Defy Film Festival bringing international cinema to East Nashville

  • East Nashville has always acted like a cozy blanket for all types of creatives to wrap themselves in.

    It’s welcoming, it’s embracing, it’s familiar and it has that fresh-out-of-the-dryer feel to it, which is probably why so many singers, songwriters and artists all tend to gravitate here. This weekend, the East Side will wrap one more creative medium into its blanket: Film.

    Defy Film Festival is a new, underground film festival making its debut Aug. 19 and 20 at Studio 615. The two-day festival will highlight 57 films from 17 different countries.   

    Founders Billy Senese and Dycee Wildman say that when it came to finding a place to host an underground film festival highlighting films defying expectations and straying away from traditional formulas, East Nashville was it.

    “East Nashville to me has been the center for a lot of the arts in the city, and I feel like if we’re launching a festival that is grounded in defying expectations and conventions, then there’s no better place to do it than right here,” says Senese.

    “It’s always been a no-brainer that this is where our audience is,” adds Wildman. “Especially people who are open to different types of content.”

    Wildman is no stranger to hosting film events on the East Side. She and a friend started the outdoor movie series Grassy Knoll Movie Nights in Five Points 5 years ago, and she also co-runs Salute Your Shorts, a monthly series celebrating locally made short films, which is hosted at The Family Wash.

    Both Wildman and Senese combed through more than 600 film submissions and narrowed the selection to seven features and 50 short films, which will all be screened during the festival. Films will be screened on two screens and a headphone listening room will be set up allowing viewers to completely immerse and lose themselves for hours. 

    Along with screenings, Q&As with filmmakers are scheduled, including a session with filmmaker and author Stephen Elliot, who directed “After Adderall.” Elliot’s “After Adderall” is a feature film about James Franco making a movie about Elliot's book, Adderall Diaries. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

    From Brooklyn’s drag queen culture to a short film about how the birth of hip hop in the 1970s coincided with a surge of interest in chess among Americans, Defy Film Festival will feature a wide-range range of films, says Senese.

    “We were really looking for films that are pushing the boundaries, trying something new. We are programming films that do use formulas and do use conventions but they do it in a smart way and break out of them at some point,” says Senese. “No one is going to be bored.”

    Initially, Wildman and Senese were nervous about a lack of international film submissions, but once submissions started rolling in the two realized they had a diverse mix of cinema to feature. Films from India, Israel, Taiwan, and other countries will all be showcased on the East Side this weekend.

    “I love film. I want to be around it always,” says Senese. “I’m always at the Belcourt; it consistently brings programming with intent, and we need more cinema to come to Nashville and there’s definitely room for it in East Nashville.”

    Defy Film Festival takes place Aug. 19 and 20 at Studio 615, 272 Broadmoor Dr.

    All access weekend passes are available for $45. Single movie screening tickets are available for $7.

    For more information, visit

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