Your guide to the best and most interesting films and events at the Chattanooga Film Festival
There is no event in the Scenic City better than the Chattanooga Film Festival. That this is the third year is fairly impressive given how easy it would have been for the festival to fizzle after, if not during, year one. Nothing in Chattanooga is ever easy. Sometimes it seems that those with the biggest ambition can’t get a word in edgewise over some self serving “arts organization” with family connections, riddled by inefficiency and malaise.
The CFF has proven itself to be different, simply because its founders aim to fill a void and provide an outlet to a community of fans desperate for good films outside the realm of standard Hollywood fare. Chris Dortch Jr. certainly holds the successes of the festival squarely on his shoulders. Dortch’s passion for film is evident to anyone who has ever met him and he has hand selected each and every feature film shown so far.
This is no easy task, as film submissions have doubled every year since the festival began in 2014. This means that Dortch personally watched over 400 films this year and selected the best he could for Chattanooga film fans.
But as important as Dortch is to the festival, without the support of a zealous and capable staff, the festival would be dead in the water. I was lucky enough to see many of these good people working tirelessly last year, coordinating volunteers and wrangling guests, selling tickets and merchandise, and keeping the throngs of people entertained while they waited for films to begin.
There are people like Box Office Manager/Submissions Coordinator Bryan Center and Brian Hennen, tech guru (and local arcade entrepreneur), both of which assisted in selecting films for the popular short blocks that pepper the schedule with brilliance and weirdness; people like Jan Bramlett, who ensured that every volunteer shift was covered and every volunteer was fed; all the way down to people like Samantha Doss, Zoe Marston, and Jet Smith, interns this year who are most likely the future of the festival.
The CFF is a massive undertaking, one that every staff member and volunteer believes in, far beyond any other event found during the year. This passion is what attracts stars like Elijah Wood. This passion is what brings Joe Bob Briggs back for a second year. And this passion is why this year the festival is anticipating nearly 12,000 attendees (up from 7,100 last year and 3,400 the year before.) This is an event that will continue to grow, far beyond its meager beginnings. It will be, of course, impossible to see and do everything, but what follows are the highlights (meaning what I intend to see), broken down by day for your convenience.
Thursday, March 31
The Wraith (7:25 p.m.): This cult classic features Charlie Sheen and Nick Cassavetes in a revenge picture that defies explanation. The big draw here, however, is its presentation and Q&A following the film by legendary character actor and film co-star Clint Howard. Rumor has it that Howard will be doing a longer, impromptu Q & A during the festival. Check out the CFF tent at 3:00 PM on Friday, maybe.
I Saw The Light (7:30 p.m.): Another way to start the festival is with this Hank Williams biopic starring Tom Hiddleston. Without a doubt, the music will alone make the film worthwhile.
Bad Blood (9:35 p.m.): Bad Blood is the first of a plethora of genre films found at the CFF. Bad Blood is a creature feature of the first order, with everything you could ask for: drugs, parties, lizards, half man/half lizards, the works!
I’m OK You’re Karaoke (10:00 p.m.): The first late night party of the weekend, take a leave of absence from the theaters and sing your heart out at Puckett’s Grocery till after midnight. There’s nothing better than a good film, but karaoke might be close.
Friday, April 1
From Dusk Till Drawn–Animated Shorts (11:30 a.m.): There is no leaving the CFF without seeing one (or more) of the shorts blocks. I always find the best way to see a block of shorts is to go in blind. There’s a lot to be said for being completely surprised by a film or two.
Eddie Presley (1:15 p.m.): Character driven films tend to be the best kind and Eddie Presley offers this in spades. Follow the story of a wounded Elvis impersonator as he struggles to keep the King’s legend alive, one lounge show at a time.
Here Come the Videofreex (3:15 p.m.): This documentary follows the exploits of a band of video pioneers who, using the first Sony portable video camera, covered some seminal counterculture events of the 1960s and ‘70s and later started a pirate television station. This is quintessential documentary viewing, a film about capturing moments in time that may have easily been lost.
