Last week, the Nashville Film Festival took over Music City, bringing with it a countless number of well-written, inspiring films that showcase the incredible talent of films artists both local and around the world. We ventured down to Regal Green Hills to catch a handful of these amazing works.
It’s not everyday that one comes across a film that leaves a powerful impact on them. But that is precisely what “Josephine,” the fictional Civil War story of a woman determined to find her soldier husband, has managed to accomplish. One of the most popular films of the week at the Nashville Film Festival, the theatre was unsurprisingly packed with enthusiastic filmgoers excited to see the masterpiece.
Directed by Rory Feek, the film takes us to an 1864 South engulfed in the Civil War where a brave woman named Josephine Robinson boldly enlists in the Confederate Army to find her husband, who she has not heard from in a year. Alice Coulthard plays an incredible Josephine, actively pulling the viewer into the intense experience of not only changing your identity, but also having head on one our nation’s greatest battles – all in the name of love. Viewers are captivated by the story that introduces us to the band of brothers Josephine is fighting alongside – a sweet and naïve young Whit, the always amusing Jubal, a mean and aggressive Sturgill (who has a secret of his own), and Tally, a soldier who has seen many a day in battle that Josephine forms a friendship with and is also longing for his own beloved Sarah, the love of his life. With personalities ranging from pure innocence to dark-spirited, together they grow as a team, all working toward the same goal of defeating the enemy and making it out alive.
Known more for his talent in country music, Rory Feek has blown Music City away with this project, showing off another side of his creative mind. He clearly demonstrates with “Josephine” that he has a remarkable ability to tell a story whether through the spoken or musical word. His filmmaking talent is so exquisite that “Josephine” was awarded one of the festival’s top honors, the Tennessee First Grand Jury Prize.
And the end of the film will just about tear your heart out, as you watch these courageous men on both sides of the battle field fight a grisly battle. Yet in the middle of it, Josephine spots her long lost husband and when he turns to the camera and you see his bright blue eyes Josephine had previously stated are the “kind you can lose yourself in,” the viewer find themselves in exactly that position. An ending that is both hopeful and heartbreaking, “Josephine” is the kind of story that captures the heart, mind and even the soul of those who watch it, with its captivating plotline and moving characters. It is believed that an estimated 1,000 women fought during the Civil War as men, a little known fact that Feek not only runs, but soars with, bringing us along for a captivating, emotional, moving and powerful journey.
“Mom Jovi,” a documentary film directed by Rachel Lambert and filmed in Hendersonville, Tenn., captures the bond between women who start out as strangers who happen to share a love of Bon Jovi.
Executive producer Denis Deck, whose mother Renee is involved in a Facebook fan page for Bon Jovi fans, saw an opportunity to document what happened when her mother invited members of her Facebook page to her home in Hendersonville. These ladies had met online, with the usual trepidation of meeting people in such a fashion, all simply because they all were, dare we say, a tad fanatical about Bon Jovi through the years. The film begins with footage of the women video chatting with each other, telling the story of how they first met the other women and how they had first begun their adoration of Bon Jovi. It is at first amusing to see their first-hand accounts of concerts as teenagers, contrasted directly with their “mom” like status today. However, the film quickly captures the endearing moments of what becomes a tale of universal friendship and commitment.
These women, who are already close via video chatting and daily – if not hourly – posts on their communal Facebook page – become even closer as they prepare for a week-long visit in person to Linda’s home in Hendersonville. Painting walls, cleaning out junk rooms, stocking up on groceries via proud couponing – all of these “to do list” items are at first bemusing, yet they grow to show the excitement and bond between these women, many of whom are traveling thousands of miles and days to arrive. From as far away as Australia and Italy or as close as one state away, these friends meet each other in person for the first time, and we are allowed to see it first-hand.
We see their real lives, and we see the enjoyment this group of friends brings to each member in turn. From challenges raising families, to distances between relatives and the pain of divorce and health problems, we see the hurdles life has brought each woman – all of which ring true and are common ones to all of us. We are quickly bonded to each woman, and you’re left with the feeling that they could easily be your own friends. Could easily be yourself! The film follows these women as they karaoke on Broadway in Nashville, as they laugh over Mexican food, as they work to complete a craft project ironing album cover images onto pillowcases.
It successfully portrays these ladies’ friendships as the incongruous product of the Internet Age, yet it does so in a fashion that supersedes both their common interest in Bon Jovi and their demographic description as women bordering on middle age whose roles in life as mothers, as wives, as colleagues are changing. They become much more than bemusing, adoring fans of an iconic rock group first popular in their teens and early years. The film becomes much more than that. It shows the bond between friends, the ability to care for one another despite oceans between them and the pain of separation. The human condition, portrayed through the unusual lens of rock star adoration, is on fine display in “Mom Jovi.”
American Epic Sessions
It’s no secret that music is an awe-inspiring element in the world. Uniting people far and wide, we’ve all been impacted by the power of music. The Nashville Film Festival united the art forms of music and film with the presentation of the incredible “American Epic Sessions,” directed by Bernard MacMahon.
