Country Stars Featured At Nashville Indie Film Festival

Reba McEntire, Asleep at the Wheel among subjects of documentaries to be shown.

NASHVILLE — The upcoming Nashville Independent Film Festival, set for June 7–11, will be heavy on music, with documentaries on artists from a variety of genres, from country to jazz to folk, as well as live music and works by country artists who themselves seek acting careers.

Randy Travis, for example, has been seriously pursuing an acting career in addition to his musical one. Travis' latest effort, the independent film "John John in the Sky," will be shown at the festival. Director and co-writer Jefferson Davis said Travis was a natural for the role of Billy Joe Claiborne.

"Randy walked in the door and said, 'This character is so much like my dad,' " Davis said. "Randy really understood the Southern-man mentality of pushed up against a wall and dealing with the changing world."

Travis also is slated for the upcoming feature films "Texas Rangers" and "The White River Kid."

But this event could be his big break. The festival provides Academy Award eligibility status through a guaranteed weeklong run in either Los Angeles or New York for the best feature.

Reba McEntire is another singer trying to balance music and film, and her company has formed a film/TV production arm. The documentary "Reba 99," which explores the daily grind of her life as an artist, will be screened during the festival. In addition, McEntire will be featured in the film "One Night at McCool's," due later this year.

Festival director Michael Catalano is aware of his event's unique position. There was no coincidence when he shifted the festival's schedule in 1997 to June so it would back into Fan Fair, the world's largest annual country festival. "We are part of the entertainment industry fabric here in Nashville and, while the film industry is growing, music is our strong asset," Catalano said.

Varied Films

This year, documentaries also will chronicle the life and times of artists Hank Williams Jr., Tex Mitchell, Fred Wilhelm and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Aiyana Elliott's work on her father's folk career and his imperfections as a father has already garnered a special jury prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

"The Making of Ride With Bob" follows the recording of Asleep at the Wheel's multiple-Grammy-winning album and features performances by Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill and McEntire. Also to be screened is the television project "On Music Row," which stars country artist Lari White, and deals with a group of fictional young musicians from different genres trying to break into the industry.

Rock, jazz, classical, folk and blues also figure into the mix.

"Never Bought or Sold" details violin-maker John Godschall, who never sells his crafted instruments but instead bestows them upon young musicians he deems worthy.

Jazz trumpet player Jonah Jones describes playing with Stuff Smith, Cab Calloway, Frank Sinatra and more in "Jonah and the Wail," while Roy-El Wooten of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones explores new tonal scales with his instrument the Roy-El piano in "Requiem of the Lost Chords."

The identity of Prophet Omega, a radio preacher last heard in Nashville whose following reportedly included the Beatles, David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Marty Stuart, is discovered in the film "Friends Seen and Unseen," and four Texas boys set out on an impromptu quest to find '60s swamp-rock star Tony Joe White in "Searching for Tony Joe."

In addition to the film, White will join Guy Clark, Raul Malo of the Mavericks, rock singer/songwriter Randy Scruggs, the country group Shedaisy, country artists Deana Carter and Rob Royer and Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman for the festival's first music showcase, which will be attended by film-music supervisors from Sony and Fox.

The Music Matters

"Bringing in high-end panelists and music supervisors for showcases allows Nashville professionals to get their feet wet in the film arena and shows the world our strengths," Catalano said.

Music is becoming an evermore-key aspect of the festival. Last year, mockumentary "Dill Scallion," starring Jason Priestley and with original music by Sheryl Crow, was shown, as was the homegrown feature "Existo," which set a conflict between performance artists and music conservatives.

However, the premiere of audition-video turned short-film "I Still Miss Someone" created the most Hollywood buzz, with country singer/actor Mark Collie the potential beneficiary. The piece was intended to help Collie land the part of Johnny Cash in a feature film in the works.

The Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission co-sponsored a screening at the Directors' Guild of America in Los Angeles for the festival-winning short, which Quentin Tarantino, a huge Cash fan, attended. Casting has not been completed for the film.