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The Nashville Film Festival 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee has come to an end and it continued its unprecedented growth breaking attendance records and selling out screening after screening this year. The festival features a wide variety of films from horror to documentary to art house drama. Since the fest is based in the heart of “Music City” a focus on music based stories both in narrative film and documentary is a no-brainer. With all of the growth the festival is going through right along with the city in general the Nashville Film festival continues to remember, and focus on, local filmmakers with a bevy of locally produced short films and features.

The music based films American Epic and Sing Street were true high points of the festival. American Epic is a documentary series and film produced for the BBC that recounts the earliest recording devices and the variety of regional music that was recorded with those devices. This massive story will be making a domestic wide premiere on PBS. Sing Street is a romantic comedy focused on a young irish boy in the mid 80’s who sets builds a band simply to try and woo a mysterious girl. The movie is formulaic but it reads true in its formula and the music is a nostalgia bomb for those that grew up in the 80’s. We’ll have an in depth review of this film soon. The film will see a wider release by the Weinstein Company soon. The amazing soundtrack is already on Spotify.

The Nashville Film Festival also features a series of feature films and shorts in a “Graveyard Shift”. These films are edgier in execution and subject, usually horror and often experimental, not always for the faint of heart. Happily this year these films received more attention than in previous years. Typically these films are screened at the end of the night on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the fest. These late hour screenings can be challenging for folks that work early the following days. This year all of the Graveyard Shift films were screened a second time back to back starting early on Friday. I was able to see Inside Scarlet and follow up with the cast and crew at the closing night party after the screening.

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The fest ended on Friday April 22nd, but there were more screenings on Saturday. The Saturday after the fest is reserved for additional screenings of the most popular and award winning films of the fest. It was impossible to get into the screening of Sing street on premiere night but I was able to see the film Saturday even though it did sell out that night too. You can easily set yourself up for an emotional roller coaster ride at the fest, which is exactly what I did the Saturday after the fests end. I started the day with Mom Jovi, a mostly funny and sometimes poignant documentary about a group of mom’s that love Bon Jovi, which I followed with Chicken People, a doc along the same emotional lines as Mom Jovi. The next film I watched was a gut punch call To the Moon and Back. This film follows the plight of families seeking to adopt disabled children from Russia. After a day filled with humor and light character study this film was a heavy blow of dramatic material. I ended my night with the pallet cleanse of Sing Street.

The mark of a great festival is in the variety of programming it offers. There should be some crowd pleasers such as Sing Street but there has to be those challenging and often divisive films such as High Rise and To the Moon and Back. Cinephiles want to have fun as much as your typical summer movie fan but we also crave knowledge, new experience, and challenges and happily I can report that this year the Nashville Film Festival provided all of the above. Festival director Brian Owens told me as the last screening of 2016 had just wrapped that this year’s lineup of films was his absolute favorite of any lineup since he became director of the festival. He also expressed concern at the prospect of topping this line-up for next year. That concern bodes well for NFF. A festival that seeks growth needs a director that’s always hungry to do better than ever, to bring more unique films and experiences to the festival year after year and this seems to be Brian’s mission.

Look for several film reviews and other features from this year’s Nashville Film Festival coming later this week.

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