I recently took a trip from Los Angeles to Tennessee to explore the allure and charisma of the film scene at the Nashville Film Festival. While Nashville is known for its unparalleled raw musical talent from some of the most authentic singers and songwriters, not too many people know it for its film and television equal counterparts in this stellar entertainment and cultural city.
In fact, the city is an artistic melting pot of individuals from all over the country and world.
Nashville Film Festival Executive Director Ted Crockett wants people to realize, “I think one of the biggest things that we have is our people. Nashville just has this group of people that are not only natives, but we have this huge melting pot of creative individuals who come here from all over the U.S. whether they want to be a singer or songwriter…for a multitude of reasons.” Most people may think of Nashville for the country music and country folks, however, it also happens to have the largest Kurdish population in the United States. In fact, the main event for this year’s festival was the presentation and celebration of Kurdish cinema and culture. According to Crockett, the festival’s documentaries are a chance to get to know something about another part of the country. This year the festival brought over filmmakers from Northern Iraq: “I never knew before that we had the biggest Kurdish population in the United States. A lot of people in Tennessee don’t know that. This is a chance for people to get to know their neighbors. The people that we all live around, we just aren’t aware.”
An educational and cultural experience for the city, the festival showcases the value of Nashville as an up-and-coming leader in the entertainment industry as a whole. While music overshadows the film and TV industry there, Crockett says it has a huge influence on them: “One of our biggest assets is that Nashville has a huge music business, and not just country. We have all kinds of music that lend to music in film and music in TV.” However, the underlying value of the entertainment scene wouldn’t exist without the original productions of the local arts. Crockett believes, “It’s a perfect environment for a film festival because we’re fortunate to have a medium that can cover oil paintings, sculpture, music, and documentary, animation…we have all these things that we can do with the power of film.”
Nashville also has a well-known educational system attracting many people to the city, but the cultural and art scene is their universal language that is felt and acquired as the purest and perhaps most meaningful form of learning experience there. For example, festival film Dead Man’s Burden, directed by Jared Moshe and starring actress Clare Bowan from the ABC hit show Nashville, addresses our past in an authentic Western, telling a classic mythological story shot on the frontier. Moshe says, “I felt that America really needed one right now and we really needed to embrace our history through a feel good story.” History books convey factual details, but attending the festival to see this unique type of film in Nashville only proves the intrinsic value of film in the city.
The festival also debuted Director Chris McDaniel’s film Music City U.S.A., which gives a behind the scenes look at the artists, entertainers, and musicians that made Nashville a music city. It portrays the people and places of Nashville, showing its resilience, creativity and heart, but also proves that the soulful city is filled with untold stories of authentic artists that aren’t Hollywood manufactured.
So why should movies film in Nashville? Moshe says, “I think Nashville seems to offer a beautiful city in the valley. You don’t know what to make of it. There’s an urban feel, yet we’re really in the heart of the South. I think the world would be interested to see more of.” Festival president and entertainment attorney Tyler Middleton says people see the value in shooting here because “I think that Nashville treats people like it’s a small town when it’s actually not anymore. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s not on the coast. Maybe it’s the fact that everyone here is just too nice to be a city this size. I’m not sure. We’ve managed to escape a lot of stereotypes and stay cool.” When asked about why filmmakers should shoot here, Nashville’s Mayor Karl Dean says, “Nashville in the last year or so has gotten a lot of national recognition for the strength of our economy, the New York Times says we’re the “it” city. There’s a lot of good things happening here. A lot of young people are moving here. The city is becoming more and more diverse. It has an incredible amount of energy. It goes back to being a magnet for creative people. If you want creative energy Nashville’s the city to be.” Dean is a big movie fan and proponent of pushing Nashville’s film community further into a position of influence: “The Nashville Film Festival is a great thing for the city. We’re developing the film industry here. Obviously with the show Nashville being here and all the different live music events that are broadcast here, the film festival brings a lot of attention to the fact that Nashville’s a city of creative people whether it’s visual arts or songwriters musicians, this is a great place to be. That’s why people are moving here. I love movies myself. I’m looking forward to hearing the story of Nashville’s music in Music City U.S.A.
While there is a tremendous opportunity for growth and productivity, when it comes to executing and fostering potential in the South, things tend to move a little slower. There are many successful stories from individuals who have been able to survive as artists outside of LA, but the Nashville entertainment and arts community still has work to do in order to grow and sustain itself. Crockett reminds us “ It’s really important to remember art to kids in education. It’s a battle to keep the funding for the arts. I want people to remember and talk to their senators and congressman to continuously remind everybody look what can come out of this.” The film and TV entertainment community is ready to move forward in harnessing this insatiable appetite for entertainment into a form of both extrinsic and intrinsic productivity. Director McDaniel’s believes “Now that ABC has a hit show. It’s going to explode. All it takes is one show. Must-see TV happened to ABC and now Nashville is going to happen to ABC. It’s going to explode and people are going to film here all the time.
The professional publishing and recording industry has also brought in professional post-production houses and crews that do great jobs. As long as you have good crew and it’s easy to get to the crew. That’s all you need.” Director Moshe says, “I think they should shoot more movies here. It’s seems like a great production base. Great crew.”
All this may sound like rainbows and sunshine, but the city still has a lot of work to do if it plans to compete and utilize it’s own talented resources for profit. It would be a shame to allow all of the undiscovered and well-known local talent go to waste, and even worse let Hollywood take credit for it. Crockett explains that it’s all about showing hard facts to the local government that prove Nashville is up for the challenge: “It’s all numbers. You’ve got to find ways to track results and show how many people are being impacted. Something that we’re doing this year is we met with a private company to really find out who it is we’re affecting and what can we do differently. It’s our responsibility to show them how this has impacted the community and Tennessee.” It’s easy for the city to stay close to its traditional and non-compromising roots of small town industry, but it can also be stifling to the growth and recognition of the entertainment community and the individuals who can help bring revenue into the city. Investing in the film and TV industry there is like investing in a kid’s college fund. A smart and dedicated student’s career success in the real world is well worth the upfront investment. More film and TV needs to be produced in the city, but the buzz of music needs to expand to equally include film and TV so the industry is taken more seriously as an economic asset.
Nashville can “talk the talk” and stay cool by priding itself on being a small town comprised of homegrown talent, but we’ll have to sit in our rock’n chairs to wait and see if it can “walk the walk” as a film and TV hub.
Visit the Nashville Film Festival on Facebook for the photos!