Nevada City Film Festival A Welcome Bright Spot

This year marks the 21st anniversary of the Nevada City Film Festival. Despite having recently announced that it will be virtual this year due to COVID, the event offers a creative pick-me-up in what’s been a rather depressing month thanks to fires and viral spread. On August 27th through September 12th, the festival will stream a collection of 80+ unique films, from shorts to full length features, many from first time filmmakers. You can go to their website and buy tickets to individual movies for $8, or pick up a festival pass for $75. In a year where being able to see new movies has been tough, having access to such a deluge of fresh work is exciting. We won’t be able to view them on the big screen, but on the bright side: nobody will see you picking popcorn out of your molars, and the drinks are free. We sat down with executive director Jesse Locks to find out more about what to expect.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How are you personally feeling about having the Nevada City Film Festival go virtual this year? 

Well, last year we were able to do both in person, with a drive-in movie format, and virtual. So this is particularly devastating to us. I was overly optimistic that as a community and society we would be in a much better position than we currently are. But in the end, it was the right thing to do–we only have one hospital that takes care of us all; we need to start listening to them. 

What were the submissions like during this weird year?

We were worried what the pandemic would mean: would there be no films or no short films? Or will it all be doomsday? By the way, there are tons of zombie movies out there, and we do have one in the film festival. But that wasn’t the case. This year there were just so many great movies from so many first time directors that we felt like kids in a candy store.

What are you excited about, programming wise, at this year’s fest?

We’ve always made the effort to be 50/50 men/women and 50/50 films from other countries/this country, and made sure that stories from underrepresented groups were heard, but that said, this is our most inclusive year ever. We have films about what’s going on in far away places–remote areas of Africa and remote areas of America. There is the most LGBTQ+ content I’ve ever seen.

Can you give an example of two films you’re really excited about?

There’s a feature documentary called The Conductor about a female classical conductor, Marin Alsop who’s been widely recognized in her mostly all-male field, and she’s gay. It’s about her rise, and how she’s inspiring people all around the world. Then there’s another movie called Godspeed, Los Polacos! about these two guys who graduated from college in Poland, who were stuck behind the Eastern Block, then slipped out and went to South American and rafted a river that had never been rafted before. 

What about a non-documentary film you’re excited about?

There’s a film called Language Lessons, with Mark Duplass and Natalie Morales. The plot is: Mark Duplass’ character’s husband buys him Spanish lessons. He and his teacher, played by Natalie Morales, strike up a friendship over Zoom and then it becomes more than that. They literally shot the film over Zoom. It brings up the question of, creatively, how do you tell a story when you have all these constraints? Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!

How do you select your films? Do they all come from submissions?

We try to program at least 60 percent of the fest from submissions. We had about 600 submitted to us, and we took 60 films. From those 60 films, maybe there are some things that are missing from the program and we’d like to see more of. That’s when we’ll go look at other festivals, film blogs, and film schools, to find additional selections. We call it “going shopping.” 

What types of films don’t play well to the Nevada City audience?

There are things that are really edgy, that maybe aren’t right for the festival. We do have a few, just to let people know, “experimental” films are out there.

What’s the most “experimental” film in this year’s fest?

There’s one called Diagnostic that is based on the Rorschach Test. It’s about how you see things, how the brain works. It’s black and white, really odd. It’s one of those things where you  say: Did that just happen?

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Nevada City-based Artist Ruth Chase is part anthropologist, part visual artist. She makes paintings, public art, and films that are inspired by