Chattanooga Film Fest Report

This was my first time attending a real film festival that I was able to make it for more than a couple of movies, even though it was still a virtual fest with all the screenings online. Better than nothing these days, right? Big thanks to my friend Neil Calderone for putting this on my radar because over six days, I’ve watched nine features and eight short films and found no disappointments in any of them. Sure, there were some I enjoyed more than others, but they were still all very entertaining and I’m glad I got to see them.

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021) – Getting to see this new documentary from Kier-La Janisse was one of the main reasons I needed to attend (virtually) this festival. Though I had no idea that it was over three hours long when I started it but was amazed at what it covered. I came away with a long list of films I need to seek out, though I occasionally did smile when they brought up an obscure title that I actually knew!

It also made me realize how much more work I need to do to even come close to the scholars that are spread out over this massive documentary. Hearing some of the comments, thoughts, and perspectives about the titles covered make me feel like the best thing I could equate that to would be something closer to Beavis and Butthead … “Yeah. That was cool”. It just shows you that no matter how long you’ve been a fan, there is always more to see and more to learn. It goes through a wide variety of themes, showcasing films from all over the world, showing views and cultures very unfamiliar with our own.

Major kudos to Janisse and company for putting this out there into the world, because this is a fantastic tool for any film lover, whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a complete newcomer, you will come out of the forest with a huge list of films that you’re going to want to find. Enjoy the journey.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (2020) – When going through the film list of features playing this year at the fest, watching different trailers, this had me intrigued. Director Jonathan Cuartas makes his feature directorial debut here, with Patrick Fugit starring in a role where he shows that he has definitely come a long way since Almost Famous. Strangely enough though, his character here still has that constant look of an internal struggle going on right behind those eyes of his. He lives with his sister, both of which take care of their other brother, who happens to be a vampire. Or is he?

Their existence seems to continually find blood for him, usually picking up a homeless guy or prostitutes, bringing them back home and slitting their throats and filling up bowls of blood for their brother. The brother seems to be very weak and sickly, barely able to even walk, kept inside and away from the sunlight and other people. We’re never really sure if he is actually a vampire, though we do seem to get more than a few clues.

The real story is the struggle of this family unit. There are times that Fugit wants to just leave and try and have his own life back. The sister is determined to continue to take care of their special brother, demanding he stays and help because she couldn’t do it alone. While the unhealthy Thomas only wants to be normal, to have friends and be able to hang out with them. Eventually, all of these issues come to a clash. A very slow-moving film but filled with an uneasiness throughout. You do seem to care for Fugit at least, because deep down he knows what they are doing is wrong and wants to escape. But as we all know, family is family.

Blood Conscious (2021) – First of all, the minute I see Nick Damici’s name in the credit, I’m there. Ever since Mulberry Street (2006), I have always enjoyed his work, especially in Stake Land (2010). So, with him cast as “the stranger”, I’m in. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The film deals with paranoia, never really knowing if it is warranted or not, which makes the nervousness rise even higher! When three family members arrive at their parent’s cabin resort in the woods, everybody there, including their parents have been shot to death. The man responsible, now holding them at gunpoint, claims they were demons. Is he crazy or is there some truth to what he is saying? One by one, people start to change their way of thinking before the story is over.

Another first-time feature director, Timothy Covell does an admirable job making the viewer react just like the characters on the screen. We believe one thing, but after one or two comments or seeing something, we start to have that question pop in our head, and we start to wonder. The variety of personalities in the cast helps us see different points of view. But it is with the younger character of Kevin, played by newcomer Oghenero Gbaje, that we seem to follow more than the others. But since he is younger, is he just more susceptible to things most would consider unreal.

Not sure if I’m completely happy with the ending, but it just means there’s more to discuss!

Parallel Minds (2020) – An interesting take on the future of technology and one of the possibilities of an artificial intelligence and what it may want or decide it needs. A scientist has created a contact lens that basically records your memories but actually does much more because it is all connected to a central computer system, one that is becoming self-aware. And we all know that when that happens, bad things are coming.

Shortly afterwards, the scientist is found dead, so it is up to an old style detective and the scientist protégé to try and figure out what really happened. The owner of the whole thing seems opening friendly and willing to help solve the mystery, but you never know how much, or who, you can trust.

My favorite part of the movie is the main actor, Greg Bryk, who plays the detective. He’s kind of like a guy from the past that has issue fitting into this time zone. They try to blend the future and the technology with some things that would normally seem out of place but are there to contrast the future.

I give them credit for what they have created and the storyline the came up with, and for the budget I think they pulled off the look pretty well.

Five Desperate Women (1971) – Growing up myself in the early ’70s, with the TV my main viewing experience for films, it is something that I remember with great fondness and a lot of nostalgia when it comes to watching these films now, some 50 years later. When the first special screening at the fest was this rare made-for-TV film, I was pretty excited, especially since it is one that I don’t remember ever seeing!

