The 23rd annual Nevada City Film Festival (NCFF) kicks off earlier this season – June 23-25 – with an exciting slate of independent, international short and feature length films; visiting filmmakers participating in Q&A’s, workshops and talks; happy hours and after parties; outdoor screenings, and more, all happening in downtown Nevada City.
Over the last year, the small homegrown festival with international flair has continued to add to its list of accolades. Proudly dubbed the “Sundance of the Sierra” for its fierce commitment to support independent films and filmmakers, NCFF was recently voted the #9 film festival by readers in USA Today’s 10Best.
“None of this would be possible without the support of festival-goers who love and appreciate seeing independent movies from all over the world right in their backyards,” explained executive director Jesse Locks. “Every year we labor over curating a festival that is both exciting and entertaining, but also inspires and moves audiences.”
This year, 535 films and scripts from 36 countries were submitted to NCFF. Festival programmers watched these, along with another two-dozen buzzed about film festival award winners, and narrowed it down to this year’s Official Selections.
“My first year of programming for NCFF has been really humbling! I watched hundreds of films and was amazed at the breadth of projects I was able to experience, from comedy to drama, experimental to sci-fi, documentaries to animation, all of which allowed me to connect to the human experience in unique and interesting ways,” said new program director Jess Swigonski. “Major themes that emerged for me after watching the submissions this year were around identity and belonging. Whether we’re talking about race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, or simply belonging within a group or to yourself, I found this beautiful thread connecting many of the submissions this year.”
NCFF is best known for their short films; setting it apart from other film festivals. With shorts there is more room for experimentation in both content and execution; filmmakers are able to pursue something more abstract and focus in on it. This year’s program leads with seven diverse and beautiful short programs. Some favorites to look for include:
Ice Merchants is a beautifully illustrated and animated short from Portuguese filmmaker João Gonzalez that, without narration, offers a loving perspective on fatherhood, loss, and climate change – with a soft landing at the end.
Slow Light – Warsaw-based filmmakers Katarzyna Kijek and Przemysław Adamski’s Slow Light offers the unique story of a boy who was born blind, and suddenly sees a light at the age of seven. A medical examination reveals that his eyes are so dense that it takes seven years for the light to reach the retina and hence for the image to reach his consciousness. An original mash-up of intricate fabrication, stop motion, illustration, and animation, this short shares a reflection on time and quite literally, living in the past.
Canned – If you’re a sucker for a good mockumentary, then Canned delivers on all fronts. Incredibly acted and hilariously written, this short is sure to leave your cheeks sore from laughing, and maybe even inspired to jumpstart your own career as a canned laughter artist.
Mine Mine Mine – This beautifully haunting and whimsical collaboration between Heath Ramsay (Writer) and Duncan Ragg (Director) is unlike any short film we’ve seen. Watching it elicited a deep nostalgia for childhood, in ways both sweet and a little heartbreaking. Alongside a bed-bound man, we long for meaning and human connection, while grasping for a time when the freedom of being a kid felt never-ending.
Metal Belt – A Peyote Western set in 1860’s New Mexico territory, Metal Belt recounts a story about the American Indian slave trade in the southwest and one Navajo woman’s fight for freedom and her spiritual journey home. Directed by former NCFF alum Blackhorse Lowe (Reservation Dogs).
Chicken Stories – Nevada County locals will just love Chicken Stories! This film was so unique to me because the feathered cast truly and lovingly became the stars of this short documentary from Jonathan Pickett. This endearing and tender portrait of the chickens that bring life to a start-up farm just outside Oakland is beautifully filmed and filled with lots of hilarious chicken centered antics, while the young farmers attempt to Google and DIY their way through.
Friday Night Blind – You can’t stop smiling when you watch Friday Night Blind. The Milwaukee Beer Barrels Blind Bowling League is an eclectic mix of visually impaired and sighted bowlers, who are just living life one frame at a time. If you’re looking for a fun, sweet, time with a little bit of trash talk, roll with us for this lovely short doc.
“This year, I think audiences will see a few more issue-based documentaries than usual. There is a crucial movement happening within the film industry at large for makers, curators, funders, and consumers to be more responsible and careful with how we hold the stories and experiences of other people,” shared Swigonski. “We are also tapping into a groundswell in our current social and political landscape toward greater equity and justice here in the United States. There are so many powerful films being created right now that reflect this energy and film festivals like ours are uniquely positioned to reach and activate audiences in an authentic and connective way.”
