Nashville is rapidly becoming a hub for talent in the Southeast, and the Nashville Film Festival is showcasing the wealth of talent curated from the area, as well as filmmakers from across the globe, at the 2017 edition.

Founded in 1969, Nashville is the oldest running film festival in the American South, and one of the oldest in the United States. Executive director Ted Crockett points out that this year marks the most entries received in the festival’s history: 8,000 submissions, ranging from films to screenplays to original music, coming in from roughly 155 countries. Over the past five years, he says, submissions have increased 400%. Nashville is also becoming a more prominent premiere location, with 18 feature films making their world or North American premiere at the festival.

In addition to recognition from the show “Nashville,” Crockett traces the festival’s popularity to one word: deals. “Here at the Nashville Film Festival, if we’re not making deals for creatives then we’re wasting our time,” Crockett says. “We need to help the people who are creating screenplays and creating films and creating original music.”

This year’s festival boasts a variety of new features, including a virtual reality competition that launched last June. There are five VR pieces in the festival, with four 360° films and one “truly interactive” project titled “Asteroids.” One of the theaters will be completely blocked off the entire last day of the festival for viewers to partake in virtual reality.

The festival also sets up shop at a new location at the Regal Hollywood Cinema in the 100 Oaks area, moving from its original Green Hills spot. Crockett says the move brings more space to the festival in a more attention-grabbing venue, and offers 10 theaters as opposed to the normal six, allowing more room for conferences and workshops.

Artistic director Brian Owens believes that the 2017 Nashville lineup parallels the strong set of films the fest featured in 2016.

“I think this year, [audiences are] going to expect to see an amazing variety of voices,” he says. “That’s really one of the things that when it all came together and I looked at it, there’s just this really cool collection from wild experimental stuff to really sort of mainstream comedy, to some hardcore action.”

The LGBT community will be front and center this year, with multiple films centering around voices from the gay community. Owens singles out “Quest,” which he calls a “really moving” film about an African-American family in Philadelphia whose 14-year-old daughter comes out; a Portuguese film titled “The Ornithologist”; and “A Closer Walk With Thee,” an entry in the fest’s Graveyard Shift horror section, as three strong LGBT features.

“The quality and the quantity of the LGBT content this year I think is the best it’s been,” Owens says. “The voices are coming from so many different places.”

This kind of diversity of style and subject matter is a dominant theme in the 2017 festival, with Cate Blanchett starring in Julian Rosefeldt’s experimental film “Manifesto,” the Sundance premiere that has the actress portraying 13 different characters, from a homeless man to a teacher. Several other films focus on the bitter presidential election, the water crisis and a number of other hot-button issues.

“There’s a lot of light material at this year’s festival, but you’re starting to see some of the darker material resurge, but I think it’s just the nature of the artist to respond to the times,” says Owens.

He also describes the content from filmmakers as finding new ways to tell similar stories and bringing unlikely topics together. “It’s kind of showing that things that used to be separate from one another now are sort of merging together, so that you have this really wide variety of content, even within the various sections of the program,” he says. “The LGBT stories are coming from places where they didn’t normally use to come from.”

Other additions include the animated feature competition, an original song competition and an expansion of the experimental cinema category. The Spectrum program is another new element, highlighting LGBT content that is “artistic and challenging,” while dealing with people’s everyday lives.

As the festival features continue to grow, so does its attendance level. Crockett reports that attendance was hovering at fewer than 10,000 in 2004, while 2016 drew more than 50,000 visitors.

“I want the festival to become one of the biggest film festivals in the world and we’re already getting there,” Crockett says of his goals.

He says he aspires to reach the national prominence of South by Southwest and the Tribeca Film Festival. “I want them to talk about Nashville the same way.”

Owens adds that he hopes to expand the production support the festival provides to filmmakers in the form of grants, finishing funds and offering more workshops where national talent coach regional filmmakers.

“There’s a lot of new directions that we’re taking that I think are going to keep moving us sort of up the ladder a little bit year by year,” he says.