What makes a great movie?
Is it the acting? The cinematography? The directing?
Sure, those are all important. But it really all comes down to one thing: A great story.
The Tallgrass Film Festival champions great stories. It even has a great story itself.
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It all started 15 years ago, when the late Timothy Gruver had an idea, a vision for a film festival here in Wichita.
At the time, many people didn’t even know what a film festival was. Now, it’s one of the premier events of Wichita, and draws filmmakers from around the world.
It has certainly grown through the years, despite Gruver’s untimely death in 2005. Countless volunteers and staff members worked diligently and tirelessly to see that the festival carry on and flourish.
Director of programming and education Nick Pope has been with the festival since its inception. He says this 15th anniversary “feels like it’s been a long time coming and also kind of feels like a blur.”
He says the overall quality of films has gotten better over time. This year, Tallgrass boasts 182 films – 47 features and 135 shorts – representing 34 countries. About 80 filmmakers and actors will be here to present their films and talk about making them.
One of them is actress Rose McGowan, who will be in Wichita on Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Scottish Rite, 332 E. First St., to accept the festival’s Ad Astra Award following a screening of her short film “Dawn.” Her appearance in Wichita is certainly timely – McGowan made headlines last week in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal when the New York Times reported that she was among the numerous women sexually harassed by Weinstein, who paid McGowan a financial settlement in 1997.
But Tallgrass has always prided itself on topicality, and Pope says that this year’s carefully curated program will include women empowerment films and a lot of films about race.
“Organically we’ve got a film festival that has a lot of a lot of things to say,” Pope said. And that is important to share as a community, he says.
“It’s one thing that to check out these movies at home on Netflix,” he said. “But we want to create a community environment where you can get together and talk about films, and in this case maybe some political issues or what things are happening in the world.”
In addition to the films, Tallgrass will offer panels, workshops, gala parties and much more. New additions this year include the DOX Spotlight, which will feature the work of female documentarians, and the L.M. “Kit” Carson Storyteller Award to honor the achievements of great writing. Screenwriter Larry Gross will be the first recipient following a 35th anniversary screening of Walter Hill’s action/comedy classic, “48 Hours,” which Gross co-wrote.
Returning to the festival again is the Jake Euker Stubbornly Independent Award, which will be given to “I Hate the Man in My Basement,” directed by Dustin Cook, at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Scottish Rite. The film follows a grieving man who struggles to appear normal while living with a secret.
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Festivalgoers again will be able to vote for their favorite films for the festival’s audience awards for best feature and short films.
This year’s opening night and centerpiece gala selections are both South African films. Quentin Krog’s “For the Birds” is making its North American premiere as the opening night film at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, at the Scottish Rite, and is a romance that takes place in the 1970s and follows a young nurse who ruffles feathers as she shows a small town and its golden boy what it means to be an independent woman.
Byron Davis’ “Hunting Emma” will make its Midwest premiere as the centerpiece gala selection at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, at the Scottish Rite. It follows a young woman who witnesses six men kill a cop in the wild and then is hunted down to keep it a secret.
The closing night film at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway, is “Served Like A Girl,” which chronicles the lives of female veterans as they compete for the crown of “Ms. Veteran America.”
Parties with food, drink and entertainment follow all gala screenings.
Other festival highlights include “Military Day” on Thursday, Oct. 19, when all films are free to active and retired military with valid ID. “Free Films Friday” will offer a selection of movies that are free to the public.
It’s all certainly an eclectic program, one that Pope says is created with that in mind.
“It’s always our goal to really program movies for everybody,” he said. “I think sometimes people worry that we’re showing only black-and-white Iranian dance films and that kind of thing. Sure, there’s going to be something unique but also super accessible for anybody.”
15th annual Tallgrass Film Festival
When: Wednesday, Oct. 18, through Oct. 22
Where: Various venues around downtown Wichita
More information: Various ticket packages and passes are available. To purchase and see a complete schedule, go to www.tallgrassfilmfest.com.
Check out the trailers: The Tallgrass Film Festival’s Site Box Cinema at the ICT Pop-up park, 121 E. Douglas, will be showing trailers for films in the festival from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily through Oct. 22. Admission is free.