Nashville Film Festival: Short Film Reviews

This week, I’m very excited to be covering the Nashville Film Festival, which is occurring both virtually and in person from September 30 through October 6. I’ll be dropping reviews of some of the films playing at the festival throughout the week, starting off with four short films I selected to review. They range from documentary to horror to the surreal, and all of them will be available to watch in the festival’s virtual cinema starting September 30, along with a ton of other short films. You can browse the festival’s film guide and get more info about tickets here.

Alex, Vivienne, and Audrey, the filmmakers behind “Dolly & I”


Dolly Parton means a lot to a lot of people, but in her home state of Tennessee, the love for her exists on a whole other level. “Dolly & I” is a short film created by Audrey Shuppert, Alexandra Coenjaerts, and Vivienne Ayres that sets out to dissect what Dolly means to them, to other Tennesseans, and to Southern identity as a whole. Audrey, Alex, and Vivienne all currently reside in Tennessee but come from different backgrounds, providing three different points of insight. Audrey is a native who has loved Dolly all her life (when asked, she compares her to God); Alex is from Belgium, where Dolly’s renown is not quite on the same level as it is in the U.S.; and Vivienne is from Los Angeles but later moved to Nashville. The three women reckon with their Southern identity—Audrey says that she sometimes felt ashamed of it, Vivienne says that she didn’t like it when she first moved to the South, missing home—but find in Dolly someone who is proud and unashamed of her heritage. After providing a brief overview of Dolly’s upbringing and rise to fame, “Dolly & I” also explores a couple of other perspectives, including a visit to Dolly’s studio, where Dolly’s guitarist and producer Kent Wells is interviewed about what Dolly is like as a person, and Music City Creative, a Nashville-based, queer-owned T-shirt company, to explore why Dolly has such a diverse fan base. “Dolly & I” is effective and sweet, to the point where it also made me wonder about all the other stories out there to be told. I could easily see this short working well as the basis for a feature length documentary in the future.

“Dolly & I” will screen at the Nashville Film Festival as part of the NextGen Mixtape on Monday, October 4 at 11 AM at the Belmont University Theatre, and will be available to watch online as part of the festival’s virtual cinema from September 30-October 6.

Riel Macklem and Clara McGregor in “Hex & Rage”


There’s an obsession with magic and the occult that permeates a large chunk of our culture. If we’re not practicing it, whether through tarot readings or collecting crystals or crafting recipes to promote beauty and wellness, we’re witnessing it. Whether we truly believe in it or not, there’s something fascinating about using otherworldly means to manifest what you want. In the case of “Hex & Rage,” Amber and Gia (Clara McGregor and Riel Macklem) use magic to get revenge on behalf of their friend Jacaranda, a trans Latina stripper who is raped but is reluctant to try to take her case to the police. “Hex & Rage” is both dark and darkly funny; the film opens with a scene of the two young women disparaging men as they craft a spell to make the face of a boy they dislike break out in hives. While this act is fairly innocuous, their final vengeance contains more of an air of danger. In a few short minutes, director Sasha Lebedeva (who cowrote the story along with Macklem) creates a climax that is tense, but also satisfying. Some of the dialogue is a bit clunky, but it feels right at home within this film’s aesthetic, which, from the costumes to the lighting (ranging from sunny outdoor meetings to candlelit ceremonies) to the abundance of weird and witchy props, has a distinctly 70s throwback vibe that’s appealing. It’s messaging may be obvious, but “Hex & Rage” is an entertaining and well-made short film that follows in the grand tradition of stories about women utilizing the occult to hold power over men.

“Hex & Rage” will be available to watching online as part of the Nashville Film Festival’s virtual cinema from September 30-October 6, in the NextGen Shorts collection.

Enas El Fallal in “J’ai Le Cafard”


“J’ai le cafard” is a French expression that literally translates to “I have the cockroach,” but is actually used to indicate when one is depressed. A depressed woman is the subject of writer/director/producer Maysaa Almumin’s short film, which never offers a reason for the woman’s depression, nor does it need to. Often, there is no reason, and as Almumin sets up in her film, her protagonist seemingly has a good life. But her melancholy mood stands in stark contrast to her perky colleagues, and a montage portraying the mundane nature of her job and life makes this understandable. The expression manifests itself literally when the woman finds and befriends a dying cockroach she finds in the office bathroom. In her home, the roach follows her as a massive absurd sort of companion, one that she finds some comfort in until she recognizes it is overtaking her life. Almumin’s allegory for depression is strange but effective, and she contrasts her protagonist’s environment (her home is dim and dirty) with that of her companions (the bright and sunny office space) to further distinguish between them. Subtle it is not, but by taking a rather unique expression and making it literal, Almumin is able to explore its meaning in a way that resonates.

“J’ai Le Cafard” will be available to watch online as part of the Nashville Film Festival’s virtual cinema from September 30-October 6, in the Graveyard Shift Shorts: Love Comes in Many Forms collection.

Anne Marie Shea in “Poor Glenna”


Glenna is keeping a secret. This seemingly average woman (played by Anne Marie Shea) has a mutant son named Alex, who she keeps locked in her home as she finds ways to satisfy his appetite for human flesh. Writer and director Jean-Paul DiSciscio’s horror short has a retro grindhouse look and feel, from the grittiness of the film to the goriness of the content. The opening, where we first meet Glenna, leading up to the discovery of what she has in her house, is the strongest part. We know that something is up, especially when Glenna, fresh off a trip to the meat market, methodically prepares Alex’s meal, blending up some meat and topping it off with blood sliced from her own hand. In these scenes we see her devotion to her son above all else. There’s less character development after this quieter part of the film, but the plethora of humor, solid creature effects, and gore will surely amuse horror fans. And Shea’s performance, serious and heartfelt in the midst of the ridiculousness of the plot, brings a good deal of empathy to her character.

“Poor Glenna” will be available to watch online as part of the Nashville Film Festival’s virtual cinema from September 30-October 6, in the Graveyard Shift Shorts: Time is a Funny Thing collection.

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