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Nashville Film Festival ~ Our Jury Prizes

As some of you know I attended the Nashville Film Festival last week as a juror. I haven't ever truly mastered the How To of reporting from film festivals -- I marvel at the blogs who seem to have time to see five movies a day and socialize with other festivalgoers AND review all of them as if there are 48 hours in each day -- so you're getting my jury notes super late! This time I was on the Narrative Feature Jury which meant 16 movies crammed into less than a week. I tried to see other features outside my slate but my eyes begged for relief after just two (The Spectacular Now and I Am Divine -- more on those later) since I wasn't able to stay very long this year.

Nashville is one of the USA's oldest ongoing film festivals and it doesn't get enough attention in the media. One of the reasons is surely the concurrent Tribeca, a far starrier affair. Still, I'd personally argue that festivals like Nashville are more crucial to the good health of cinema and here's why...

Festivals like Nashville, unlike Tribeca, exist in markets that don't otherwise offer abundant cinematic choice. On any given day of the week here in New York City you can pretend you're at a film festival because there are so many choices. Or you can attend a festival since there's an endless supply of those, too!

Naturally I didn't agree with every Official Choice of our jury (anything in quotes is from our official jury statement which I did not write myself) but that's the nature of the beast. You argue about an imposed set of movies with other awesome industry peeps, you compromise where you can live with yourself for compromising, and when you see a window to give a prize to something you love you push hard to convince your fellow jurors. (That's what the A List juries in Cannes will be doing next month!)

Best Feature
If You Die I Will Kill You

As much about self-discovery as it is about freedom from culture and loneliness and even love, this film lets us in on a little secret: It's ok to be alone. Portraying lives absent of love and friendship as easily becoming prisons, this stunningly shot, compellingly acted film is a testament to the lengths we will go to to set ourselves free. At times this film is both heartbreaking and heartwarming and is always tinged with a bit of dark humor. Going a long way to showing us there is much more to look forward to, it is an honor and a very happy coincidence to present this year's Best Feature Narrative during The Nashville Film Festival's Celebration of Kurdish Filmmaking....

Petty Note Alert: This acclaimed feature is from 2010 and has been kicking around the festival circuit for awhile. Thus I felt a bit of ambivalence about naming it "Best" ;)  I have this weird but unquestionably very strong allegiance to the importance of the calendar year. I blame Oscar for this OCD thing I  have with movies. Yes, but when did it come out?

Runner Up Breakfast With Curtis
Best Ensemble Cast Breakfast With Curtis

Trippy and surreal, this slice of life from a parallel universe is propelled by it's boisterous, albeit wacky characters. From the tech-challenged vlogger to the social misfit who captures his rants to the parents struggling to remain fresh to the neighbors dealing in love and weed, this ensemble is a fresh and organic as the soil that they are grown in... 

Full disclosure: when I first saw a clip from this picture at this year's Spirit Awards (where it was nominated for the John Cassavettes Award honoring films made for less than ½ a million) I thought it looked terrible. For the first few minutes of the picture I was in hate with it. The nearest correlation I can think of is Juno which came on so strong with the quirk and the quip and the affectations in its first few minutes I thought i'd never survive it. Until suddenly I had acclimated myself to its world or it just got better...who know? But I totally enjoyed this movie which is about a commune of sorts of aging hippies getting high, talking, and throwing weird parties and giving the shy neighborhood boy (Curtis) the first "seminal" summer of his life. One of the jurors most decidedly did not like it but it's that kind of picture. 

Best Actor Paul Eenhoorn, This is Martin Bonner

This actor's understated performance is pitch-perfect, an internalized gem. In a film that allows its audience to explore its empty spaces, it is a pleasure to fill those spaces with Eenhoorn's honest portrayal.

This was the first film I saw and even before I'd seen the other 15 -- which were mostly about men --  I had this premonition that we would be handing best actor to this Aussie actor. He's really very good in it in a role that could have swung frustratingly blank. The title couldn't be more apt since it's a slice of life picture that hands you little more than two characters mundane though unusually specific lives and asks that you care about how and why they relate to each other. I did. 

Best Actress Jane Adams, All the Light in the Sky
I confess that whenever I serve on juries I tense up before this category discussion. The Man Who Loved Actresses Too Much! I fought hard for this particular prize since opinions among our jury for this category were wildly disparate -- seriously no agreement -- which was a weird outcome since so few of the movies we watched were about women.

I don't mean to imply similar quality when I compare this to the Linklater/Delpy or Mike Leigh/Anyone partnerships but Joe Swanberg, the mumblecore director (are we still saying mumblecore?) collaborated with Adams on this film's screenplay and it was a smart move. This is a very swift (78 minutes!), very precise, and deceptively modest character study of a famous actress whose sex symbol days are behind her. I'd never thought of Adams in this way before but she totally sold the tricky business of shading current romantic and career neurosis / ambivalence with past sexual and artistic confidence... and threading all of that through the trials of aging, and a narrative that is sort of about her research into solar power for a role you sense she probably won't get anyway. This movie totally worked for me and I'm actually eager to see it again.

Adam Brody & Zoe Kazan in "Some Girl(s)"Special Jury Prize: Best Supporting Actress - Zoe Kazan, Some Girl(s)

Portraying a character created specifically for the screen, this actress proves her character worth being created. A performance that is, all at once funny, explosive and heartbreaking, Kazan once again reminds us that she is a voice to contend with.

