014, I don’t think I knew a single person at all. I had to start from scratch, in a sense, and find ways to meet others without coming off as severely awkward. The awkwardness is still deep somewhere inside me, fighting to get out and reveal itself, but I do my best to keep a tight lid on it. Granted, the free alcohol certainly helps with this (or maybe it makes it worse? Who knows).

As I previously mentioned, I will pop up here with dispatches from the festival, giving my thoughts on the films/events I get to take part in.


The first day was pretty much all about the opening night ceremony. They have tons of films playing, yes, but the opening night is the first big party that gives us all a great excuse to get together again. They had catered food and an open bar all night (at least, for laminate holders), which was totally fine with me. I bumped into a few friends and made some new ones, ranging from screenwriters to fellow directors and producers. Everyone was friendly! It really struck me this time with regards to how friendly these festival goers are. I don’t think I’ve ran into anyone who was a flat out jerk. Have I met some offbeat characters who seem a little spacey and have a mind that works in ways completely foreign to our own? Absolutely. But nothing that came across as being flat out malicious. In any sort of art scene, you’re going to run into enigmatic people – that’s half the fun!




Synopsis: On a remote desert highway, a makeshift Border Patrol checkpoint is manned by three agents. It’s like most boring days, but soon the contents of one car will change everything. What follows is a journey to uncover the surreal, frightening secrets hidden behind the facade of this lonely outpost.

Alright so the first event I actually attended was the Topless Filmmaking panel, which was sponsored by SAG-AFTRA and talked through the process of making a production with SAG-AFTRA. I will dedicate a separate post for that, however, so let’s move on to the first actual film – Transpecos!

The synopsis of this film certainly intrigued me but I have really enjoyed the past work of the 3 main actors in this film. I decided to give it a shot and I am very glad that I did. This was the feature length debut from co-writer/director Greg Kwedar and he mentioned in a post-screening Q&A that they spent 6 years making this film, 4 of which were dedicated to research.  All of that time was put to great use as Greg crafted a supremely constructed thriller set on the border of the United States and Mexico. The research paid off by making the day-to-day life of these patrol agents feel very lived in and authentic. However – it’s hard to make a great film purely out of details.

Thankfully, Greg and his co-writer (Clint Bentley) supplied a narrative that was worthy of this level of detail. The beginning of the film establishes our 3 main characters with striking individual personalities. A common pitfall in indie filmmaking is having all of the characters sound the same – or worse, sounding exactly like the screenwriter or director. You didn’t get that feeling here. All 3 were very well drawn and spouted out dialogue that couldn’t have come from anyone else. After this introduction, we immediately get into the meat of the story. Without spoiling any of it, I will just say they get caught in the middle of a drug transport that was supposed to go unnoticed. The problem is, they are sucked in and it’s going to be hard to come out on top. This central issue launches the narrative forward and really has you guessing as to how they are going to solve this gigantic predicament.

In another testament to the strong writing on this film, the story veers left and right just when you expected it to do the exact opposite. Things that you anticipated would be saved for the 3rd act are blown up in our faces before we reach the halfway mark. It pulls the rug from you so many times that you give up trying to predict what will happen. This kept me glued to the screen, curious as to what would come next. That, my friends, is great writing, plain and simple.

Throughout the impressive tension that is built, there are still scenes that bring a levity to the proceedings that add a nice dash of soul to the overall piece. It doesn’t neglect the characters or their feelings, which is tremendously helpful in getting us to give a shit with regards to their fates. We come to understand everyone, we come to understand why they believe what they believe and why they make the choices they make. They come across as real people instead of archetypes picked out of a Thriller 101 handbook.

Overall, it was a great start to the festival for me and I was very happy I got to see it. I hope it has a great run at cinemas and I urge you all to stay on the lookout for it. Also – I got a chance to talk with Greg (the co-writer/director) after the screening and he was a supremely nice dude, chatting with me and answering some additional questions. So if anything, support this guy’s film because we need more nice people working in the industry!


Lo and Behold, Reveries in a Connected World

Synopsis: Werner Herzog’s exploration of the Internet and the connected world.

The synopsis pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the film. In fact, I’m sure you can imagine what to expect based on that summary alone. That’s not a bad thing though, especially if you like Werner’s particular brand of documentary filmmaking that is often injected with his idiosyncratic philosophical musings. He smartly divided up the film into about 10 different sections, each one focusing on a specific topic. This method ensures the film is not just an hour and a half of rambling about the same things over and over again.

Werner talks to everyone from all over the spectrum in relation to the internet. He starts off the film by checking out the very first machine that sent a message over the internet. He speaks with a family who had disturbing pictures sent to them on the internet, gamers who were addicted to online video games, scientists, all sorts of people. One of my favorite sections was about a satellite area that has no cell phone reception, which is done so they can pick up readings from deep space without the signals being colored by cell phone interference. Because of this clear area, there is a set of homes for people who are either allergic or overly sensitive to radio & cellular waves. They were plagued from sickness in a cell phone connected world and were able to relocate so they can live a more normal life. It’s a physical manifestation of how our cell phone usage literally hurts someone.

I enjoyed this documentary overall, even though it was a bit dry at times. Not too much is done to dress up the documentary beyond the categorization of content I mentioned earlier. No flashy animations to be found here. If the subject of the internet in general, where it started at and where it will go interests you, then I think you should seek out this film.


Sing Street

Synopsis: With 1980s Dublin mired in recession, Conor’s parents move him from a comfortable private school to a rough inner-city public school where the scrappy 14-year-old forms a band. Mentored by his older brother, Conor starts to compose lyrics and the glam-ish band finds its “no covers” groove. Renaming himself Cosmo, he convinces the mysterious, über-cool Raphina to star in their music videos (and tries to win her heart in the process).

I’ll be honest – I watched the trailer of this movie when finalizing my schedule and was a bit on the fence. Why? The trailer seemed to only show the standard beats of a typical person-starts-a-band movie, not to mention the beats of a typical coming-of-age movie. Both of these genres are pretty well worn in the independent film world. It had a bit of charm in it though and what really made me take notice was the 98% it currently holds on Rotten Tomatoes. These types of films can be really hard to impress critics so if they all seem to love it, there must truly be something there.

I’m glad I gave it a shot because this film works well beyond the typical beats it flashed in the trailer. Are those beats still in the film? To a certain degree, yes, but they are constantly subverted or amplified by 100 and drenched in comedic charm. Unexpected depth is added to side characters that pierce the veil of light-heartedness, which gives the sometimes-silly proceedings some much-needed weight. It really is a funny movie though, with a fantastically written screenplay. The comedy is very organic, always stemming from the awkwardness of characters or the characters simply being themselves. Nothing feels forced at all.

And of course, the music (both original tunes and licensed ones) is all top-notch. Throughout the story, certain famous songs from the 1980s are used as a starting point to create a new song for the fictional band. So it’s quite easy to see which original song sounds like an 80s hit but they add on modern vocal melodies and other touches to make it sound fresh. The fact that the music in this film is great doesn’t surprise me – the director, John Carney, also directed the musical Once and another film about music called Begin Again. It was a lot of fun and a great way to spend a Friday night.

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