The Nashville Film Festival announced the full lineup Friday for a fall gathering of filmgoers in Music City that will begin with the Brandi Carlile-produced documentary “The Return of Tanya Tucker” as the gala opening on Sept. 29 and end with director Sacha Jenkins’ “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues” for closing night on Oct. 5.
The 53rd annual edition of the festival will take place both in-person and virtually, with a selection of more than 150 films that includes 38 full-length features, about 30 of which will be world, North American or U.S. premieres.
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Although the virtual component continues to be strong for the festival, its leaders note that of the 150 or so films in the festival, more than 50 will screen for audiences in Nashville venues, starting with the Tanya Tucker doc, which will be seen in the historic main auditorium of the city’s beloved Belcourt Theater, one of the original homes of the Grand Ole Opry. Other locations include the Franklin Theater in the nearby city of that name, and the TPAC Andrew Johnson Theater in downtown Nashville.
The Tucker film (which had its world premiere at SXSW in the spring) was previously announced to lead the Nashville fest. Newly announced is the Louis Armstrong pick, described as a “definitive” and “intimate” documentary about the jazz great, “presented through a lens of archival footage and never-before-heard home recordings and personal conversations.”
Although the festival is hardly exclusively limited to music films, several music docs or films with musicians as key figures appear on the lineup this year, as always. Dolly Parton figures into two of them, directly or indirectly. A fictional feature, “Seriously Red,” directed by Gracie Otto, stars Rose Byrne and Bobby Canavale and is described as the story of a realtor who takes up a career as a Dolly Parton impersonator. Parton herself comes to the screen, meanwhile, in “Still Working 9 to 5,” a documentary that looks at how the roles of women in the workplace have or hasn’t changed since “9 to 5” came out more than 40 years ago, while reuniting much of that topical comedy’s cast. (Parton and Kelly Clarkson recorded a new version of the famous theme song as a duet.)
Four films fall under the “Music Documentary Official Selections” banner. The music scene of New York in the early 2000s is the subject of “Meet Me in the Bathroom,” based on a book by Lizzie Goodman. “Friday I’m in Love” tracks the 40-year history of a nightclub in Houston that is seen as a gathering spot for outsiders amid sometimes intolerant surrounds. “Immediate Family” follows a group of tightknit 1970s session players who were seen as successors to the Wrecking Crew. “And Still I Sing” portrays Afghan pop star Aryana Sayeed as she is mentoring a group of younger female singers for a reality TV show, against the unfortunate backdrop of the Taliban returning to power.
“The creative connections between the art of film and music continue to impress and generate more immersive experiences for fans of both,” said Jason Padgitt, executive director of NashFilm.
There’s still another documentary of interest to music fans: “Big Old Goofy World: The Story of Oh Boy Records,” about the influential indie label that John Prine formed with Dan Einstein and Al Bunetta. That falls not under the festival’s official music banner, though it could easily fit there, but under “Tennessee Feature Official Selections.” Although there are seven features under that aegis — including a doc on comedian Gary Mule Deer — the overall programming includes more than 30 films that were either made in the state or have some connection to it.
“The talent evident in this year’s lineup is incredibly exciting, and I’m looking forward to our audience’s reactions,” said Lauren Ponto, the festival’s director of programming. “My programming team and I have put together a highly curated and eclectic mix of films from over 30 countries with more than half of our official selections directed or produced by women. Our industry seems fiercely creative this year and I feel privileged that we get to play a part in showcasing the meticulous work of these amazing creators.”
Panels on the intersection of film and TV with music will also take place, along with showcases for indie artists, with many participating music supervisors.
For more information on programs and passes, click here.
The full program of feature-length films:
Opening Night Presentation
The Return of Tanya Tucker (dir. Kathlyn Horan) – Decades after Tanya Tucker slipped from the spotlight, music star Brandi Carlile takes it upon herself to write an entire album for her hero based on Tanya’s extraordinary life, spurring the greatest comeback in country music history.
Nanny (dir. Nikyatu Jusu) – Immigrant nanny Aisha, piecing together a new life in New York City while caring for the child of an Upper East Side family, is forced to confront a concealed truth that threatens to shatter her precarious American Dream.
