The Heartland Film Festival 2015 Preview Night

Heartland FF Snacks!

Low-cost admission, free hors d’oeuvre, big-screen trailers, a chance to support the arts and to hang out with adults. Tonight had all the best qualities we needed in a diversion from the week’s events.

Since 1992 Indianapolis has held its own celebration of cinema with the Heartland Film Festival, a ten-day, multi-theater marathon every October of documentaries, shorts, narrative features, and a few animated works made across multiple continents from myriad points of the human experience. Several have aired previously at other festivals; three will be making their American theatrical debuts; two have elected Heartland as the site for their world premieres.

In the early years Heartland concentrated on works of pure uplift and positivity, while today their keyword is “transformative” as the breadth and technical proficiency of entries has grown by leaps and bounds. For the 24th annual event, dozens of volunteers screened 1,756 submissions from 96 countries and together culled them to a more manageable 175+ official selections, several of which will be vying for official festival prizes.

My wife and I been fans of the Heartland concept for years, but so far we’ve shamefully managed to attend just one, a 2011 screening of Emilio Estevez’ The Way at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Last May, Anne signed up for Heartland’s mailing list at their Indy Pop Con booth. This week she was notified of tonight’s special preview presentation at the Athenaeum Theatre downtown, at which the Heartland staff announced their official selections and competition finalists, and released the 99%-finalized schedule for 2015. We had the time, we sorely needed to get out of the house, we’d been hoping for a chance to jump into the Heartland experience, and we loved the idea of having more information at our fingertips about our future viewing options.

Among the numerous films coming to Indianapolis in October, the following is a partial list of what jumped out at one or both of us, either during the presentation or in the detailed festival guides they handed us as we exited. Trailers and links to official sites are provided where available. We’d like to see at least a few of these, time and location permitting. Naturally the results will be reported here on MCC.

* Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (documentary feature): After the 1982 release of the epic Raiders of the Lost Ark, two 11-year-old boys decided to make their own shot-for-shot remake. After much painstaking work, they were 95% finished when they parted ways acrimoniously. Decades later, their work was discovered and talks reopened. Testimonials from superfans like AICN’s Harry Knowles, Film Threat‘s Chris Gore, and director Eli Roth alternate with footage of the ex-friends getting together for one last film shoot. This feels almost too geared toward us.

* The Judgment (narrative feature): Bulgarian drama about a shamed father who’s lost nearly everything, forced to make a living smuggling Syrian refugees across the border, seeking to face down his past and reconnect with his long-lost son. Timely topic, to say the least.

* India’s Daughter (documentary feature): Remember the 2012 Delhi gang-rape incident that made international headlines? British filmmaker Leslee Udwin took a crew to India, found inspiration in the ensuing protests, and scored interviews with the unrepentant perpetrators and their defense attorney. When the Indian government banned it, the BBC pushed up its airdate even sooner. This may be one of the festival’s most harrowing entries. (It’s not the only rape-related one on the docket, either.)

* Peace Officer (documentary feature): Back in the ’70s Sheriff Dub Lawrence helped found one of the first SWAT Teams in Davis County, Utah. Thirty years later, one such team killed his son-in-law before his very eyes. Today Lawrence is a P.I. who spends his free time between paying jobs investigating that shooting and questioning what’s become of the very force he made possible. On a broader scale, the filmmakers look at the nationwide proliferation of SWAT Teams, their wildly escalating use, their alarming militarization, and their minimal-to-nonexistent accountability standards.

* Room (narrative feature): Not to be confised with Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, Heartland’s official Opening Night selection is based on the critically acclaimed Canadian novel about a young boy who’s born and grows up living as an unwitting captive in a single metal shed. When he and his mother (Brie Larson) are freed at last, suddenly he learns there’s an entire world beyond the only room he’s ever known. Costarring Oscar nominees Joan Allen and William H. Macy; from director Lenny Abrahamson, whose last film was the quirky Michael Fassbender indie Frank.

* The 33 (narrative feature): Remember the 2010 Chilean mining accident that made international news? Now it’s an inspirational film costarring Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips, Oscar from The Office, Xerxes from 300, Federico Luppi (del Toro’s Cronos), NCIS‘ Cote de Pablo, and token white guys James Brolin and Gabriel Byrne. The trailer includes all the disaster-movie clichés I expected (my favorite is the Scientist Who Tried to Warn Them All But Nobody Listened), but it may be worthy to see anyway.

* Monty Python: The Meaning of Live (documentary feature): Backstage all-access ride-along with the famed British showmen at their 2014 reunion performance, probably their final group appearance ever.

* * * * *

Other recognizable names in this year’s lineup to varying degrees:

* Coming Through the Rye: In the festival’s official Closing Night selection, a pair of teens resolve to track down the whereabouts of the reclusive J.D. Salinger, as played by Oscar winner Chris Cooper.
* Band of Robbers: Mark Twain’s Sawyer/Finn universe gets a sort of rebooted sequel with Tom and Huck now as young, gritty adults. Costarring Supergirl‘s Melissa Benoist, Kyle Gallner (Veronica Mars, Smallville), and whistleblower comedian Hannibal Buress.
* Oddball: Making its U.S. theatrical debut at Heartland, this wacky Australian number about a family that trains its dog to guard a flock of tiny, errant penguins costars Firefly‘s Alan Tudyk and looks to be the most overtly kid-happy flick of the bunch.
* As I AM: The Life and Times of DJ AM: Documentary about the noted DJ who survived a plane crash alongside his best friend, blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, only to die less than a year later from drug overdose.
* Embers: Jason Ritter in a post-apocalyptic world where everyone’s turned into the guy from Memento.
* Victor: Puerto Rican street-gang drama making its world theatrical premiere at Heartland, starring Khleo Thomas (Disney’s Holes), Haley Ramm (ABC Family’s Chasing Life), and Josh Pence, a.k.a. Armie Hammer’s twin from The Social Network.
* The Champions: Documentary about the pit bulls rescued from Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring.
* Healing: Hugo Weaving runs a prison rehabilitation program, teaches Don Hany to be a better person through doctoring injured raptors (birds, I mean, not dinosaurs, which would be even cooler).
* A Light Beneath Their Feet: Taryn Manning from Orange is the New Black as a bipolar mother dreading the prospect of her steady-on daughter moving away to college.
* Many Beautiful Things: Documentary about a Victorian-era artist who impressed a small audience but gave it all up to become an African missionary instead. Narrators include John Rhys-Davies and Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery.
* Touched with Fire: Katie Holmes and Rectify‘s Luke Kirby meet-cute as bipolar poets in the same institution.
* The Truth About Lies: Fran Kranz (Dollhouse) loses everything, moves in with Mom, finds the perfect girl married to his best friend, begins concocting pack of lies to woo her like a Three’s Company character.
* Waffle Street: Based on a memoir by an evil Wall Street guy (One Tree Hill‘s James Lafferty) who lost his job and found redemption as a chef in a diner. Costarring Danny Glover as his grizzled mentor.
* I Saw the Light: Loki IS Hank Williams, Senior! Like Room, a last-minute addition to the lineup that was revealed at tonight’s presentation but not acquired soon enough for inclusion in the printed festival guide.

Hank Loki Williams!

…and there are dozens more. We may not get to see a fraction of these, but it’s awesome to have so many viable options.

The 24th annual Heartland Film Festival runs October 16th-25th. Viewing updates as they occur!

[UPDATED 9/22/2015: Corrected one movie’s description and replaced the India’s Daughter trailer with a less deleted version.]

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