Documentaries stand out during first half of Nashville Film Festival

“What’s Eating Ralphie May” is one of the standout documentaries at the Nashville Film Festival.

The 50th annual Nashville Film Festival began Oct. 3, the start of a 10-day event that showcases some of the best in cinema throughout the Southeast and the world.

The festival has served as the regional premiere for Oscar contenders “JoJo Rabbit” and “A Marriage Story” and also showcased outstanding work in documentary filmmaking.

Three highlights from the first five days were “What’s Eating Ralphie May,” “Changing the Game” and “Chuck Berry.”

“Ralphie May” begins as a documentary about comedian Ralphie May and the days leading up to his decision to have lap-band surgery with loving support from his wife and fellow comedian, Lahna Turner, and their two young children.

But the film eventually evolves into a raw and heartbreaking look at addiction and its effects on not just the addict, but everyone around them. Director Cat Rhinehart candidly shows a side of addiction we rarely see on film – with the hope of a bright future slowly deteriorating, ultimately leading to May’s death during a Las Vegas residency in 2017.

Rhinehart handled the material with the respect it deserves, and Turner – who served as a producer on the film – allowed the director to show everything. It was a brave decision that really shows on the screen, leading to an experience that is not an easy film to watch, but an important story to tell.

“Changing the Game” is also an important story with director Michael Barnett following three transgender athletes and the struggles they have trying to fit in while playing the sports they love.

Barrett focuses on three specific athletes – Mack Beggs, a wrestler in Texas transitioning to being a male who is forced by state law to compete in the female division; Sarah Huckman, a New Hampshire skier who also becomes a political activist standing up for transgender rights in her home state; and Andraya Yearwood, a Connecticut high school track runner who comes under attack by other parents for having an unfair advantage over the other girls she competes against.

Each story isn’t just a compelling case for these three teenagers to compete in the sport they love; it’s a chance for audiences to see the struggles not just for these kids, but their parents and loved ones. Some of the film’s best moments are interviews with family members, who admit how their children’s decision has shaped their own views and the way they see the rest of the world.

Those interviews make Barrett’s film more than just a sports movie. It’s a film about family and unconditional love that is sure to spark debate long after you’ve seen it.

“Chuck Berry” looks at the life and trailblazing career of the iconic singer/songwriter. The film features interviews from family members – including his wife, Themetta Suggs – and musicians influenced by Berry’s work (including Steven Van Zandt and Gene Simmons).

This is more of a straightforward documentary than the 1987 film “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll,” which was a celebration of Berry’s 60th birthday.

This is an insightful retrospect into Berry’s career and his influence on music of all genres as well as the advancement of integration not just in the music world, but beyond. It’s the perfect companion piece to “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll,” a must for fans of Berry.

Other highlights in the first five days of the festival included the quirky documentary about taxidermists “Stuffed;” a documentary about indie wrestler Joey Ryan, “This is Wrestling: The Joey Ryan Story;” and “Driven,” a fun science fiction thriller about a ride-share driver who picks up a mysterious passenger.

The Nashville Film Festival runs through Saturday at the Regal Hollywood Stadium 27.

– To get Micheal Compton’s thoughts on the rest of the Nashville Film Festival, as well as other movies, visit his blog at bgdailynews.com/blogs/reel_to_reel or follow him on Twitter @mcompton428. Email him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com

– To get Micheal Compton’s thoughts on the rest of the Nashville Film Festival, as well as other movies, visit his blog at bgdailynews.com/blogs/reel_to_reel or follow him on Twitter @mcompton428. Email him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com

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