The Sundance of the Sierras

Nevada City Film Festival

<i>Nostalgia for the Light </i>isn’t like any documentary you’ve seen, and it won’t make you nostalgic.

Nostalgia for the Light isn’t like any documentary you’ve seen, and it won’t make you nostalgic.

The Nevada City Film Festival takes place August 18-21, at the Miners Foundry, the Nevada Theatre and the Magic Theater in Nevada City; for more information, visit

August is said to be a barren moviegoing month, but not around here. Instead, we have an embarrassment of festival riches, with the Sacramento International Film and Music Festival SummerFest already underway (see “Monsters, hookers and hair—oh my!” by Kel Munger, SN&R Arts&Culture, page 22), and the Nevada City Film Festival kicking off this weekend.

Let us discuss the latter here. It’s the one film festival I always seem to mention when I meet upstart filmmakers with their hearts set on Sundance. “You should try Nevada City,” I say.

And usually they give me a weird look because they haven’t heard of it. To which I respond, “Don’t look at me like that, you dick. You’d be lucky to show your film there.” But actually, I don’t say that, because it’s easier to just let these people go about their business of getting rejected by Sundance, and if the Nevada City Film Festival stays sort of a secret, that’s fine with me. That’s part of its charm.

Having set up a comfortable niche between hipness and humanity, the NCFF smartly combines down-home coziness with deep curiosity about a wider world. Each year it gathers independent works in all genres from around the globe. This year brings a good crop of what you might call documentaries. But these aren’t just simplistic choir-preaching political missives like normal documentaries. They’re personal stories—just what a festival like this is so good for.

Here’s a short list of some you might like:

Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, a feature directed by: Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler. In which: The story of a visionary, insane, underrated funk-punk band is recounted by the band, its famous fans and Laurence Fishburne (no relation).

Pull quote (narrated): “Dreadlocks and mohawks, Fishbone united the divided communities of America. They made it OK for black kids to slam dance.”

Note: You know you love “Bonin’ in the Boneyard.”

Grandpa’s Wet Dream, a short directed by Chihiro Amemiya. In which: Septuagenarian happens upon porn career, doesn’t tell family; title alone inspires laughter, shivers.

Pull quote (from NCFF festival director Jesse Locks): “Apparently one of the most overused names for boats (thanks, Google).”

Note: Her bravery for Googling that.

Hot Tubs, a short directed by Gabe Rosenn. In which: A “super social” Santa Barbara-spawned subculture is recollected, as is mankind’s historical predilection for relaxing nakedly with friends in hot water.

Pull quote (closing credits): “Dedicated to warmth, trust, and camaraderie in an overcrowded and suspicious world.”

Note: Actually, that description applies to the festival itself.

Kevin, a short directed by Jay Duplass. In which: The director of Cyrus and Baghead tracks down a hero of his from the Austin music scene, gets to know him and helps make his dream come true.

Pull quote (narrated): “Motown voice, Spanish guitar, New Age lyrics. … I mean, it definitely wasn’t for everybody, but if you liked it, you loved it.”

Note: Bighearted, easygoing and much less cheesy than it could be, as mandated by the Duplass modus operandi.

Nostalgia for the Light, a feature directed by: Patricio Guzmán. In which: At 10,000 feet above sea level, the Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, a fertile refuge for astronomy—and a dumping ground for the bodies of political prisoners “disappeared” by the Chilean army in 1973.

Pull quote: “I wish the telescopes didn’t just look into the sky, but could also see through the Earth, so that we could find them.”

Note: A profound meditation on the meaning of humanity, superior to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, this is one of the most dazzling and devastating nonfiction films I’ve ever seen. On a big screen, with a live audience, it’s a must.

We Are Wizards, a feature directed by: Josh Koury. In which: Adorably dorky young lads take musical inspiration from Harry Potter mythology.

Pull quote (from the official site): “We Are Wizards is in no way affiliated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros. or any of its partners or affiliates within the Harry Potter franchise.”

Note: Possibly the ballsiest musical-genre bender since Fishbone.