Nashville Film Festival 2021

After last year's virtual presentation, the Nashville Film Festival is returning this fall with a promising slate of movies, events and opportunities to attend in-person. 

This year’s installment of the long-running festival is leaving the traditional setup of one cinema (usually a Regal location) to scatter about at various Nashville locations, including the Belcourt Theatre, Belmont University, Rocketown and Marathon Music Works. A robust selection in the virtual cinema will be available as well, with the festival running Sept. 30 through Oct. 6. 

“This year’s Nashville Film Festival will deliver a dynamic mix of films, music and live events,” says NaFF director of programming Lauren Ponto via a release, “and our team is excited for the community to be a part of it in new and innovative ways. From narratives and documentaries to our newest category of films, The Edge — a new shorts competition highlighting boundary-pushing cinema from emerging filmmakers — we’re presenting a vibrant lineup of films from right here in Tennessee as well as across the country and around the world. This year’s content is stronger than ever and very intentionally curated to bring audiences exceptional film and music experiences.”  

Perhaps the crown jewel of NaFF’s lineup this year is Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee, an animated documentary/narrative hybrid film reminiscent of 2008’s Waltz With Bashir. The story of a gay Afghan who fled the country with his family at the rise of the Mujahidin regime, Flee hits perhaps as hard as any film will this year after the recent events surrounding Afghanistan, the U.S.’s withdrawal of troops and the resurgence of the Taliban. This deeply empathetic film was one of Sundance’s best and will screen at 1 p.m. at the Belcourt on the festival’s closing day, Wednesday, Oct. 6.  

Other recent festival standouts making their way to NaFF for in-person screenings are Portrait of a Lady on Fire director Céline Sciamma’s latest Petite Maman, Jim Cummings (2018 festival fave Thunder Road) and P.J. McCabe’s Hollywood-set thriller The Beta Test, the indie horror film We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, the superb civil-rights-monuments-focused documentary The Neutral Ground, the compelling Van Jones-centered study in bipartisanship The First Step, the New York-set family documentary Charm Circle, the Maltese drama Luzzu and the documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror. 

In the Tennessee Features category, intriguing films include local ministry/business Thistle Farms’ spotlight documentary Thistle, the documentary Invisible about a group of lesbian women and a trans man making it in country music, the Colony House pseudo concert film Everybody Is Looking for Some Light, and a doc about RCA Studio B, Leftover Feelings: A Studio B Revival. Also showing will be the new Western Old Henry, starring Tim Blake Nelson and filmed in Tennessee. Artists including A-Ha and Fanny will be featured in two selections, continuing to the fest’s longtime tradition of programming music docs. 

This year’s opening film will indeed be music-themed, with Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson getting new attention via the documentary Brian Wilson: Long Road Promised. NaFF will close with Stephen Karam’s adaptation of his Tony-winning play The Humans. This one is an awards hopeful that will make the festival rounds this fall and boasts a murderers' row in recent Oscar nominee Steven Yeun, Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, Amy Schumer, Beanie Feldstein and June Squibb. 

Virtual panels will include industry figures like documentarians Kirsten Johnson (Dick Johnson Is Dead) and Peter Gilbert (Hoop Dreams), producer Monty Ross (Malcolm X), writer Michael Luker (Vampire in Brooklyn) and composers Michael Montes (Always Shining), Joe Kraemer (Mission: Impossible, The Way of the Gun) and Leo Sidran (The Motorcycle Diaries). 

Tickets will go on sale Thursday, Sept. 1, and they can be purchased alongside badges at the festival’s website. Also at the site, find the full roster of virtual films, events and more.