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Nashville Film Festival: Old Friends, A Dogumentary

What happens to old dogs when their owners either no longer want them or can no longer care of them? Many of these dogs are put down. Others languish in shelters. These dogs are not as appealing to adopters. Their days are dwindling and many suffer from health issues that require expensive treatments. But what if there was a way to extend the quality of life for elder pups? What if they could enjoy their final days in a happy environment where all of their physical and emotional needs met? For Zina and Michael Goodwin, this was the goal. At first they began caring for a few elderly dogs. And then they took care of more. And more. A few became many. While some dogs lived for just a few weeks or a few months more, those final days were happy ones.

Directed by Gorman Bechard, Old Friends, A Dogumentary is the story of the Goodwins and their elderly dog sanctuary Old Friends in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. What started as a small charitable effort out of the Goodwin’s home blossomed into a whole operation complete with a state-of-the-art facility. Old Friends has an on-site veterinary hospital, full-time caretakers and even physical therapists on hand to care for these dogs in their final days. It’s like an upscale retirement home for elderly dogs. They manage a dog’s health problems, are regularly evaluating their residents quality of life and even work on problem behaviors. They’re regularly expanding and by the end of the documentary we see their plans for the near future. Old Friends is funded by donations and have found much support from their social media. Members of the local community, referred to as Geezer Guardians, help out by fostering the dogs and essentially expanding Old Friends’ efforts. 

This is a very bare bones (pun intended) documentary. It watches more like a very long advertisement for Old Friends than it does an actual documentary. However, dog lovers, like myself, will easily overlook this as the film’s story pulls on our heart strings. You’ll want to have some tissues nearby because it will leave you a sobbing mess. 

Old Friends, A Dogumentary is a relentlessly positive and uplifting film that will appeal to anyone who truly loves dogs.

Old Dogs, A Dogumentary premiered at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.

Nashville Film Festival: Butterfly in the Sky

If you were a child of the ’80s and ’90s, chances are you watched the children’s television program Reading Rainbow and it had a profound effect on you. I was a PBS kid who really took to LeVar Burton’s gentle and inviting demeanor and seeing real kids like myself get excited about books. This influence and my natural curiosity sent me a lifelong journey of reading and loving books. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask any Reading Rainbow kid and they’ll tell you the same: LeVar Burton made books cool and interesting.

“Anybody who worked with us and said oh, it’s just a kids show, never worked with us again.”

Directed by Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb and produced by Bryan Storkel, Butterfly in the Sky chronicles the extraordinary story behind Reading Rainbow, the figures who made it happen and its profound effect on the children who watched the show. The documentary also serves as a celebration for all the incredible work Burton and the production team, who were all interviewed for the film, put into Reading Rainbow.

The show premiered July 11, 1983 but production began as early as 1981. It was a hard sell to get a show about reading on the air and to convince book publishers that they should want their books on the program. While it took a couple of years for the show off the ground, once it did it really started having a profound effect. The show had a solid concept and structure that just made it work: a friendly host, an earworm of a theme song, a memorable catchphrase, book reviews by real kids, readings by celebrity guests, songs and documentary style segments that put the featured book into context. LeVar Burton turned out to be the perfect host. Kids watching felt like he was speaking directly to them. Burton insisted on authenticity, always preferring to be true to himself even when the producers didn’t agree with what he was doing, and this really made the show work. 

Butterfly in the Sky is in the same vein as recent documentaries on PBS kids shows including Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018) and Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street (2021), both of which are excellent in their own right. Butterfly in the Sky is relentlessly positive, even when the show’s many adversities are discussed (it also completely skips the tumultuous life of the brand after it went off the air in 2006). This film serves up a heaping dose of nostalgia while also enlightening viewers on the history and importance of this landmark television program.

Butterfly in the Sky was part of the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.

Nashville Film Festival: Warsha

Warsha — dir. Dania Bdeir

Set in Beirut, Lebanon, Warsha follows Mohammad (Khansa), a construction worker tasked with operating one of the tallest and most dangerous cranes in the city. Isolated and far away from his fellow workers and the city below, Mohammad has a moment of freedom, tapping into his most secret desire. The climb up to the crane and the fantasy sequence were absolutely breathtaking. I enjoyed the LGBTQ angle. Highly recommended.

 

Warsha screened at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.

Nashville Film Festival: Follow Her

Jess (Dani Barker) is a struggling actress by day and a successful streamer at night. She arranges  degrading sexual encounters with men on the internet and secretly films them for her stream.  She maintains the men’s anonymity until one day she posts a video not realizing the man’s face was exposed. Jess has an internal conflict: take down the video or capitalize on the clout it’s currently receiving. When she’s invited by screenwriter Tom (Luke Cook) to a remote cabin to  both work out the details of a new project while also secretly filming him. But the tables quickly turn as she realizes Tom is not as he seems.

Directed by Sylvia Caminer and written by Dani Barker, Follow Her is a psychological thriller that offers a stern warning about the dangers of streaming and surveillance in our digital age. It taps into the innate fears of the chronically online about sharing too much and being exposed for all to see. The first half of the movie isn’t very engaging and viewers will have to push through to the second half where the psycho-sexual elements really come into play.  You’ll also have to suspend your disbelief as there are many red flags the female protagonist misses. If you enjoy thrillers about the digital age, give this one a try.

Bonus for Mad Men fans: Mark Moses has a role as Jess’ father.

Follow Her was screened at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.

Nashville Film Festival: Carol & Johnny

Not all bank robbers are like the ones you see in the movies. Many are petty criminals, just average folks, who are in a financial bind and the idea of a quick payout is just too alluring to pass up. That’s what happened with Johnny Williams. After a stint in jail, he tried to make ends meet for him and his wife Carol as an independent carpet cleaner. When a 1983 car accident sidelined him, he found himself in desperate need of money. Just a few years later he began one of the “longest running strings of unsolved bank robberies in the history of the FBI.” 56 robberies from 1986 until 1994. A slip up landed him and his partner-in-crime Carol in the hoosegow. He got life and she got 20 years.

Directed by Colin Barnicle, Carol & Johnny begins shortly after Johnny Williams was released from jail in 2021. He’s integrating back into society, checking in with his parole officer and living in a halfway house. Carol has been out for years. After suffering from a medical mishap, she continues to thrive with the help of her family and is determined to tell her life story by way of the documentary and a book. 

The documentary interviews both Carol and Johnny, as well as the former FBI officer who tracked and finally caught Johnny. It shares the couple’s individual life stories as well as  Johnny’s incredible criminal career. The film depends a lot on a “will they or won’t they” element regarding a potential reunion between Carol and Johnny.  What the film does effectively is demonstrate that there are two sides to every story and that not everyone is a reliable narrator. It’s not a terribly engrossing film but a good watch for those who enjoy stories about ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

Carol & Johnny premiered at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.

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