This movie has an all-star cast (from that time period at least) with, as the title states, five women on a resort island for a 5-year reunion after college. We find out how each of the women have gone on in their lives, most of them trying to hide some dark secret to their lives. But the festivities quickly come to an end when one of them is murdered.

The only ones on the island besides them is the caretaker (Robert Conrad) and the boat captain that brought them there (Bradford Dillman), so it gives them, and the audience, plenty of time to try and guess who might be the real killer? Or is it someone else?

These kind of movies were staples in the early ‘70s, usually with an plenty of familiar faces from both TV and the big screen, put in all sorts of precarious situations. Stephanie Powers and Joan Hackett also star. This is nothing that will blow you away, but for a fan of this era of TV, I really enjoyed having the chance to see it. Like stepping back in time.

Coming Home in the Dark – (2021) – This was the second of the fest’s special secret screening, and it was a rough watch. Not that it was bad, but because of the subject matter. A couple and their two teenage sons are out in the outback camping in the middle of seemingly nowhere, only to have two strangers arrive on their campsite. With a rifle. Needless to say, things get ugly.

It’s a tale of revenge that maybe tries to make us feel some sort of sympathy for the villain but its a tough sell, at least for me it was. You can understand his anger, but not enough to compensate for all of his actions. The film takes place over one very long night, as they drive through the outskirts of civilization. Each time we think they might be able to make an escape, more innocent people die.

Director James Ashcroft, usually appearing in front of the camera, does an exceptional job with his feature debut, after working on several short films and a series. The cast also does what they are supposed to do, making us feel for them, while really hating the villains here.

A long, drawn-out ordeal that is a tough watch. Very gripping and an intense ride, but not sure it is one I would take again.

Kandisha (2020) – From Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, the two directors that gave us the incredible 2007 film Inside, which I still think is fantastic, gives us their version of the Candyman storyline, or one of the many similar type themes. You call upon an urban legend by saying their name multiple times and they will come, and bad things happen. For this one, the entity is called Kandisha. Being the story takes place in France, it does give this repetitive theme a different look and feel at least. But unfortunately, it is a repetitive theme.

The film is good, and I would say well worth the watch. The special effects are really well done and even has some great gore sequences within. It just would have been nice to see something a little more original. That being said, at least they did an admirable job of taking that theme and creating something better than the run-of-the-mill titles that Hollywood churns out. So, kudos to them for that.

Messe Basse aka The Lodger (2020) – I’m always a sucker for a ghost story, or one that the viewer is never really sure if we are watching a ghost story or not. The Lodger walks the line between that and fantasy and does it beautifully. There are elements of horror, but I’m not sure I would put in solely in that genre. The small cast of mainly three people completely held my attention throughout the running time. I would catch myself thinking I knew what direction we were going to be, only to be shown another path. That is one of the best parts of this in that you just never know what is going to happen next.

Alice Isaaz plays a young nursing student that rents a room from an older lady, who happens to think her dead husband is still alive. Not like a ghost, but acts as if he is still there, even talking to her new tenant as if he is there with them. Isaaz plays along, figuring she is just humoring the old lady and admires the love she seems to have for her lost companion. But as the story goes on, things happen to make her question if someone else really is in the house with them.

This film wanders in and out of a few different genres seamlessly and captivates the viewer by making them ponder what is really happening.

Black Medusa (2021) – A very strange tale. The use of black and white film made the darkness of the theme really standout. Our main character plays that she is deaf and mute, so there is not a ton of dialogue to explain what we’re seeing, at least in the beginning. She spends her evenings in bars picking up unsuspecting men, only to turn the tables on them before the night is over. I don’t want to go into the subject matter because the way it is played out, there is not a lot of explanations given, but gives the audience a sense of why these things might be happening.

Filmed in Tunisia, the northern part of Africa, it does give a different setting than what American fans are using to seeing, so it definitely gives the viewer a look into a very unfamiliar world than we’re used to. The film is not really that graphic or over-the-top but gives the viewer enough to understand what is going on, which is almost more effective than it if was graphic because it lets our brain fill in the rest, even if we might not want to!

Short Films – We also filled some time checking out a few of the many different short films they had up for viewing. Some were straight out horror while others walked the fence a bit, but I found all of them very well done and entertaining, as well as giving me hope for their feature work.

Bed (2020) – Written, Directed, and starring Emily Bennett

Bloodshed (2020) – Written & Directed by Paolo Mancini & Daniel Watchhorn

Body of the Mined – Written & Directed by Eric Jungmann

Face (2020) – Written & Directed by Samuel Edward Mac

Golem (2020) – Written & Directed by Ryan Cauchi

Hero’s Journey – Directed by Rachita Ramalingam & Hunter Drake – A film by Chatt State’s Summer Filmmaking Camp 10-16 year old filmmakers of Chattanooga State Community College’s Summer Filmmaking Camp

Koreatown Ghost Story (2020) – Written & Directed by Minsun Park & Teddy Tenenbaum

No One Is Coming (2020) – Directed by Nathaniel Barber and Matthew Barer

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