Aftersun (dir. Charlotte Wells) – Sophie reflects on the shared joy and private melancholy of a holiday she took with her father twenty years earlier. Memories real and imagined fill the gaps between as she tries to reconcile the father she knew with the man she didn’t.
Closing Night Presentation
Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues (dir. Sacha Jenkins) – This definitive documentary honors Armstrong’s legacy as a founding father of jazz, one of the first internationally known and beloved stars, and a cultural ambassador of the United States.
Narrative Official Selections
Seriously Red (dir. Gracie Otto) – A realtor pursues a new career as a Dolly Parton impersonator.
Acidman (dir. Alexandre Lehmann) – An estranged father and daughter try to make first contact.
Sick of Myself (dir. Kristoffer Borgli) – Signe lives without ambition, but when her partner suddenly experiences massive success as an artist, she goes uncomfortably far to create a more interesting identity.
Mars One (dir. Gabriel Martins) – A Brazilian family copes with an uncertain future as a far-right conservative leader rises to power. Through this time of turbulent change, the family’s optimism and deep capacity for love guides them through.
The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future (dir. Francisca Alegria) – When the long-deceased Magdalena (Mía Maestro, Frida, The Motorcycle Diaries) bubbles up to the surface of a polluted river gasping for air, her shocking return sends her family into turmoil while also offering an opportunity for healing in this poignant and stunning magical realist tale.
Beautiful Beings (dir. Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson) – Addi, a boy raised by a clairvoyant mother, decides to adopt a bullied misfit into his gang of outsiders.
The Integrity of Joseph Chambers (dir. Robert Machoian) – Insurance salesman and family man Joseph Chambers wants to acquire the skills to be able to take care of his family in case of an apocalypse. What starts as an experiment to prove himself as a capable father and husband turns into a nightmare as Joe finds himself faced with a terrible choice that he must make.
Documentary Official Selections
Butterfly in the Sky (dirs. Brett Whitcomb, Bradford Thomason) – The story behind Reading Rainbow.
Carol & Johnny (dir. Colin Barnicle) – Johnny and Carol robbed 56 banks together. After decades apart, they navigate their new lives outside prison walls. This story is about how some people change and some people don’t.
Your Friend, Memphis (dir. David Phillip Zucker) – Memphis, a millennial with cerebral palsy, journeys in search of work, love, and freedom. Caught between the world’s expectations and his own ambitions, YOUR FRIEND, MEMPHIS reveals the power of dreams to sustain us, and how to persist when they don’t come true.
Relative (dir. Tracey Arcabasso Smith) – Unraveling a complex tapestry of vulnerability, shame, and love, the filmmaker discovers a pervasive history of multigenerational sexual abuse in her Italian-American family. As decades of secrets, home-movies, and long-avoided conversations surface, a family bound by loyalty and tradition forges a new path forward.
Outta The Muck (dirs. Bhawin Suchak, Ira Mckinley) – Told through stories that transcend space and time, Outta The Muck presents a community, and a family, that resists despair with love, remaining fiercely self-determined, while forging its own unique narrative of Black achievement.
Calendar Girls (dirs. Maria Loohufvud, Love Martinsen) – Florida’s most dedicated dance team for women over 60, shaking up the outdated image of “the little old lady,” and calling for everyone to dance their hearts out, while they still can.
Music Documentary Official Selections
Friday I’m In Love (dir. Marcus Pontello) – In Houston, Texas a historic nightclub thrives amidst the backdrop of cultural intolerance, serving as a gathering spot of acceptance and alternative music for forty 40-plus years.
Meet Me In The Bathroom (dirs. Will Lovelace, Dylan Southern) – An immersive journey through the New York music scene of the early 2000s. A new generation kick-started a musical rebirth for New York City that reverberated around the world.
Immediate Family (dir. Denny Tedesco) -“Immediate Family” is the true story of a group of close friends who became the studio band to the biggest stars of the 1970s and beyond. This documentary chronicles the next wave of studio players to follow in the footsteps of 60s session icons, The Wrecking Crew.
