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Nashville Film Festival Puts Music City on the Big Screen

Vernell Hackett

While the Nashville Film Festival (NaFF), now in its 42rd year, offers films of all kinds, fans of films about music had several to choose from at this year’s event, held from April 14-20 in Music City. From journeying along on ‘The Last Ride’ with Hank Williams, to a personal visit with Levon Helm in ‘Ain’t in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm,’ or exploring Chely Wright‘s coming-out process through the documentary ‘Wish Me Away,’ the films selected for this year’s festival covered a lot of musical — and personal — ground.

Also screened were ‘Broke,’ an overview from the perspective of artists and executives who are constantly seeking new ways to deal with the challenges in the music industry today and ‘It’s About You,’ a film about John Mellencamp, shot during a month-and-a-half tour with Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan in 2009.
Chely’s film, the documentary of the singer’s coming out last year, tied with ‘Most Valuable Players’ for the Documentary Channel Audience Aawrd for best documentary. Chely, known for hits ‘Single White Female’ and ‘Bumper of my SUV,’ and her fiancée, Lauren Blitzer, were in attendance at the screening, as were filmmakers Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf. Producer Tony Brown, artist Rodney Crowell, members of the group SHeDAISY and singer/songwriter Carolyn Dawn Johnson were also in the audience for the screening, as were music historian Don Cusic, radio personality Blair Garner, and Chely’s manager Russell Carter and best friend Chuck Walter.

“I will tell you that it’s been a long journey,” Chely told The Boot. “Making a film was like making a record times ten!”

Vernell Hackett

Though deeply personal, Chely sees the film as a story to which everyone can relate. “It’s the story of an everyday person who is standing up for who they are,” she says. After meeting the film’s producers, who had previously made a film she admired, she grew to trust them and says when they started talking about the project, it seemed like the right thing to do. “I’m proud of the way they told the story.”

Levon’s documentary, which received the Gibson Impact of Music Award, followed him from his home near Woodstock, N.Y. to hospital rooms and traveling down the highway. Honorable mention went to ‘Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone,’ and the Special Jury Prize for Most Original Vision went to the documentary ‘Broke.’

Kris Kristofferson‘s movie ‘Bloodworth‘ was the opening night film, and he and many other celebrities walked the red carpet on Thursday (April 14) for a special screening. Kris portrays a country singer who, after 40 years, decides to return home to East Tennessee. His family, especially one son, is not overly happy about that decision, and his other two sons are involved in their own personal tragedies. His grandson, however, embraces the return and in doing so learns how to break the boundaries of his dysfunctional family. Actor Reece Thompson, who also attended the screening, portrays the young man. Other stars in the film include Val Kilmer, W. Earl Brown (who also wrote the screenplay), Dwight Yoakam and Hilary Duff.

Prior to the screening, Emmylou Harris presented Kris with the Career Achievement Award from the Nashville Film Festival. “It is great to see Kris here in Nashville and I am honored to present him with this award,” Emmy told the Boot just prior to the ceremony. “I think he didn’t know about the award though,” she added with a laugh, which Kris confirmed later. “I thought I was just coming here to be at the screening,” he told The Boot. “I had no idea about this award. It’s an honor, of course, and I am pleased to be recognized by the film festival.”

In an interview the day after the festival, Kris said that ‘Bloodworth’ was the best film he had ever done, taking into consideration the script, the actors and the storyline. “I felt that way last night after I saw it and I still feel that way this morning,” he said. “Everyone involved with it did an incredible job.”

Duane Allen and Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys walked the red carpet with Kris and admitted they were fans of him as a songwriter and an actor. Additionally, they are very supportive of the arts in Nashville, the film festival being something they enjoy attending. “We’re also here for Earl (Brown) because we’ve known him for a long time and become friends.”

“We love everything about Kris,” Richard said, adding,”If you take his work as a writer, as an actor and as a singer and performer, he is so deserving of this award he is receiving tonight.”

James Otto and Big Kenny also were in attendance at the film. James says he was aware of Kris’ songwriting long before his acting, but added, “Now I’ve seen just about all of his movies. I’m excited to be here tonight, because Earl is also a good friend. I was there when Kris received his Icon award at BMI and now I’m here when he’s receiving this lifetime achievement award. I’m thrilled to be here.”

The opening night of the film festival set the stage for the remaining week, with five of the movies that were shown being sell-outs. ‘Bloodworth’ sold out all of its screenings, and the festival went on to break its all-time ticket and attendance record, selling more than 26,000, a 14.7% increase over last year.

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