Plan C – On June 24, 2022 the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that affirmed the constitutional right to abortion. On the one-year anniversary, NCFF will show this powerful documentary following a covert grassroots organization, Plan C, which persistently fights to expand access to abortion pills across the country keeping hope alive during a global pandemic and the fall of Roe v. Wade.
In Hummingbirds, best friends and filmmakers Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía “Beba” Contreras make magic of everyday moments coming of age on the Texas-Mexico border. The film will transport you back to summer where we began the transition from children into “adulthood”, seemingly endless summer nights fueled by non-stop laughing with friends and teenage antics like pushing each other around in shopping carts. Layered throughout this stunning video self-portrait though are reflections of current social issues, like immigration, abortion, and LGBTQIA+ rights. Silvia and Beba are like the hilarious, badass, vigilante friends that we were never cool enough to have.
Louder Than You Think – This is the film indie-rock lovers have been waiting for – an up-close cinematic walkabout through the life of Gary Young, the original (and highly unlikely) drummer of indie rock royalty Pavement. His booze and drugs-fueled antics (on-stage handstands, gifting vegetables to fans) and haphazard production methods (accidentally helping launch the lo-fi aesthetic) were both a driving force of the band’s early rise and the cause of his eventual crash landing. Leaving a wake of joy and/or destruction at every turn, Gary teeters the thin line between free-form self-expression and chaotic self-destruction. Winner of the SXSW Audience Award.
Hundreds of Beavers – Simply said, this film is like nothing you have ever seen before. From the mind of filmmaker Mike Cheslik comes a harrowing epic straight out of the 19th century, where a drunken applejack salesman must go from zero to hero and become North America’s greatest fur trapper by defeating hundreds of beavers. Hundreds of Beavers masterfully mixes slapstick humor, silent movie aesthetic, fluffy gore, and lots and lots….of beavers. Shot entirely in black and white.
Opening Night Family Film
Movies Under the Pines, NCFF’s outdoor film series at Pioneer Park, will commence Friday, June 23, 8:30pm, with a special screening of the wonderful animated family film The Iron Giant. Directed by Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles) is an animated adaptation of Ted Hughes’ Cold War fable, about a giant alien robot (Vin Diesel) that crash-lands near the small town of Rockwell, Maine, in 1957. Exploring the area, a local 9-year-old boy, Hogarth, discovers the robot, and soon forms an unlikely friendship with him. When a paranoid government agent, Kent Mansley, becomes determined to destroy the robot, Hogarth and beatnik Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick Jr.) must do what they can to save the misunderstood machine. Lovers of animation will notice the robot, created with computer graphics, is seamlessly included with the hand-drawn actors, making the illusion even more complete.
Workshops and Filmmaker Discussions
In addition to hosting film screenings that are followed by question and answers with filmmakers, NCFF will present a series of workshops and talks that are led by notable industry professionals and include “Screamwriting” with Kim Parker (Last Black Man in San Francisco) about horror and sci-fi filmmaking; SAG (Screen Actors Guild) will host a workshop for aspiring actors; Producer Jameka Autry (P.O.V; Through the Night; Love, Gilda) will lead a panel discussion with the filmmakers from the documentary film Subject on the ethics around documentary filmmaking and non-fiction narrative; and the Center for Asian American Media will present Memories to Light, a project to collect and digitize home movies and to share them – and the stories they tell — to a broad public.
“We love screening movies, but we want NCFF to be a place where aspiring and established filmmakers can come to continue to hone their craft, find respite and rejuvenation for new projects, and connect with like-minded folks in a fun and supportive environment,” said Locks. “You can’t have a film festival without the filmmakers, they make the fest!”
Swigonski added, “All of the programming is intentionally developed holistically to create a container for you to feel part of an experience with your fellow festival-goers. I recommend taking advantage of it!”
Tickets are now available online at www.nevadacityfilmfestival.com. Festival-goers can pick them up in person during the festival at one of the three locations including the Nevada Theatre, Onyx Theatre, and Pioneer Park, during festival hours. NCFF is also seeking volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering in exchange for complimentary tickets go to the website or email email@example.com
WHAT: 23rd Annual Nevada City Film Festival
WHEN: Friday-Sunday, June 23-25, 2023
WHERE: Nevada Theatre – 401 Broad Street; Onyx Theatre – 107 Argall Way; Pioneer Park – 421 Nimrod Street, Nevada City
TICKETS: $11/GA, $9/Seniors (62+), Students, Military – per screening