This will be my third Rome International Film Festival, but this year it is a little extra special. I’ve been brought on to help out with the production of the festival. In doing so, I’ve gotten a first hand look at this year’s 61-film lineup. This is the 11th incarnation of RIFF.
From opening night film “No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie” to closing night selection “B.F.E.,” there are a host of short films and features worth checking out. Films represent the entire globe—Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand—with many American productions and a handful of films both produced in Georgia or coming from Georgia filmmakers.
After the jump, I’ve highlighted 12 feature films and 4 short films. But trust me, the entire festival is of tremendous quality. The festival kicks off tonight, Thursday, September 4th and runs through Sunday, September 7th at Rome’s beautiful DeSoto Theatre.
Opening Night: No Ordinary Hero
SuperDeafy must reveal the man behind the cape to find true love and inspire a young deaf boy to believe in himself. A beloved character and role model, SuperDeafy has a worldwide following. He has been immortalized on t-shirts, posters and dolls—and now a movie. NO ORDINARY HERO marks the first time in cinematic history that a SAG commercial feature film was made exclusively by deaf executive producers and a deaf director. The film will be 100% open captioned every screening. Oscar-winnings actress Marlee Matlin headlines.
Closing Night: B.F.E.
Boredom and bad decisions are a part of life in far-off places like BFE. Young and old struggle to live free or die trying. Grampa has a terminal illness but won’t go down without a fight. His grandson, Ian, tries to teach the old man how to live, while simultaneously trying to catch the eye of the troubled and angelic Ellie—whose feelings for Ian may be more than mutual. The problem is, Ellie’s popular boyfriend, Zack—like everyone else in this isolated town on the edge of nowhere—doesn’t want to be the last virgin.
Charlie Clark is a struggling artist who seeks a connection between her artwork and her deceased father’s music. Out of her element in Memphis, Charlie meets Louie Traxler, a record store owner and an obsessive collector who sees a chance to do what he does best. The two of them scour the South in search of an elusive copy of her father’s only 45RPM record.
Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse (short)
Where will you be when the Zombie Apocalypse begins? Hopefully not stuck in a cheesy Haunted House wishing you could find a better weapon than a plastic machete. Four friends rely on their wits and the help of costumed Haunted House employees to survive the night. #GAfilm
Blind Tiger: The Legend of Bell Tree Smith
Documenting the mysterious life of William Anderson Smith (a.k.a. “Bell Tree” Smith), BLIND TIGER is set at the turn of the century in Bluffton, Alabama, then one of the most prosperous towns in the Southeast. A self-made millionaire, Bell Tree fought hard against Prohibition, all while living by his own rules and making a financial killing deep in the backwoods of Smith Hollow, where his “blind tiger speakeasy” wetted the appetites of both high-browed politicians and dusty old miners near the once-booming iron ore town. #GAfilm
Butch Walker: Out of Focus
Prolific American songwriter, producer, family man and Rome-native Butch Walker may be unknown to the millions of fans of such artists as Fall Out Boy, Taylor Swift, Train and Pink—for example—with whom he has produced hit records for. To industry insiders, he is considered as ‘the musicians’ musician.’ To the adoring fans of the prodigious records created under his own name, Butch Walker is an underground god. A hidden gem and uncompromising servant to his craft, Butch’s rock-and-roll fairy tale comes into focus as directors Peter Harding and Shane Valdés capture key notes in the lyrical life of one of today’s most acclaimed and respected singer-songwriters. With a non-invasive lens, the directors capture candid footage of the man behind the music—and the glimpses are nothing short of inspiring—from a fly on the wall of his studio sessions, to the streets and clubs of fan-crazed crowds, to the ‘trampoline’ wisdom of his pre-school son. When you meet Atlanta’s favorite rock-son’s ailing father ’Big Butch,’ it is clear where this man found his moral rock.
With the unexpected death of Clark’s dad, his mother, Helen, quickly remarries a man of the same age as her son. Dan, a 24-year-old “inventor,” becomes increasingly hell-bent on raising the boy as his own. Pressured by his parents to find a job, Clark sets out on a gauntlet of misleading and dangerous interviews, finally landing a job at a local bookstore. It is here that he meets Emily, a beautiful and quick-witted girl who helps Clark to tread against the waters of his own pessimistic views on love and marriage in order to reconcile his relationship with his mother and ensure the future well being of his family.
The Forgotten Kingdom
Atang leaves the slums of the big city to bury his estranged father in the remote, mountainous village where he was born. Befriended by an orphan herd-boy and stirred by memories of his youth, he falls in love with his childhood friend, Dineo, now a radiant young teacher. Through her, Atang is drawn to the mystical beauty and hardships of the people, and faces his own bittersweet reckoning.
Sean, a retired literature professor and civic activist, writes a letter to his estranged son, Tennessee, a ranch hand. Tennessee is uncertain how to respond, but knowing he should see his aging father, he decides to go home. Tennessee arrives just as Nina, Sean’s personal trainer fresh off a bad breakup, accepts Sean’s offer to move in and help him write his memoirs. The tension between Sean and Tennessee is ever-present. As Sean and Nina work, Tennessee avoids his overbearing father with fix-up projects around the house. One evening after Nina has gone out, Sean and Tennessee find themselves alone in the house for the first time.
Krisha has not seen her family for many years. When Krisha decides to join her family for a holiday dinner, tensions escalate and Krisha struggles to keep her own demons at bay.
When a group of friends hired a limousine to take them to the beach for their annual New Years rite of passage, the last thing they expected was to find themselves kidnapped, stripped, stranded and left for dead on a dirt road 24 hours later, fighting to survive. A true tale told by those who lived it, these ten Southern raconteurs are as practiced in spinning great yarns as they are in hard living. By combining the narration of the actual participants with feature-length re-enactment, “Limo Ride” transforms the greatest bar story ever told into a wild, experimental docu-comedy. #GAfilm (Read my review from the Atlanta Film Festival)
Next Year Jerusalem
Choosing life in life’s final chapter is the poignant subtext of NEXT YEAR JERUSALEM, a lyrical portrait of eight nursing home residents who travel to Israel on a tour. Earnest and nuanced, the film is a poetic exploration of living and dying, hope and fear, travel and memory. It is a celebration of human experience and a reverent tribute to life’s eldest travelers.
Pie Lady of Pie Town (short)
Why did Kathy Knapp, a Dallas businesswoman, leave her charmed life to bake pie in a dusty town with no traffic light, no gas station and sketchy utilities? Pie Town came upon its name honestly in the 1920s when a cattle rancher sold pie to supplement his income. Welcome to Pie Town, New Mexico. The name is no joke.
Who goes to war and who returns? TERRA FIRMA weaves together the stories of three female veterans who served in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq in the early days of Bush’s War on Terror. After struggling for years with combat related PTSD they have all found ways to heal the hidden wounds of war through farming. #GAfilm (Read my review of directors Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson’s last film, GROW!)
Tobacco Burn (short)
Decades before the Civil War, the actions of a brutal overseer spark the fire of revolution on a Southern tobacco farm.