For decades, The Nashville Film Festival drew movies fresh from Sundance and big-name guests like Oprah, Kiefer Sutherland, and SNL head writer Colin Jost while becoming a regular stop for indie distributors hoping to discover emerging talent at a nationally recognized, Oscars-endorsed event. Now the best it has to offer is an early look at the Elizabeth Banks abortion empowerment drama, Call Jane, a 35th-anniversary screening of Dirty Dancing, and the local premiere of Spirit Halloween: The Movie (yes, an actual adaptation of the popup store that temporarily occupies the old Stein Mart down the street each fall is an official selection of an organization that used to be one of the ten best film festivals in the U.S.).
Things just haven’t been the same since both artistic director Brian Owens and exec director Ted Crockett headed for the hills back in 2017 and took their gifts for discerning taste and inventive event planning with them. Those with Oscar-bait sensibilities may have balked at Owens’s knack for robust and revelatory international films (and are super stoked to see Call Jane we’d wager), but the fest still had something for everyone in those days. Its organizers also had the common sense to hold the event in one place rather than scatter screenings and panels all around town from TPAC and The Belcourt to The Franklin Theatre, the National Museum of African American Music, and the Virgin Hotel like its current iteration.
In less than four years, NaFF went from a calendar must every April that took over Regal Green Hills 16–and later the Hollywood 27–for a full ten days to an anemic mishmash of indies that have languished on the festival circuit for months and can barely fill the programming slate its new leaders have now reduced to a week. As recently as 2019, the festival still managed an impressive schedule, including early looks at films from American greats like Terrence Malick and Noah Baumbach.
Nothing in this year’s lineup comes close to those offerings unless attendees are big enough fans of Tanya Tucker and Reading Rainbow to see feature documentaries about them. Still, there are in-person screenings, virtual options, and a Creators Conference that caters to every starry-eyed fame monger hoping to channel their extensive experience performing scenes from This Is Us at a Nashville-based acting school into superstardom. Learn about industry experience firsthand by attending the “Defining Women In Film & TV” panel featuring masters of craft like a Nashville director and her muse who make a movie every year that only gets into this festival and leaves anyone who still bothers to attend from out of town with the impression that our city’s predominant filmmaking talent’s greatest rival is a single dad in a Captain America t-shirt trying to class up the video he’s shooting of his kid’s middle school drama club production of The Outsiders with whip pans.
The fest’s big get this year? A career retrospective for legendary songwriter Diane Warren that’s just sycophantic enough to get her on a plane to Music City.
Whether its decline began with its more corporate makeover, wrongheaded push toward music industry pandering, or choice to predominantly hire programmers to select films who don’t even live in the state is irrelevant. What matters is that we’ve lost the defining event that united a community in celebration of the arts and pointed Nashvillians toward a more culturally vibrant future. As Ms. Warren once wrote, “If I could turn back time, if I could find a way…”
The Pamphleteer will dedicate a Twitter thread to the festival throughout its September 29-October 5 run. Check in with us to see what’s worth a watch and what earned our ire.
NON-FESTIVAL NEW MOVIE RELEASES
Movie Milestone: Bros
Billy Eichner wrote and stars in this gay rom-com as a curator at an LGBTQ+ museum who falls in love with a hunky dude (Luke Macfarlane). The film is already being hailed as a cinematic landmark. As the lights come up and the credits roll, sit with yourself a second. Now you know what your dad felt when he saw 2001: A Space Odyssey opening weekend. Nothing will ever be the same.
Now playing in theatres.
Most Likely to Trigger Picture Day Trauma: Smile
A psychiatrist (Sosie Bacon) finds herself marked for death ala The Ring when a curse that may be all in her head leads to visions of those around her demonically smiling. More terrifying than a swipe through Tinder profile pics.
Now playing in theatres.
Not Quite Made Like They Used To, But Good Enough: The Good House
Sigourney Weaver stars as an alcoholic New England real estate agent who finds romance blooming with a local contractor (Kevin Kline) in a drama smart enough not only to avoid taking itself too seriously but also to reunite its leading duo for the first time since they starred in Ang Lee’s masterful The Ice Storm 25 years ago.
Now playing at AMC Thoroughbred 20, Regal Green Hills 16, Regal Opry Mills 20, and Regal Hollywood 27.