With the Chattanooga Film Festival just over a week away and with a stacked program stuffed into only 3½ days, careful planning and difficult prioritizing is required to get the most out of this year’s CFF. MMC! takes this opportunity to celebrate this year’s bounty and offer a quick preview of the CFF with a “Trailer Tuesday” devoted to making some hard choices.
1. Lowlife vs. Madeline’s Madeline vs. WTF
The CFF’s opening block of films is a doozy, programming Ryan Prows’s wonderful Lowlife opposite Josephine Decker’s Sundance darling Madeline’s Madeline and the WTF (Watch These Films) block of short films. I’ve already expressed my admiration for Lowlife, which is both an excellent pastiche of 1990s New Hollywood Violence and a canny take on MAGA-era America, and with director Ryan Prows in attendance for a Q&A and Carey Williams’ short Emergency accompanying it, that’s a hard to miss screening. Madeline’s Madeline came out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival with great reviews, reportedly a coming of age drama/experimental film about a young actor who joins an acting troupe and immerses herself in her current role rather too deeply for comfort, and the WTF block of shorts has some really intriguing titles including Laura Moss’s Allen Anders, a found footage presentation of a notorious stand-up performance from 1987, and John F. Beach and Jonathan Hoeg’s The Accomplice, about a man who discovers his unwitting participation in a bank robbery through a series of answering machine messages. All of these screenings reappear later in the CFF schedule, but that doesn’t really make the choice any easier!
2. RBG vs. Brimstone & Glory vs. The Devil and Father Amorth
Friday opens with a trio of diverse documentaries playing opposite each other. Julie Cohen and Betsy West offer a celebratory portrait of SCOTUS Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her remarkable career. William Friedkin returns to his exorcism roots with The Devil and Father Amorth, a documentary about Father Gabriele Amorth and his ninth exorcism on an Italian woman. Viktor Jakovleski surveys the National Pyrotechnics Festival in Tultepec, Mexico and captures a jaw-dropping visual spectacle in the process. Both RBG and The Devil and Father Amorth reappear on the CFF schedule, so I have to recommend catching this one-time screening of Brimstone & Glory, an enthralling documentary that demands to be seen on the big screen.
3. One Sings, The Other Doesn’t vs. Lu Over the Wall
If you’re inclined to see Agnès Varda’s One Sings, The Other Doesn’t and Masaaki Yuasa’s Lu Over the Wall on Saturday morning, it might prove tough given that the former’s two-hour run-time puts it right up against the start of the latter. Both films screen only once at CFF and you may have to pick your poison – catch Varda’s feminist musical (apparently missing a hard media release in North America) or see Yuasa’s award-winning intersection between a garage band and a mermaid. I’ll admit that as a big fan of Yuasa’s Mind Game, I’m leaning toward Lu Over the Wall.
4. Life After Flash vs. November vs. To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story
The Sunday “Noon-ish” block features three great films making their only scheduled screening at CFF. Lisa Downs’s Life After Flash, an exploration of Sam J. Jones’s post-Flash Gordon life and the aftermath of his clash with producer Dino De Laurentiis, is a key title to the CFF’s program. It makes its world première at Chattanooga, a Q&A proceeds after its screening, and a drunken script reading of Flash Gordon is planned for later that day that includes Jones’s participation – good times. November was one of my absolute favourite films from last year and so I have to encourage anyone interested in a gorgeously grubby glimpse into quirky Estonian folklore to see Rainer Sarnet’s artfully fascinating film. To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story is an exceptionally well-reviewed examination of the troubled but inspiring life of the stuntman who played Jason Voorhees. Derek Dennis Herbert’s documentary boasts an impressive array of horror icons speaking about Hodder (including MMC! favourite Cassandra Petersen!) and will apparently not leave a dry eye in the house. This may be the toughest block of films to choose between. I’m declaring this the CFF’s Group of Death.
5. Tigers Are Not Afraid, Let the Corpses Tan, and Great Choice
Let’s end with my three most anticipated films not already mentioned. It may not be hyperbole to say that I decided to go to the Chattanooga Film Festival on the lone hope that Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid would be programmed. Billed as the best Guillermo del Toro movie not directed by him and telling a dark fairy tale about a group of street kids hunted by drug dealers for a stolen iPhone and the ghosts that haunt the orphans and demand their revenge, this is supposed to be amazing. I’m nearly as excited to see Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s Let the Corpses Tan, a rollicking Mediterranean shoot’em up that pits a gang of gold-stealing criminals against a pair of cops. Let the Corpses Tan looks wonderfully stylish and its sun-baked setting recalls images of Sergio Leone and the Spaghetti Western. No short film has captured my imagination more than Robin Comisar’s Great Choice, a horror-comedy about a woman trapped in a Red Lobster commercial. It’s hard to imagine Great Choice living up to its amazing premise, but Comisar’s film did win Best Short at the Overlook Film Festival. I’ll let you know in a week or two, or you can check my Letterboxd list devoted to the Chattanooga Film Festival for reviews and hot-takes.