Lela Meadow-Conner, co-founder of the Tallgrass Film Festival and its current creative director, is leaving the organization at the end of the month.
Meadow-Conner, who has been with the festival since its beginning in 2003, is leaving to focus on her two other jobs – director of marketing at the Bentonville Film Festival and acting executive director of the Film Festival Alliance.
“I’ve been wearing a lot of hats, so I’m looking forward to taking one off,” she said.
Meadow-Conner plans to stay in town and be involved in future Tallgrass Film Festivals, she said – just from a volunteer standpoint.
“It was sort of time to move on and let somebody else take the reins for the organization,” Meadow-Conner said. “It’s been an amazing 15 years. I feel like we’ve sort of ... taken (Tallgrass) from a crawl to a walk – now somebody can come in and run with it. We laid a really good foundation for the next team of people to just come in and sort of make it their own.”
Tallgrass’ recent successes aided in the decision: growing numbers of young and passionate interns/volunteers coming up through the Tallgrass ranks encouraged her, she said.
“It’s so cool to see the next generation of people are interested in this notion of a film festival,” she said. “These kids who grew up in the digital age and are used to (video on-demand), never having to leave your house to watch movies, are excited about what (a film festival) can do for a community – how it’s beyond just showing movies in a theater and how it’s really is a cultural event.”
Meadow-Conner performed executive directorial duties alongside festival founder Timothy Gruver since 2003, but took over as the sole director when Gruver died unexpectedly in 2005. She continued to serve as Tallgrass’ executive director until 2016, when she became its creative director.
At that time, the festival wanted to hire an executive director dedicated to fundraising and development. Its hire, Marci Hawks, had an eight-month tenure with the organization before leaving in July.
Tallgrass Film Association’s executive director position has been vacant since then, though it has begun a new search, according to the news release.
The association just wrapped up its 15th festival, which drew national attention after its scheduled guest of honor, Rose McGowan, canceled her appearance in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Over the years, Tallgrass has developed into a popular regional film festival, attracting filmmakers from across the United States and overseas. It regularly makes the list of “Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee” in Moviemaker Magazine.
“(Tallgrass) is in good hands,” Meadow-Conner said in the release. “Over the years, we’ve cultivated dedicated supporters, attendees and passionate staff members who will carry on founder Tim Gruver’s vision of experiencing movies together. They, along with TFA’s new leader, will grow the organization as the industry moves into a new era of film exhibition, and will continue to embrace Wichita’s abundant enthusiasm for its community.”
According to the news release, 2017 was “a challenging year for TFA.”
“We were met with some unforeseen obstacles, but the most brilliant thing that arose from it was that due to the passion of the community, the sponsors, the board and the staff, we were able to execute our most successful festival to date,” current Tallgrass board president Lynda Carrier-Metz said in the release.
This year’s Tallgrass Film Festival showcased 182 films, hosted more than 123 filmmakers and exceeded 2016 attendance, according to the release.
The 2018 Tallgrass Film Festival runs from Oct. 17-21, 2018.
The city of Wichita is the star of a film that the Tallgrass Film Festival intended to use for visiting filmmakers to get to know the city, but it turned into more than that, says Tallgrass Film Association executive director Lela Meadow-Conner.