And Still I Sing (dir. Fazila Amiri) – Controversial Afghan pop star and activist Aryana Sayeed mentors young hopefuls as they prepare to appear on a hit TV singing competition show. As the show’s female contestants Zahra Elham and Sadiqa Madadgar are on the verge of their dreams becoming reality, the Taliban returns to power.
New Directors Official Selections
Sonne (dir. Kurdwin Ayub) – In a moment of ordinary madness, three girlfriends decide to shoot a burqa music video.
Straighten Up and Fly Right (dirs. Kristen Abate, Steven Tanenbaum) – In a funk, Kristen, a physically disabled New York woman, walks dogs for a living but dreams of being a writer. When her life starts to unravel, she must make a choice to fall apart or straighten up.
The Year Between (dir. Alex Heller) – THE YEAR BETWEEN follows college sophomore Clemence Miller, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and forced to return home to her sleepy Illinois suburb after suffering a mental breakdown.
Hannah Ha Ha (dirs. Jordan Tetewsky, Joshua Pikovsky) – Hannah lives a content, hard-working life in the small town where she grew up. To her visiting older brother, she’s just wasting her time. As their Summer together winds down, Hannah gets what wasting time really means.
Robe Of Gems (dir. Natalia López) – In the countryside of Mexico, three women seek redemption when the case of a missing person leads them down a path of irrevocable tragedy and violence.
Graveyard Shift Official Selections
Piggy (dir. Carlota Pereda) – In a rural Spanish town, a teen girl’s weight makes her the target of incessant bullying. After fleeing them at the town pool, she stumbles upon her tormentors being kidnapped by a mysterious stranger.
Rounding (dir. Alex Thompson) – When a motivated resident doctor transfers to a rural hospital for a fresh start, his demons follow him as he becomes consumed with the case of a young asthma patient.
The Civil Dead (dir. Clay Tatum) – A misanthropic, struggling photographer just wants to watch TV and eat candy while his wife is out of town, but when a desperate old pal resurfaces, his plans are thwarted, with spooky consequences.
Follow Her (dir. Sylvia Caminer) – An aspiring actress responds to a mysterious classified ad and finds herself trapped in her new boss’ twisted revenge fantasy.
Speaking Out, Stepping Up: 3 Films of Empowered Women
My Name is Andrea (dir. Pratibha Parmar) – MY NAME IS ANDREA is the story of controversial feminist writer and public intellectual Andrea Dworkin, who offered a revolutionary analysis of male supremacy with iconoclastic flair.
Still Working 9 to 5 (dirs. Camille Hardman, Gary Lane) – 42 years later 9 to 5 is a cautionary reminder, change is still needed.
In the Bones (dirs. Kelly Duane de la Vega, Zandashé Brown) – IN THE BONES is a cinematic journey through Mississippi that provides a poetic and sometimes painful portrait of American culture through the ordinary lives of women and children.
Tennessee Feature Official Selections
Alta Valley (dir. Jesse Edwards) – To save her dying mother, Lupe, a Mexican-Navajo mechanic bands together with an outlaw cowgirl. Together they must travel across the desert, outrun criminals, and confront a corrupt landowner.
Big Old Goofy World: The Story of Oh Boy Records (dirs. Joshua Britt, Neilson Hubbard) – Oh Boy Records, founded by John Prine, Al Bunetta & Dan Einstein, took a mail order business and turned it into the everyman hero story of one artist believing in himself and his fans.
The Light We Share (dirs. Mattie Waters, Jules Downum) – Every person has a story that is vivid and complex – full of struggle and triumph. This visual album style film highlights stories from everyday people, inviting us to look at one another with more curiosity and empathy.
Old Friends: A Dogumentary (dir. Gorman Bechard) – The paw-inspiring tale of the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary.
Showbusiness is My Life, But I Can’t Prove It (dir. GB Shannon) – Showbusiness is My Life follows comedian Gary Mule Deer and his 60 year career making people laugh.
I Can Feel You Walking (dir. Rachel Lambert) – Two broke and broken neighbors in a South Nashville duplex are tested when a crisis forces them to finally meet.
Jacir (dir. Waheed AlQawasmi) – A young Syrian refugee on the streets of Memphis, Tennessee faces the hard truth in chasing the American dream, while living in poverty, witnessing social injustice and his neighbor’s addiction to opioids.
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