Nashville’s 21c Museum Hotel gave our city its best new contemporary art stop when it opened downtown this spring. 21c’s three floors of gallery spaces – all free of charge and open 24/7 – are currently hosting a broad and engaging group exhibition entitled "Truth or Dare: A Reality Show." On Sept. 29, 21c will pair its art with a selection of short art documentaries from The New York Times’ Op-Docs series. The screening will be followed by a discussion focused on themes inspired by the exhibition and movies: identity, mortality and contemporary crisis. Moderated by Brian Downey, 21c Nashville Museum manager, the talk will feature Lindsay Crouse, coordinating producer for The New York Times Op-Docs, and Alice Gray Stites, 21c museum director and chief curator.
Here’s a look at the films:
The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano
Filmmaker Joshua Seftel experienced a novel sense of anxiety after his father died in 2009 – he suddenly felt his own mortality with more presence than ever before. His old friend, photographer Phil Toledano, lost his father around the same time and experienced the same internal twist. This is how it is for fathers and sons. Like most of us, Seftel swallowed his fears and marched on into fray, but Phil had other plans – like DNA tests, fortune telling sessions and dramatizing seven different ways he might die. He donned elaborate costumes and makeup to embody homeless Mr. Toledano, obese Mr. Toledano, criminal Mr. Toledano, stroke victim Mr. Toledano and suicidal Mr. Toledano. This film is the most fascinating art therapy documentary I’ve seen since Marwencol, and it’s a perfect fit for an evening screening in an art gallery.
Rebuilding in Miniature
Like The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano, this short is also a movie about creative productivity in the face of anxiety and grieving. Ali Alamedy was born in Iraq in 1982 during the Iran-Iraq war. Alamedy’s father was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein, and during the time their family was separated, Alamedy escaped into the fantasies he found in books. Those early flights of fancy still inspire the artist’s miniature dioramas, which recall those youthful, bookish imaginings and remind him of the home Alamedy and his family ultimately had to flee before finding refuge in Turkey. Director Veena Rao’s cameras highlight Alamedy’s creation of a dollhouse-sized 19th century photography studio as well as his intense passion for his art, his family and his homeland.
This Academy Award-nominated short by director Daphne Matziaraki captures the overwhelming refugee crisis in Greece from the point of view of a coast guard captain stationed on Lesbos, where the treacherous waters between Greece and Turkey have been flooded with Syrian war refugees. 4.1 Miles is a harrowing document of a contemporary crisis, but it asks timeless and universal questions about humanity’s collective obligations and our individual obligations to one another.
Amy Nicholson’s Pickle profiles a pair of prodigious pet rescuers and the motley crew of decrepit creatures they share their lives with. Pickle is a movie about eccentricities and death, and the responsibilities we take on – or don’t – in our various relationships with the animals who share our world.
Shot in the Name of Art
Artist Chris Burden’s 1971 performance Shoot featured Burden and an art school accomplice standing at opposite ends of a white gallery space before Burden’s friend shouldered a .22 caliber rifle and put a bullet straight through the artist’s left arm. Today, videos of Shoot can be found in museum art collections. Before his death in 2015, Burden built a provocative art career that built on the shocking promise of Shoot. But who was the other man in the gallery that day? Who shot in Shoot? Director Eric Kutner’s film, Shot in the Name of Art, presents the rifleman’s first on-camera interview, which is the centerpiece of this film about provocation, risk, friendship and growing up in art.
Games You Can’t Win
David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall’s video game documentary examines the lives of people trying to come to grips with sometimes impossible-seeming difficulties, like the loss of a child and suffering through mental disorders. The self-therapeutic video games the subjects create demonstrate distinctive retro aesthetics, but Games You Can’t Win is at its best when the film turns its button-mashing analogies on their heads.
Ten Meter Tower
I wrote in a blog post about this short doc when it appeared at the Nashville Film Festival back in April: “My favorite of the Documentary Showcase 1 program was Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck’s Ten Meter Tower, which pictures a succession of everyday Swedes trying to will themselves to jump into a pool from the titular diving tower. It’s a simple premise that results in high anxiety and hilarity alike, and the filmmakers’ commitment to mostly static shots picturing their protagonists just trying to make themselves take the leap is a masterstroke.”
I saw this one again while attending a traveling shorts festival in Sedona, Ariz., back in July. I could watch this one over and over. Truly great.
The documentaries will be showing at 21c Museum Hotel Main Gallery Sept. 29 at 6:30 p.m.
Joe Nolan is a critic, columnist and performing singer/songwriter based in East Nashville. Find out more about his projects at www.joenolan.com.