I'll readily admit that my fellow jurors love for this film, a stage transfer of one of playwright Neil LaBute's weaker provocations, surprised me. In the film a writer and callow groom played by Adam Brody visits old girlfriends just before his wedding to try and make amends. Naturally, because it's Neil LaBute these visits don't go as planned and he ends up reopening old wounds. Primarily because he is the lead in a LaBute film and therefore a sociopathic asshole. For me this played like a stilted writing/acting exercize though I readily agree that Zoe Kazan's sequence, she plays a woman that the groom once hit on when they were teenagers, was the film's highlight.

Silas Yelchin and Lili Taylor in "The Cold Lands"Special Jury Prize: Most Promising Newcomer
Silas Yelich, The Cold Lands

After Some Girl(s) this film was my most significant disagreement with fellow jurors. All of them responded to it far more than I did, including to this performance. But then, full disclosure for new readers, I am typically immune to the excitement that decent performances from kids and teenagers tend to generate in audiences. I tend to view these, right or wrong, as a combination of solid direction and easily-won audience sympathy for endearing kids. The movie is about a young boy whose radical anti-government mother (Lili Taylor) suddenly dies -- that's not really a spoiler since it's telegraphed for the whole first third -- and, not wanting to be taken by social services, he disappears into the nearby woods. From there the movie doesn't seem to know where it's going but I'll admit that I liked it a lot better when it seemed totally lost to itself.

Best Screenplay Yen Tan and David Lowery, Pit Stop
This is a gay drama about rural men in Texas. You can read my interview with writer/director Yen Tan over at Towleroad a little later. (FWIW, David Lowery, the co-writer is having a pretty great year. His directorial effort Aint Them Bodies Saints won praise at Sundance and will hit Cannes next.)

And, finally, because this Film Festival takes place in music city the juries are always asked to think about the music in films too.

Best Use of Music in a Film 3

Intense almost to the point breaking this film needs light shed on it more often than not. It's terrific soundtrack allows for it's darkest corners to be illuminated and it's humor to be balanced with soft tones of despair. 

This choice was an out of the blue suggestion by a fellow juror and a brilliant one at that. I signed right on. I hadn't been thinking of it for this prize but the film, from Uruguay and Whisky director Pablo Stoll, has an unusually specific command of its musical juxtapositions and the way they imitate or play off of the headspace of the central trio, a father, mother, and daughter who are all shut off from each other. I was really looking forward to this picture as a fan of Whisky (Uruguay's Oscar submission in its year) and I think if I had seen it out of the context of a festival I would have enjoyed it a bit more since I was intrigued but also impatient (it was the last film I screened).

Best Original Song - "One That Got Away" by Ned Oldham for I Used to Be Darker
This songs drops in the middle of the movie about musicians whose marriage is falling apart and it's an immediately moving ballad, the husband singing it alone on his guitar.


Best Documentary Far Out Isn't Far Enough - The Tomi Ungerer Story (Brad Bernstein)
Honorable Mention Documentary (Tie) George Plimpton As Himself (Tom Bean) and After Tiller (Martha Stone & Lana Wilson) 

New Directors
Winner Nairobi Half Life (David "Tosh" Gitonga)
Honorable Mention Out in the Dark (Michael Mayer)
Actor Joseph Wairimu in Nairobi Half Life 
Actress Gina Piersanti in It Felt Like Love
Special Jury Prize Outstanding Ensemble This is Where We Live

more regional prizes and short awards here

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Reader Comments (11)

When I first saw your twit about being in Nashville, all I can think of is whether you have seen Nicole and Keith around town? yeah, shallow, I know.

April 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTiffa

very good read!
some thoughts:
I like jane adams.
no best supporting actor?
I'm curious about "this is martin bonner", also because it's from that guy who used to write those snarky box-office articles for incontention.
"whisky" is a beautiful picture, loved marta. I remember this movie using a kid's song in some scene that I really liked, but I don't really remember how it was.

April 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

(maybe it's not a kids song, as I'm trying to find out what song it was, but the movie definitely had an interesting featuring a song... lol)

April 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

Tiffa -- you know i always look for them!

marcelo -- well, we weren't supposed to give a supporting actress but the jury insisted!

April 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

I've been looking forward to THIS IS MARTIN DONNER for a while now, but some of the other titles mentioned make me curious as well. One that doesn't, however, is the Neil LaBute one. I saw the last film he directed at this year's Tribeca - SOME VELVET MORNING - and it's vitually unreviewable. It's not even a film.

April 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Nat, do you think the Jane Adams film will get much play in the mainstream? I think she's terrific but under utilized.

April 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Congratulations on being a juror! That's quite an accomplishment.

How do you like Nashville as a city?

April 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

Wow this was thoroughly a fascinating read.

And though I haven't seen the film (and am suddenly dying to), I'm glad you fought for Jane Adams. Even when she's given slightly shoddy material I have never found her less than transfixing to watch. And her range - when she is allowed to exhibit it - is startling.

April 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I was just coming here to ask about any Nicole sightings but someone already asked. lol. But Nicole's a busy lady with Before I Go To Sleep and The White House (the actual White House).

But as I read this piece, I thought of how fun but utterly EXHAUSTING something like this must be.

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck

Jane Adams is consistently good. I would love to see that movie, but I'm going to low my expectations. That sort of material never gets properly released.

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Henry -- unfortunately i don't. :( I think the film is more ambitious than it at first appears but people will probably think it's "slight" and it is basically a talky woman's picture without bankable stars so you know how the market is for them.

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

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