Over the last few years I’ve covered one of America’s premiere film festivals, The Tallgrass Film Festival held in of all places, Wichita Kansas. This growing and developing film festival has grown to be recognized by many filmmaker and experts as one of the top 10 festivals in the country. This, the 9th year of the festival, has me doing something different. While I have covered and reported on the films in the past, this year, I am going to also report on being at the festival as a filmmaker who has a contributed film in the festival. My film, The Long Walk will be appearing on Sunday afternoon but my experiences at the festival will involve much more than just the showing of my film.
So far I have had the opportunity of being at other festivals with my film but the expectations for Tallgrass are high. It has garnished the attention of filmmakers around the globe, and this year, films from over 40 countries were submitted but there are also many films and short films from the United States. There is an annual recognition award that goes to individuals whom have made significant contributions to film called the Ad Astra Award. Award recipients from the past include Cloris Leachman, Don LaFontaine, Dan Glickman, Seymour Cassel and numerous others. This year’s recipient, Elliott Gould is also making an appearance at the festival where 2 of his films are being shown, including his new one, an independent film titled, The Encore of Tony Duran.
One has to wonder, what it is that makes Tallgrass such a respected festival, I think, from word on the street and observation, it evolves around three particular areas. One is its effort to obtain and provide quality, world class independent film. Tallgrass has a reputation, which they have helped promote, of being ‘stubbornly independent.’ That is something I have to agree with, from year to year, some of the best movies I have seen in any given year I have seen at this festival. I have already seen one exceptional film this year among the best I have seen over the course of the year titled Hermano, a dramatic sports film from Venezuela which features brothers caught up in poverty and the violent nature of their community. There is the possibility of football, (soccer) to provide a mechanism of escape from their environment. There struggle is breathtaking and thought provoking.
In the past, Tallgrass has also included such films as Do It Again, a documentary of the story of Geoff Edgers, a Boston Globe reporter, who has the desire to reunite the popular band The Kinks. The festival has also included powerful documentaries such as Saving Luna, a newly reedited film featuring the story of a Killer Whale that got lost from her pod and lived her life in a local fishing community. That particular film has made its way to the big screen in the last weeks, and Do It Again is currently playing on PBS stations in a reduced and edited version across the country. These are but two examples of the incredible films offered, both among my personal top 10 of the year during their release.
There is a second thing that makes Tallgrass exceptional; the way they treat the filmmakers in attendance. While it may surprise many, Wichita KS is a fun town to visit. If you are a filmmaker who has been blessed to have your film accepted into this festival, the Tallgrass staff and volunteers will treat you like royalty. There are ample opportunities to enjoy the long weekend and they will provide assistance in obtaining lodging, travel, speaking opportunities. They also take pride in taking care of you and this is something most filmmakers really appreciate. There is an ongoing VIP Lounge open to filmmakers throughout the festival and the food and beverages are exceptional.
There is a third thing that makes Tallgrass the quality festival it is. The community base of volunteers is second to none. Tallgrass is a community event, using community persons, who work year round in various capacities of film, from presenting terrific educational opportunities for filmmakers, to presenting quality presentations of independent film in the community, of all styles and in various venues. I would challenge, there are as many volunteers at Tallgrass, as some festivals across the country have in attendance for the duration of their festival. While some may not know of the benefit this program brings to the community, it attracts the filmmakers, movies, and response it does for a reason, it is run by quality individuals who in my opinion, put on one of the top 2 or 3 events, hands down, in the state of Kansas, and one of the top film festivals in the Midwest, if not the top film festival in the Midwest. I challenge, there is no single event as well planned, structured and entertaining in the city of Wichita as The Tallgrass Film Festival. It is, that good!
In the past I have had the blessing of seeing this first hand as a member of the press and one who loves film and is actively involved in film. This year though, I get to see it with new eyes and with new experiences, this year I am here not just as a reporter for Hollywood Jesus, I am here as a contributing filmmaker. For filmmakers across the country, looking for a festival to submit your film to in the future, you can hardly do any better than Tallgrass. It isn’t easy to get in, but when you do, you know you are in an established, quality festival that is garnishing recognition across the globe.
Independent film has produced quality, quality that is seemingly lacking in many of the studios over the last few years. There are those who complain about ‘Hollywood,’ but some of the best film in any given year is at a film festival in your community, and that filmmaking is from places like Tulsa, Portland, Wichita, and even smaller communities you may have never heard of like Sedan. If you are lucky enough to have a Film Festival in your community, support it because when you do, you support the future of filmmaking. I am blessed, I can support my local festival which is one of the best in the country. This year, I am also blessed because I happen to have a short film showing at it. On this weekend in October, Wichita is a heavenly place to be, thanks to the filmmakers, city, and especially the volunteers who make Tallgrass happen. Now I have to finish this report up so I can get a free massage being offered for filmmakers through the duration of the festival. While I’m enjoying that, my wife will get to enjoy her makeover being offered to those who would want one this weekend. As for me on that one, I’m happy with my scruffy beard.
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