documentaries

Two Hits, One Miss at NaFF

Ongoing Nashville Film Festival 2015 Coverage

There are some films that confirm everything you believe. You leave the theater with a self-righteous smirk. “See, I’ve been right along!” And then there are films that confirm your beliefs right up to a point, and then challenge them. You leave the theater with a nagging sense of doubt you’re almost ashamed to confess. Welcome to Leith is one of these films, and it’s showing one last time Saturday at 11:00 a.m.

Directed by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, it follows the drama of Leith, North Dakota, a tiny town of only 24 inhabitants that gained national attention when notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb moved there to create an enclave of neo-nazis like himself. Very few answered his call to Leith, but the National Socialist Movement took up his cause and bought land, along with some notorious racist anti-Semites. Cobb’s mission was clear (he flew 14 flags of Aryan Nations in his front yard), and he quickly became an agitator. It culminated in Cobb and a NSW member patrolling the neighborhood with rifles and engaging in verbal altercations with neighbors, leading to their arrest. 

Here’s the thing: Welcome to Leith makes me fear for humanity in the pit of my stomach; that grave, bottomless fear that applauds my decision never to have children. But there are a few moments in the film that challenge me. What do we do with people like this? Put them in one place far away from everyone else so they can affirm their hatred in the privacy of their own community? As one woman in Cobb’s clan says, “You can’t just kick someone out of town because you don’t like them.” It’s a tough ethical question: At what point do your rights infringe upon my rights, and then whose rights are prioritized? It’s tempting to think of Cobb as an old man out of his mind with hatred who should be put in a corner and ignored, but he contacted noted white supremacists from prison, including ones accused of murder, and he has directly influenced others who have committed hate crimes after speaking with him.

The documentary unfolds the drama from many perspectives. Seeing how the people of Leith responded to Cobb is worthy your time.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/85668727″>Welcome to Leith – Teaser</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/noweather”>NO WEATHER</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Alice Klieg has won the lottery and she’s off her meds in Welcome to Me, a hilarious study of borderline personality disorder that’s also got heart. Alice (Kristen Wiig) proves that with a lot of money, you can do just about anything. Buoyed by Oprah-infused self-help, she manifests (or happens upon) a television network that is about to go under and offers them 15 million bucks to start her own talk show called Welcome to Me. On it, she bakes meatloaf cake, neuters dogs, and enacts childhood traumas, gaining an indie audience that is quite taken with her performance. The network crew thinks otherwise, and their reactions to Alice’s directives are truly funny and sympathetic. Throughout, the laughs are unpredictable and earned, and Wiig’s comedic timing is impossibly good.

Though the premise is delightfully far fetched, Alice’s character is not. Any person who has been close to someone with borderline personality disorder knows how hard it is to draw the line between illness and plain narcissism. Alice is fascinating and quirky, but she’s also relentlessly self-centered. Her unraveling is so heartbreaking because even while we know she’s acting out of illness, we blame her for it. She’s a terrible friend and patient and employee, but she’s also a singular performer, and we root for her on this journey. It’s not easy for an actor to pull this off: Bradley Cooper almost did it for me in Silver Linings Playbook, but Wiig acting in Eliot Laurence’s screenplay brought out all the messy contradictions. Shira Piven directs.

Welcome to Me played in a sold out double screening at NaFF. It opens in select theaters May 1 and expands May 8.

Genre hop to Alleluia, a film by Fabrice du Welz about all the worst sides of love: obsession, jealousy, and murderous rage. Lola Dueñas stars as Gloria, recently divorced a young mother who is a whole lot of crazy. Gloria agrees to a lunch date with Michel (Laurent Lucas) that gets sexy real fast. The very next thing she does is leave him with her child for a couple hours. Immediately after that, she’s loaning him a large sum of money.

When Gloria learns that Michel is a gigolo out for conquest and theft, she pledges her love to him, drops her daughter off at a friend’s house, and they leave town. She claims she’ll help him be the best gigolo he can be. Of course, she loses it pretty fast and proves to Michel that when it comes to manipulative, she has him beat by a long shot. We follow the pair through one botched scenario to the next and watch their romance grow more depraved as the bodies stack up.

I am no prude, but some of the sex scenes had me squirming in my seat. But that’s not why I wouldn’t recommend Alleluia. It is fatiguing; extreme for the sake of extremity. Nothing is learned about these human beings that matters because nothing is really at stake. There is no subtlety in this film, nothing that wounds you. It reminded me a lot of Sightseers, but without the black humor that made those characters real to me; Gloria and Michel are instead caricatures, intent on being as predictable as possible. Props to Lola Dueñas for making the best of a mediocre role. She managed to change her appearance completely to match Gloria’s mood, which was the best part.

Saturday wraps up the festival! Check out the added shows to get your last screenings in!

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Nashville Film Festival

Spring is here! The Sounds Stadium is at this moment setting off fireworks behind our house, children all over the city are finding it’s increasingly difficult to sit still during English class, and my allergies are terrible.This strange Southern spring appears to be a mixed bag. But, the Nashville Film Festival is saving the day. Films show at Green Hills Regal Cinema (map) through next Saturday 4/26. Nashville Scene writers are doing a great job acting as guides over at Country Life, and they’re needed. The choices are overwhelming.

The unsung hero of the festival is all of the great free stuff to see, eat, and do over the next several days. Check out this fancy official brochure for panels, workshops, live music, and outdoor movies! Movies are also free at Walk of Fame Park, located one block south of Broadway between 4th and 5th Avenue nights at 8:00. (map). I’m especially looking forward to Take Me to the River Monday night, with live music starting at 6:30. Take Me to the River won the South by Southwest Audience award this year. Martin Shore’s documentary will surely overwhelm music lovers, for it brings together generations of Memphis and Mississippi Delta soul musicians, like Otis Clay, as well as contemporary hip hop sages, like Snoop Dogg.

Tuesday, April 22 at 11:30 a.m., I suggest seeing Let the Fire Burn. It played at the Belcourt a few months back. This film terrifically documents the conflict between the black liberation group MOVE and the city of Philadelphia, which culminated in a fatal attack on MOVE’s communal home. This includes archived news reports and the taping of the U.S. Federal Court’s inquiry, as well as a heartbreaking interview with one of the children who escaped the burning home. Let the Fire Burn is a must-see!