Ted Crockett is gearing up to make this year’s Nashville Film Festival better than it’s ever been. With his experience in film festival management, acknowledgment from local foundations for his work and his ability to lead the 25 other staff members and 500+ volunteers, he is up for the task as executive director, now in his fifth year in the role. With this team of folks as the driving force, the Nashville Film Festival of today bears little resemblance to the festival’s original version that debuted back in 1969, when it was referred to as the Sinking Creek Film Festival. When comparing the two, it’s not difficult to find the differences.
In the years since its inception, the festival has held three different names, been hosted at four different theaters, introduced the opportunity to qualify for an Academy Award and seen growth of attendees, film categories, awards, events and overall participation. One thread of consistency throughout the nearly 50 years it has been on Nashville’s social calendar is the festival’s inclusive spirit and welcoming nature. Music City, with its penchant for preserving community, is the perfect place to house an event of this caliber. Former executive director and artistic director Michael Catalano always told the staff and volunteers, “Treat everyone who walks in the door as if they are Spielberg,” he says. It is that sort of approach that makes the Nashville Film Festival widely successful, year after year.
The impressive quality of films shown and the cinematic knowledge and passion of event-goers creates a feeling that a bit of Tribeca or Sundance has been transplanted in Music City. But it doesn’t take long until we are reminded of how authentically Nashville the festival is. By holding on tight enough to the past, while allowing space to reach for the future, the festival is steeped in history of great film and offers promise and opportunity for budding talent.
Known as one of the oldest and largest festivals in the country, it was founded by Mary Jane Coleman — a pioneer in the world of independent film — with the primary focus of education and giving young talent a platform to showcase their work. Her legacy continues today as the festival’s screenings, competitions, forums, workshops and events foster a community in which cinephiles can connect. Even with all the changes the event has seen over the years, the mission remains the same: bring the world to Nashville to celebrate innovation, music and the many voices of the human spirit through media and the art of film. With this mission and accolades (including being voted one of “25 film festivals worth the entry fee” by MovieMaker magazine and highlighted as “One of the Best Film Festival Prizes” by Film Festival Today and named by Brooks Institute as one of the top five film festivals in the United States), the festival has not only survived but is thriving.
As a promotion of collaboration between different sectors within the arts, the Nashville Film Festival attracts film lovers, artists, stars and everyone in between. When Catalano joined the Nashville Film Festival team in 1997, he was instrumental in growing the festival and expanding the category offerings beyond animated, experimental and short. Today Nashville residents and visitors are invited to catch a glimpse of works in a range of categories, including feature films, Spectrum, Spectrum China, Tennessee First, narrative, documentary, short films, music films and so much more. And with Ted Crockett as executive director and Brian Owens as artistic director, the festival continues to grow and attract ever-larger audiences to its numerous film showings, panels, workshops and parties.
One place this growth can especially be seen is in the Music Placement Program that is being announced this year. “Where we have always hosted music components within the festival, we will now officially work to find music placements in film/TV/video games through our festival,” shares Mackenzie Robert, the festival’s communications manager. The Music Placement Program is only one resource to foster conversation within the arts. “Whether it be forming lines of communication between other countries (currently with China and Cuba), or focusing in our own backyard, we are very involved with promoting positive discussion to break through barriers, through the arts,” Mackenzie explains of the festival’s engagement in community outreach programs.
It’s at the Nashville Film Festival, among a new generation of burgeoning artists and a plethora of accomplished ones, that you’ll find a cinematic community in which creatives can emerge. Each participant is thrilled at the opportunity to share their craft and frolic with like-minded filmmakers and film lovers. This year’s festival, which spans 10 days, kicks off on April 14 with an opening night party. Throughout the run, be sure to catch noteworthy films debuting at the festival, which include (according to our friends at the festival), Love & Friendship, Weiner, Sing Street, Morris from America and a special three-night screening of American Epic: The Series. This lineup features performances from Natalie Portman, Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jesse Eisenberg and Craig Robinson, among others. Another noteworthy film, Josephine, is Rory Feek’s directorial debut. A short film to watch out for at the festival, Livin’ Reel, details the Nashville Film Festival’s journey this past year and their meeting with a group of transgender teens at the Oasis Center in Nashville, with whom they wrote a song to narrate and empower their journey.
The schedule is packed with film screenings carefully selected from 6,500 submissions (which almost doubles last year’s numbers), the Nashville Writers Conference event (a three-day conference for screenwriters that draws upon those with years of experience — agents, producers and writers — to give guidance for the writing and production of films), the Spirits of the Nation fundraising dinner and live auction and plenty of parties. The Nashville Writers Conference and the film screenings are held at Regal Cinema Green Hills. After outgrowing its original east Tennessee venue, Vanderbilt’s Sarratt Center and the Belcourt, the festival made its way to the Regal under Catalano’s leadership. The location enhances the sense of community and creates a habitat ripe with Southern hospitality. “Our growth and our Southern hospitality set us apart in strides from other festivals. Although we received as many entries as Tribeca this year, our welcoming and inclusive spirit will always remain,” Mackenzie says.
“2016 will be the year we look back on,” Ted affirms. “This is the first year out of 47 festivals where we have film buyers flying to Nashville to make deals. The more deals we make, the more entries we will have, and the better programming our festival will have.”
The Nashville Film Festival takes place April 14-23, 2016 at the Regal Green Hills Cinema, located at 3815 Green Hills Village Drive, Nashville, TN 37215. The box office opens for ticket purchasing on April 4 for members and April 6 for non-members. For more information including screening and event schedules, ticket purchases and more, visit NashvilleFilmFestival.org. And if you need ideas for where to grab a quick bite to eat in between screenings, download the SB app! It’s the best of everything local right on your iPhone!