The Chattanooga Film Festival roars back for a stellar second year
The second year of the Chattanooga Film Festival is upon us and promises to shatter last year’s experiences with new films and more guests than was thought possible. Last year was exceptional for a first-time festival—there were some truly great films and panels with experiences not see anywhere in the Scenic City before.
This year, the staff has redoubled their efforts and tripled their outcomes in terms of quality film and high-profile guests rarely seen in this part of the country. Even with its small staff of around 10 volunteers, the Chattanooga Film Festival is set to be the best cultural experience of the year. In order to get the most out of the festival, a badge is required, but even without one, film fans can enjoy a variety of films for not much money.
Below is my own personal trek through the wilds of the CFF…take my suggestions or simply make your own plan. There’s no wrong way to do it.
Fresh off the heels of the Lookout Wild Film Festival, “Sunshine Superman” explores the outdoors through eyes of some of the craziest people on the planet. The documentary is described as heart-racing. It focuses on Carl Boensh, the father of BASE jumping. For those unfamiliar, BASE jumping is the sport of climbing very high things and then jumping off them. These exploits are shown in stunning detail with both archive footage by Boensh himself and state-of-the-art aerial photography. “Sunshine Superman” is a thrilling way to start off a weekend of great film.
“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”
Switching gears completely, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is the first absolutely-can’t-miss event of the festival. An Iranian vampire western, the film is a testament to what a major film festival can bring to a city. Nowhere else in the Southeast can anyone experience a film like this one—not only is it a fascinating mash-up of horror and spaghetti western, but it is told entirely in Farsi. The last Iranian film to reach Chattanooga was “A Separation” and that film didn’t have any vampires at all. As Elijah Wood is presenting the film, you can expect tickets to be gone quickly. Make sure you have yours.
Opening Night After Party/ “Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead”/ “Interior”
(11:45 p.m. – 1 a.m.)
If you haven’t had enough genre after “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” stick around and watch the Mad Max-style zombie film “Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead.” Or, visit the inside of a haunted house with “Interior.” Both films are there to satiate your lust for blood and/or fear. However, if you’ve had enough film for an evening, head over to the Opening Night After Party and discuss everything you just saw with your new film festival friends.
“Do I Sound Gay?”
In this documentary featuring interviews with Tim Gunn, David Sedaris, Dan Savage, and George Takei, the stereotypical “gay voice” is discussed at length. Is it as prevalent as it is depicted in the media? What is its origin? Why do some men have it and others don’t? Is it really a sign of sexual preference? The film is an honest discussion of an issue that most haven’t considered before. The best documentaries are the ones that explore unimagined realms of thought. “Do I Sound Gay?” occupies this space.
“Blues Accordin' to Lightnin’ Hopkins”
This short documentary might not be the first choice for many festival goers, given that it’s sandwiched between an encore showing of “Sunshine Superman” and “Kumiko: Treasure Hunter,” but for any blues fan it is essential viewing. There is no doubt that Lightnin’ Hopkins is a true legend, if slightly lesser known than B.B. King or Buddy Guy. The film is a picture of Hopkins’ evolution from acoustic to electric. This is one particular gem that might easily be overlooked and should be given more attention.
“From Dusk Til’ Drawn”
The first shorts block of the festival, “From Dusk Til’ Drawn” features 12 short films that are sure to fascinate and entertain. There doesn’t appear to be one theme to bind these films together; each exists on its own, an expression of the artist’s worldview. Short films are an overlooked art form, one that takes more skill than you might imagine. Make sure you see at least one shorts block during the festival.
“Lambert and Stamp”
This film tells the story of a force behind a force. Chris Lambert and Kit Stamp set out to become filmmakers in a nontraditional way. Their interest in the youth culture of the 1960s led them to search for an upcoming band, manage them, and follow them to success. During this process, they would make a movie. They did not anticipate, however, that the band they would choose would become The Who.
Joe Bob Briggs – The South in Film
This is the second can’t-miss event of the film festival. Joe Bob Briggs is a film historian for festival-goers with short attention spans. He is certainly not dry or stodgy—if anything, Joe Bob Briggs tells stories like no one else. He holds an audience’s attention with unbelievable details and solid facts. You will learn something if you attend his lecture…although, what you learn you might wish you hadn’t.
“Slow West” appears to be a simple, straightforward western. It features Michael Fassbender as a mysterious traveler who accompanies a young man in pursuit of his love across the American frontier. Like many westerns, however, I’m sure appearances can be deceiving.
“The Tribe” is one of the highlights of the festival. This is a thriller told entirely in sign language that is at once fascinating and accessible. At no point is the audience confused about the story or the action. It’s a film that shows what just film can do as a visual storytelling medium and is an experience like none other at the festival.
“What We Do in the Shadows”
This film is my third “can’t-miss” event for the festival and festival attendees are lucky in that there are two screenings. The first happens on Friday during the Joe Bob Briggs lecture, but festival staff wisely knew that this would be a popular film. Created by Jermaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords” fame, “What We Do in the Shadows” is what would happen in if a vampire coven were chosen to live in “The Real World” house. How can you not want to see that?
This film is not meant to be a horror movie or thriller. However, when you try to film a movie using over 100 lions and tigers, the results are nothing but terrifying. The audience will be on the edge of their seats watching and wondering just why and how this film was made. The fact that no one was killed was a miracle. If you’ve ever wanted to watch a young Melanie Griffith nearly get eaten by a lion in the name of conservation, this is the film for you.
“The Keeping Room”
“The Keeping Room” is yet another western in the festival, one that is told from a decidedly female perspective. The film is set during the American Civil War. Three women are forced to defend their home from Union soldiers. Think of it as the tensest scene from “Gone With the Wild” stretched into an hour and half.
Winner of the “Un Certain Regard” Prize at the 2014 Cannes Festival, “White God” is a film that explores ideas of animal rights as well as presenting the political and cultural tensions facing contemporary Europe as the subtext. The film is a special opportunity to see a film not available to most of the country—an impressive accomplishment for the CFF.
“Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter”
“Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” is a dark comedy about a woman from Tokyo looking for a suitcase full of money buried in the frozen wilderness of North Dakota because she mistakes an popular film on an old VHS cassette for a documentary. There are several comedy films at the festival this year, but this film is unique in its presentation of misguided hope and very real danger.
There are, of course, many more films that deserve their own mention. Films like “Amira and Sam,” “It Follows,” “I Am Thor,” and “Redeemer” are films that I desperately want to see but scheduling is always the enemy when it comes to a film festival.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to tailor your own CFF experience. Attend a workshop or two. “Cheap Thrills” star Pat Healy is offering a great acting workshop on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Or, if you’re looking for entertainment outside of just a film, check out “CFF Stands Up” featuring Comedy Central’s Kyle Kinane just a few hours later at 7:15 p.m. The CFF features something for everyone—just don’t let it pass you by without seeing something.
It’ll be another year before you get this chance again. Support local film.