The three part series explores the recording process of early American music, with some of today’s top artists recording music just as the heroes who came before them did. From the sound to the vintage recording studio, the film catapults viewers back in time to the 1920s where music was recorded on an intricate machine that runs on a pulley system, accompanied by the original microphones, amplifiers and more from the time period. The amount of time one is able to record is determined by the length of a rope attached to the machine and how long it takes the weight to hit the floor, forcing the artists to perfect their craft in three minutes time.
The range of musicians that appear in the film is an impressive one, as the creators could not have gathered a more diverse cast that includes every artist ranging from Alabama Shakes, Elton John and Ana Gabriel to The Hawaiians, Los Labos and countless more – all harboring the desire to pay respects to the legendary artists that inspired them and recorded on this very same device.
Rapper Nas, accompanied on guitar by Jack White, who also doubled as one of the film’s producers, performed a number by the Memphis Jug Band, creating an authentic sound mirroring that of the 1920s band. A standout performance came from Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, with Martin demonstrating his impressive picking skills on the banjo. East Tennessee’s Ashley Monroe performed a stripped down version of her 2013 hit “Like a Rose.” Beck really wowed the audience with an incredible performance of “Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods,” accompanied by a gospel chorus in the background, making the experience that much more enthralling. His set in particular demonstrated the intricacy involved in recording on such a machine, as Beck and his fellow singers had to go through 13 takes to adjust their vocal sound to the right level before they could actually begin recording.
For country music fans, the film came to a fitting and respectful close with a performance by Willie Nelson and the late Merle Haggard singing “The Only Man Wilder Than Me” and “Old Fashioned Love,” bringing home the fact that artists young and old can all connect with history and bring the past to life in a universal way.
At the beginning of the film, White referred to the recording studio as a “church,” adding that coming into a studio well-prepared is like “putting on your best clothes” for mass – and these artists clearly put on their finest attire. You would think that modern day artists recording on a sound machine so foreign to the digital technology they use today would make the experience a questionable one. But each of these musicians really stepped up to the plate to deliver impeccable performances. It was incredible to see such a vast array of musical talent fully immerse themselves in the experience and create an incredible sound.
“American Epic” is the type of film any music lover will be fascinated with, as it sheds a light on the birth of American recording music and the machine that helped pave the way for some of the most captivating music created in history.
One of the many positive aspects of attending an independent film festival is that it introduces you to a variety of cinema that you may not have the opportunity to see otherwise.
I stepped out of my film-viewing comfort zone and ventured to the foreign film “Tamago,” a Japanese picture directed by Koji Hirano. In a story of love and loss, a young girl named Sora living on the beautiful Honshu island where she leads a simple life between school and her father’s restaurant. What’s particularly interesting about the film is Hirano’s use of sound to create environment, like enrapturing the theatre with the sound of droplets and beeps as Sora is standing in the midst of a bustling, crowded Tokyo, as the camera spins out, making the viewer feel as if they’re lost in the overwhelming crowd with the character.
We learn that her mother has abandoned the two of them to live in Europe to fulfill her dream, something that Sora and her father try to grapple with. As Sora and her aunt sit along the beach talking about why her mother had to leave, the director once again incorporates intricate shots of the surroundings to make the scene more dynamic. It is this conversation that inspires our lead character to follow suit and relocate to Tokyo to move on to bigger and better things and experience all life has to offer.
As someone who does not take in many independent films, it was interesting to experience one made in a different country on the other side of the world, but the story is one that carries a message that translates across foreign borders.
Honky Tonk Heaven: Legend of The Broken Spoke
Just like Nashville, Austin, Texas is known for its honky-tonks and has clubs that people travel from all over the world to experience. There is now a documentary about one of these clubs – the Broken Spoke. “Honky Tonk Heaven” speaks of how legends such as Roy Acuff, Bob Wills, George Jones, George Strait, Willie Nelson and even Ernest Tubb performed on their stage. The film is both informative and entertaining, where you can learn about a piece of honky-tonk heaven that is fighting to stay in existence from all the land developers anxious to develop the fertile ground with high rise condos and office buildings. The Broken Spoke sits right between two newly-built condominium complexes and looks like a block of the strip is set back in time.
The movie reminds us of preserving our past while moving forward in the future with progress. It’s a thought about where we come from and not destroying the very thing that built our communities. The Broken Spoke and other honky-tonks across Texas built the image and the way the world looks at who they are, helping preserve the life of the cowboy. Fifty years ago, James M. White and his wife Annetta started the Broken Spoke and have spent a lifetime of living the Texas honky-tonk tradition. If you are ever in Austin, you should definitely stop by and see them. “Honky Tonk Heaven” is a great film, and I really enjoyed it. I definitely would recommend seeing it if you get the chance. The Nashville Film Festival shines a light on the roots of Austin, Texas through the Broken Spoke, with a great film called “Honky Tonk Heaven.”