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Film Reviews: Nathan Davis Still Lives (2011)

Josh Samford

Exerpts from the article...

Musical documentaries are usually reserved for those who have proven themselves on a large scale. Certainly I would think that our audience would be most accustomed to that type of movie, the kind that focuses on Grammy nominated artists who have garnered fans across the globe. However, occasionally you'll run into projects that cover slightly more obscure subject matter and this is usually the much more intriguing projects since they introduce us, the audience, to an artist and a world we are not accustomed to.

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Starting off in his earliest days where he found himself at odds in the Christian private school that he attended for high school, Nathan Davis proved to be a music lover who refused to bend to anyone's whim.

What I find to be most interesting about the feature, aside from Nathan Davis and his music of course, is the culture that is presented within the film surrounding this Raleigh bar scene where Davis sows his musical oats. For me it proved to be the major key in being absorbed into the film. The filmmakers introduce us to both it and Nathan early on, and we see how this sub-culture ultimately sort of flew behind the Nathan Davis banner. From one bar to the next, one friend to the next, Nathan Davis left an indelible mark within this group of aspiring musicians, bands and entertainers. This music-town, that I didn't even realize had such a focal point of musical energy, all felt a strong kinship to the young entertainer and it is their love and fond remembrances that ultimately suck the viewer into this project.

It's the sort of documentary that once you start, you don't want to let go... Whether you like the music or not, this is a documentary that will speak to a vast audience.

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The Pilot, Southern Pines, NC

'Still Lives': Film Spotlights Local Artist

by Tom Embrey

Exerpts from the article:

It's been five years since Nathan Davis, decked out in his signature fedora, frequented the bars of Southern Pines and moved people with his heartfelt music.

Friends, like Brad Stockham and Will Page, say they are constantly reminded of Davis.

"Any time I see one of those hats," Page says, "I'm taken back to him playing."

Movie theater

[Dean] Garris called his documentary, a good portion of which was filmed in Southern Pines, a "good snapshot" of Davis' life and music.

"It is interesting how so many people still feel that connection to him," Garris said. "Amazing to see how many people still play his music. It's just fascinating to see how he still lives."

Using an extensive archive of video, performance footage, photos and interviews with family, friends, musicians and colleagues, Garris tells Davis' story "from his troubled years of self-discovery" to his "ultimate rise as a singer-songwriter on the cusp of greatness."

"During this process," Garris says, "I learned that Nathan was a more successful musician than I first imagined."

His extensive research and tireless work listening to music and interviewing those who knew Davis left him with a detailed portrait of a musician.

"I think this is a film that musicians will flock to because it is a portrait of the ups and downs in the life of musician," Garris said. "They'll say, 'That's what a musician's life is really like.'"

Stockham has seen the film and said it will have wide appeal.

"Anybody who doesn't know Nathan would walk away from this film and feel like they knew him," Stockham said. "It's about the music, and in the end all Nathan wanted was for people to listen to his music."

Myrtle Beach Film Festival logo

[Jerry] Dalton [of Dalton Pictures, and the Myrtle Beach Film Festival] said Garris' film is a quality documentary that is the perfect mix of technical and directorial skill and strong subject matter.

"It's not always interesting to do a documentary on one person, but this was because Nathan Davis had so much character, so much life," Dalton said. "Everyone he seemed to come in contact with had a special relationship with him. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but I would have liked to. There was something very special about him."

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Nathan Davis Still Lives (Critique)

Jeremy T. Hanke

Exerpts from the article...

Curt Cobain. Jimmi Hendrix. Janis Joplin.

All musicians who died too young due to personal demons.

But why do we know them?

Because they managed to stay alive at least until our culture had come to revere them. However, every year, musicians no less talented die too young, but, because they were unable to hold on until their big break, they are not household names. It doesn't make their loss any less tragic.

In that vein, filmmaker Dean Garris chose to explore the life of one such musician, a blues singer/songwriter from North Carolina named Nathan Davis. In this film, he explores Davis' formative years, his lost love, his hustling love for music, the brink of fame and fortune that was swallowed by death, and the lasting impact he had on those whom he touched with his young life.

Nathan Davis performing live

The overall content of Nathan Davis Still Lives is really quite good and the ending is strong and impacting.

The overall look of this film was quite accomplished and really did look like a music documentary. While there were a few issues with soft focus at times and a couple of overly "framed" looking interviews, most of the camera shots and angles were well composed, retaining a gritty and low-fi feel which fit the documentary nicely.

Nathan Davis Still Lives has some amazing elements to it and tells the story of a very fascinating singer/songwriter... I really look forward to future films from Mr. Garris, because I think his heart to look at these sorts of stories is really welcome, especially in a world that is growing more and more tired of mass produced musicians!

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