The Chattanooga Film Festival Dims The Lights For Four Whole Days
IT’S FINALLY TIME.
After a year of rumors, of planning and discussion, of wishin’ and hopin,’ the Chattanooga Film Festival is upon us. On Apr. 3, as special a day as any I know, the best thing to happen to Chattanooga arts in 20 years begins, and with any luck it will become an annual success story that rivals that of the downtown revitalization.
The CFF needs to become a part of Chattanooga, an institution as recognizable as the Aquarium, one that brings in as many tourist dollars as Rock City, and stands as solid as Lookout Mountain.
Just a few years ago, a major film festival in Chattanooga seemed to be a pipe dream. The film community was nearly nonexistent, with local groups struggling to bring even the most popular independent films to starved cinephiles staring wistfully at marquees, waiting for the day when the latest Terrance Malik film might make an appearance.
Then, along came Mise En Scenesters, with their painter’s tarp /warehouse films and extended preshow reels. Led by Chris Dortch, Chattanooga’s biggest film fan, the scene slowly began to evolve.
Our congregation began to grow, as MES loving fed the souls of film lovers with genre movies and music documentaries. Barking Legs Theater became a semi-permanent home. The seeds of the Chattanooga Film Festival were sown four years ago, and now that vine is bearing good fruit.
Film sensory overload…we love it
Four days of film is almost too much for a film fan to handle. There are so many films to see, so many parties to attend, so many guest panels to hear that it’s impossible to do everything. The discerning filmgoer must make choices. It’s unlikely you’ll go wrong with whatever you decide, but what follows will be gentle suggestions on what you should see and when, based on getting the most out of the festival.
I will be at every one of these screenings—I suggest you make the effort as well. Unless listed otherwise, all films will be shown at the Majestic 12 in downtown Chattanooga.
Thursday, Apr. 3:
“A Life in the Death of Joe Meek”
It’s a bold choice to start a festival with a documentary about a relatively unknown music producer. To do so must mean that “A Life in the Death of Joe Meek” is pretty special. The film discusses the work of Meek, a British music producer known for breaking through barriers with innovative recording techniques. More interesting, however, might be the events that led to his violent exit from the world. This is the best type of documentary: “A Life in the Death of Joe Meek” brings to light an esoteric and unknown story of a massively influential artist that no one seems to know. Add to this the presence of filmmaker Howard S. Berger and Richard Routledge of The Cryin’ Shames discussing the man behind the music and you have one incredible film festival opening.
(9:45 p.m. and Apr. 5, 2:30 p.m.)
An Israeli live action/animation film that debuted at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, “The Congress” stars Robin Wright as an aging actress at the end of her career. This film is just beginning to be screened in North America and getting a film of this caliber is huge for a new film festival. It is a testament to the job done by festival organizers. The film is science fiction, mixing the real and the uncanny valley in a fascinating story not seen anywhere else. According to festival director Chris Dortch, it’s a film that’s “going to really make people fall in love.” The cast is excellent and the format is intriguing. It’s not one true film fans want to miss, and luckily there are two showings, so you won’t have to.
”Manos: The Hands of Fate”
As infamous “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is in the halls of terrible film, “Manos: The Hands of Fate” deserves the same level of notoriety. This film is part of the “MES After Hours” block of films, staying true to their roots as lovers of the weird, the absurd—and the awful. If you haven’t seen “Manos: The Hands of Fate,” you owe it to yourself to do so. The screening features a discussion with film historian Jeff Burr and restorationist Ben Solovey, ready to take your questions and educate the audience on the finer points of bad filmmaking.
Friday, April 4:
This documentary shows the influence of a distinctly American art form on the Czech Republic and how music crosses borders and tells universal stories beyond culture The Czechs heard bluegrass for the first time on the Armed Services Network during World War II, and there was something about the genre that resonated with a people living in a depressed communist state. Czechs took these classic bluegrass sounds and blended them into their own traditions, creating a voice of freedom in Eastern Europe. Like all good documentaries, this film seeks to expose the audience to an experience not found in the mainstream…truth is always found in unlikely places.
From the director of “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Mood Indigo” is something of a love story starring Audrey Tautou as a mysterious French girl who embodies the feelings evoked by the famous Duke Ellington tune. Anyone familiar with Michael Gondry’s films knows that it takes a director of his skill to take such an imaginative, deep idea and create a quality film. The presence of “Mood Indigo” is just another example of what sets the CFF apart from other first-year film festivals—the partnership with Drafthouse Films to bring challenging film experiences is exactly what the festival calls for. Make sure to see this one and bask in the complexity.
”Witching and Bitching”
The second film in the “MES After Hours” series is best summed up by its IMDB synopsis: “A group of jewel thieves are hunted down by a pack of witches.” We’ll just leave it at that.
Saturday, Apr. 5:
“Coherence” is something of a wild card. More than likely, the less you know about the film, the better it will be. It’s billed as a cerebral sci-fi/relationship drama, which makes me hope that it’s like “Friends” combined with “Inception,” but there’s no way of knowing until you experience it. This is a film recommended explicitly by festival director Chris Dortch as a must-see. When in doubt, defer to the man responsible for everything.
Panel: Why Genre Films Matter
(1:15-2:30 p.m, Hunter Museum of Art):
If “Coherence” is outside your comfort zone, it might be a good time to check out one of the panel discussions. “Why Genre Films Matter” is a discussion of films that exist outside the mainstream. The panel features experts from across the film industry that love horror and sci-fi, people who understand how these films fit into the greater context of the art form and will carefully explain the intricacies behind chainsaw murders and excessive gore.
Evett and Bloom Comedy Showcase
(5:30 p.m., Majestic)
Between films and panels, take a break and enjoy some local comedy from the guys who are doing for Chattanooga’s comedy scene what MES has done for the film scene. These hardworking local comedians have been featured at several of the MES screenings and host weekly open mic nights at JJ’s Bohemia.
Sunday, Apr. 6:
TN Filmmaker Showcase
As cool as it is to have first-time releases from major filmmakers, it’s important to celebrate the working artists in our own community. Local film has grown dramatically in the past few years, and the CFF is making sure that the talent pool in Tennessee isn’t left out of the mix. Every film in this showcase comes from a Tennessee artist, proving that they can stand toe-to-toe with any selection in the festival.
The festival ends with a dramady featuring Kristen Wiig and Guy Pierce. The film is likely as awkward as most Wiig vehicles, but is an attempt at a more serious role for the actress. “Hateship Loveship” is an indie film for an indie festival, a fitting end to a weekend of fantastic films.
There are, of course, many more films available. Check out the schedule on chattanoogafilmfest.com for more details. Plan your own weekend if my suggestions aren’t up to your standards. There is something playing for every film fan in Chattanooga. Let’s make this the first in a Chattanooga tradition. Support local film!