Elijah Wood’s visit is just one of many cool things about this year’s CFF
By the time this goes to print, I have no doubt that Chattanooga will be tittering with the Chattanooga Film Festival’s most recent announcement. Elijah Wood will be presenting the film “A Girl Walks Home at Night,” an Iranian vampire film produced by his company. Make no mistake: This is huge news for a festival only in its second year.
Many will claim that the presence of such a high-profile guest legitimizes the festival in the eyes of festival aficionados around the country. In a way, I suppose it does. While last year’s festival was not a half effort by any stretch of the imagination, this year’s lineup far exceeds expectations. Drawing talent like Wood is a testament to the job done by the leaders of the Chattanooga Film Festival and film club Mise En Scenesters.
However, Wood might not have been interested in attending if MES hadn’t hosted screenings of both “Grand Piano” and “Maniac.” These smaller genre films were shown here because Chattanooga film fans love seeing them—that they starred Elijah Wood is incidental to the love of independent story telling. The love of film existed in Chattanooga first; it just took some motivated individuals to give the city an opportunity to see them.
The most recent announcement by the CFF is full of excitement for film lovers. The 13 additional films that will be screened continue to prove just how well rounded the festival is. Festival director Chris Dortch isn’t interested in bringing exclusives and premieres to the city just to have them. The Chattanooga Film Festival selection committee is more interested in showing films that have appeal to a wide variety of audiences.
Take, for instance, the film “Roar.” The 1981 movie stars director Noel Marshall and his wife Tippi Hedren, and documents the lives of a family living alongside hundreds of wild animals (most of which are big cats) on a nature preserve. The purpose of the film was to raise awareness on the treatment of animals in captivity, as well as the overhunting of lions and tigers.
The film itself is crazy, especially considering that their daughter, Melanie Griffith, is part of the cast and she’s spending an alarming amount of time with dangerous predators and is in fact mauled by one in the final cut. However, the story behind the film is even more insane. It turns out that apex predators are very territorial and everyone that worked on the film was in danger nearly all the time. There were around 70 violent attacks by the animals, including at least one scalping. “Roar” isn’t a new film, but it’s a fascinating one nonetheless. It is a rare and special gem, one that the CFF is lucky to be presenting.
Among the new films being screened is “Do I Sound Gay?” This documentary discusses the use of the specific “gay” accent by some gay men (but not others), why this occurs and what the effects of it are. It’s a subject that would never be touched anywhere else in Chattanooga, where conservatives recently attempted to recall a city council member because of his sexual orientation.
These experiences need to be offered in Chattanooga if only to challenge the status quo and give a voice to a viewpoint that is all too frequently silenced. Art needs to present challenging ideas and the CFF is leading the way. These are just two of the films recently announced; each one warrants its own discussion.
It’s important to note that the Chattanooga Film Festival is an entirely volunteer effort. The Nashville Film Festival has a budget of around $650,000 and nearly a third of that is dedicated to payroll. No one organizing the CFF is getting paid. Leaders like Chris Dortch and Bryan Center are doing this because they love cinema and they want to invest in Chattanooga’s cultural welfare. Chattanooga has more to offer than high-speed internet and tech startups.
There is more here than fancy rhinos and lamp posts. The city should be a bastion for a strong arts culture and too often we lose our artists to other cities simply because their talents are not valued and work is scarce without a specific set of qualifications. Filmmakers, writers, musicians, visual artists, and others who want to express themselves through an artistic medium can’t do so here without another means of support.
Of course, this isn’t new. Artists have always been marginalized—“the starving artist” is a cliché for a reason. That doesn’t mean that we can’t do more to support the arts. Instead of dropping angel investment money on ideas that have little practical value, why not use it to support a program that has already proven itself?
Maybe after this year, those with the means to make a difference will see why they should.