Secret Screening! (4:50 p.m.): These are the moments that make the festival. Trust implicitly in the programmers and you won’t be led astray. There are three secret screenings during the festival—make sure to catch at least one of them.
Joe Bob Briggs Presents Redneck Night (8:00 p.m.): Joe Bob Briggs was one of the major highlights of CFF 2015 and this year will be no different. Those who missed him last year should make every effort to attend this one of a kind event. You are guaranteed to leave with a greater understanding of rednecks, film, and rednecks on film.
The Greasy Strangler (10:50 p.m.): The Greasy Strangler is a film that is inflicted upon the audience, a genuine Grindhouse genre picture presented by Elijah Wood’s Spectravision. Chris Dortch calls it a film “which demands to be seen and apologized for.”
Saturday, April 2
Boy & the World (10:45 a.m.): The festival isn’t just for adults. This animated feature is made especially for audiences young and old alike. Chris Dortch calls it a “chance for families to come and see something super cool for the young ‘uns.”
Schoolhouse Block–Student Shorts (12:30 p.m.): The CFF is great for everyone, including aspiring filmmakers. Come see films by young artists that might be the next big thing.
The Alchemist Cookbook (2:50 p.m.): From the CFF website: “Suffering from delusions of fortune, a young hermit hides out in the forest hoping to crack an ancient mystery, but pays a price for his mania.” Solid gold.
The Adderall Diaries (5:20 p.m.): This is a drama about memory and how our histories are never quite what they seem.
Eddie Pepitone (7:15 p.m.): It wouldn’t be the CFF without a comedy block and headlining this year is Eddie Pepitone, a modern day cross between Jackie Gleason, Don Rickles and Eckart Tolle.
Bleeding Skull Presents: Scary Tales (8:45 p.m.): Anything from Bleeding Skull is bound to inspire devotion in genre film fans. These films are guaranteed to tickle your fear ligaments.
Everything is Terrible (10:30 p.m.): This will likely be the strangest thing you see during the festival. The less said about Everything is Terrible the better. That’s a life lesson.
Sunday, April 3
Truth Bombs–Documentary Shorts (11:00 a.m.): As with the animated shorts, this block should likely be seen without prior knowledge. Let the investigation flow over you, change your perspective, or challenge your world view.
TN Filmmaker Showcase (11:00 a.m.): Celebrate the talent of Tennessee filmmakers by seeing six films from across the state.
CFF Gets Animated with Adult Swim and Archer (1:15 p.m.): Learn about phrasing from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and Archer: writer/director Chris Kelly, animator/illustrator Bob Pettitt, editor Brad Zimmerman, and editor Paul Painter. This is a panel like none other—make time to see something truly special.
Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (3:15 p.m.): Raiders! is a story of friendship, commitment, and fandom. If you’ve ever tried to make a movie in your backyard, this is the film for you.
Baskin (6:10 p.m.): Cops vs. demons. What could be better?
Comedy of Terrors (8:00 – 9:45): There is nowhere else you can see a 1960s horror spoof starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff. The fact that this film is featured in a prime viewing slot shows just how special the CFF truly is.
Of course, this is just one way to experience the CFF. There are many more films, events, panels, and parties. The festival will be packed with actors, producers, directors, and guests, far more than have been announced. There’s no telling who you might see wandering around downtown.
Two films not mentioned above are Embrace of the Serpent and Too Late, which are specifically endorsed by Chris Dortch as “don’t miss” events (Too Late is an Robert Altman-eqsue detective film shot on 35mm in five continuous takes). Not to mention Camino, a film presented by legendary stuntwoman Zoe Bell, and Jaco, a film produced and presented by famed Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo.
There is genuinely something for everyone to be found at this year’s CFF. Tickets and badges are still available, but selling quickly. Now is the time. If you haven’t been to the festival before, it’s a good time to start. Those that have been, I have no doubt you’ll go again. It’s time to support local film.