The Nashville Film Festival is taking place this week starting September 30 and running through October 6, and oday I have reviews of two documentaries that are playing both in person and virtually at the festival: the slice of life “Charm Circle,” making its North American premiere after winning the audience award at Sheffield Doc Fest, and the music documentary “Fanny: The Right to Rock.” You can read my capsule reviews of those films and find more info on where to watch them below.
The title “Charm Circle” may refer to the name of the place where New York City native Nira Burstein was raised, but it’s also an appropriately winsome name for such a wonderfully intimate and endearing documentary. Shot over the course of six years by Burstein in her feature directorial debut, “Charm Circle” sees her and her sister Adina returning to their childhood home in Queens and reconnecting with their parents Uri and Raya. Uri and Raya are as eccentric as the home they live in, stuffed to bursting with all manner of items. They are musicians, and fire off all manner of amusing lines as Burstein’s camera travels around them. As charming and funny as the early parts of the film are, it also delves into the mental health struggles Raya and her daughter Judy—diagnosed with OCD at a young age—wrestle with, and the hard realities inherent in living with someone going through that. Burstein, who combines contemporary footage with old home movies to tell her family story, looks at her family with an empathetic eye, through the good times and the bad. An element of the film that provides a sort of through-line for it is the fact that Adina is preparing to enter into a marriage with two other people, and her polyamorous relationship is something her father in particular does not agree with, believing it goes against their religion. This rift results in some painful moments for the family, but ultimately, Burstein leaves us with a portrait of their love, and ends on what you could call the end of an era for her family. “Charm Circle” is an exceptional debut film for Burstein, a sure-fire crowd-pleaser whose intimate portrait of a family and the colorful characters within that family is moving and funny and sincere and real.
“Charm Circle” will have its North American premiere at the Nashville Film Festival on October 1 at 9:30 PM at Rocketown, and will also be available to watch online in the festival’s virtual cinema from September 30-October 6. Runtime: 79 minutes.
“One of the most important bands in American rock has been buried without a trace.” That quote, from David Bowie, opens the documentary “Fanny: The Right to Rock.” Directed by Bobbi Jo Hart, the film traces the origins of Fanny, one of the first all-female rock groups which was founded in the late 1960s by sisters June and Jean Millington. Their look and sound was different than other female bands working at the time, particularly in their skill at playing their own instruments. Fanny released five albums, all of which were critically acclaimed, but their highest-charting single, “Butter Boy,” never went higher than 29 on the charts; the band was on the cusp of potential stardom when they broke up, and their music and their story has largely been buried by history. But it’s a fascinating story, one that Hart delves into using archival photos and a ton of interviews with Fanny’s members (June and Jean, as well as Brie Darling, Alice de Buhr, Nickey Barclay, and Patti Quatro), who provide a great deal of invaluable insight into their experience, and musicians who either knew, worked with, and/or have been inspired by Fanny, including Bonnie Raitt, Kate Pierson, and Joe Elliott. The band members overcame racism—June and Jean are Filipina-American—sexism, and homophobia to carve out a space for themselves to exercise their creative talents. The documentary also features footage of the members of Fanny recently reuniting 50 years after the band was founded to record a new album, bringing in another element to the story as the band now has to face the fact that they aren’t as young as they were when they last recorded together. “Fanny: The Right to Rock” is an incredibly well-crafted documentary, one that’s inspiring, informative, and maybe more than anything, frustrating. Frustrating because Fanny is not as well-known as they should be, despite paving the way for female bands that did eventually become household names. Hopefully, this documentary is the first step toward setting that right.
“Fanny: The Right to Rock” will screen at the Nashville Film Festival on Tuesday, October 5 at 4:30 PM at the Marathon Music Works, and will be available to watch online in the festival’s virtual cinema from September 30-October 6. Runtime: 96 minutes.