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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: Alta Valley

Lupe (Briza Covarrubias) is a hard-working Mexican-Navajo Diné woman just trying to make ends meet and support her family. When her mother Adamina (Paula Miranda) is hospitalized, Lupe will go to any length to acquire the funds needed for a possible life-saving procedure. Her quest to meet her father Carl (Micah Fitzgerald) and ask for his help leads her on a treacherous journey. Along the way she meets Maddy (Allee Sutton Hethcoat), a gun-toting cowgirl who is on the run from a dangerous cartel. The two form an unlikely bond as they join forces on a roadtrip through the Alta Valley.

Written and directed by Jesse Edwards, Alta Valley offers viewers a classic western style thriller as a platform to share the important story of the Diné people (given name: the Navajo). In his director’s statement, Edwards writes “this project is an honest and heartfelt attempt to make an action film, that starts an essential conversation around colonization, land ownership, and reparations toward Native American people.”

Alta Valley can at times be melodramatic and overwrought. However, its bolstered by interesting characters and its effectiveness as a message film. It explores themes of family, greed, language  and land ownership with great respect for the Diné people. It flips the script on westerns of the past while also offering fans of the genre plenty of shoot outs and beautiful cinematography of the vast Utah landscape.

Alta Valley is having its world premiere at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival. Visit the official website for more details on the film.

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