Indies and documentaries populate lineup

Both forward-thinking and backward-glancing, this year’s Nashville Film Festival opens with romantic comedy “(500) Days of Summer” and closes with an “Easy Rider” revival.

In between, there’s a slate of 256 films from 45 nations and territories, with lots of music — both onscreen and off — and live appearances from William Shatner, Hal Holbrook, Gale Anne Hurd and more.

The economy may be challenging, but don’t look for tears in the beer of Brian Owens, the new artistic director of the country music capital’s 40-year-old Tennessee fest. This year’s edition includes 75 business partnerships, and Nashville newcomer Owens — founder and former head of the Indianapolis Intl. Film Festival — reports a low attrition rate for past partners. Instrument maker Gibson, for example, returns after a year off. And the Documentary Channel steps up its commitment. The Screen Actors Guild is back as well.

“Those who did have to take a step down said that when times turn around, they’ll be back,” adds exec director Sallie Mayne, who put extra focus on in-kind donations this year, looking for ways to save money without actually transferring cash. “In a bad economy, what’s empty? Hotel rooms,” she says. “And what do we need? Hotel rooms.” Thus a win-win for the fest and Hampton Inn and Suites.

A big — and unexpected — plus this year was a $25,000 grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, earmarked for outreach programs — something the fest excels in. “It’s something we’ve always done, and now we have financial support to make them stronger,” Mayne says. With the added funds, she’s reached out to organizations such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to spread the word about Latin America cinema, and is excited about free-ticket programs through local high schools and community colleges. NFF is one of only two fests to land the grant.

“When you have something coming in that wasn’t projected,” Owens says, “it makes it easier to take a hit here and there.”

A new program for the fest this year pushes to pad the house for underperforming films. “We want full houses,” Mayne says, “so we’re going to keep watching the next day’s ticket sales, identify films that are having trouble selling, and release a portion of those seats free to the community through website”

She admits, though, that it might take awhile to educate the marketplace about the program.

As in past years, fest organizers anticipate little sleep once the films start rolling.

“A filmmaker coming to Nashville is sure to have a good time,” Owens says. “As long as they’re awake, there’s something to do.”

There are, of course, a lot of movies to see, but also lots of public events and unofficial after-parties. The VIP tent is set up next to the theater, and that’s open to filmmakers and passholders throughout.

Some VIPs, though, choose to stay in the background.

“Last year,” Mayne recalls, “Nicole Kidman was here. She didn’t want the lights on her. She just wanted to see a film. I have a very good security team that nobody even knows is there.”

When: Today thru April 23

Where: Nashville


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