Tallgrass Film Festival is the one annual event in Wichita I won’t miss. If you’re thinking, “but I’m not a film fanatic so why would I go to a film festival?” – please hear me out. I’m the type of movie-goer who opts for raunchy comedies rather than seeing every Oscar-nominated film, yet if I could clear my schedule for five straight days in October, I’d see movie after movie in downtown Wichita. Here’s why:
1. Tallgrass Film Festival is stubbornly independent.
Tallgrass Film Festival pushes me to watch other genres I normally don’t go to see at my local multiplex theater: documentaries, animation, shorts and foreign films, along with independent feature films (made with smaller budgets and outside the Hollywood system). And I like them! With gentle nudging from enticing film descriptions and trailers, Tallgrass helped me realize that I forget I’m reading subtitles once the plot pulls me in and that documentaries are one of my favorite genres.
The festival’s motto, “Stubbornly Independent,” refers to organizers’ commitment to bringing the best cinema to Wichita from the hundreds of incredible films made each year (many starring some of the world’s greatest actors and filmmaking talent) that will never make it to mainstream theaters.
Jason Bailey, a film editor who grew up in Wichita and now lives in New York City, covered last year’s festival for IndieWire. He summed up the success of Tallgrass perfectly when he wrote that the festival “has raised its profile considerably in its first 13 years—not by courting big names or titles, but by seeking out offbeat indies, and putting them in front of an audience that’s starving for new voices and stories.”
Last year the festival drew a record 15,000 attendees over five days and the number of submitted films continues to grow (more than 2,000), thanks in part to being named by MovieMaker magazine as one of the Top 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee for the past two years. The magazine’s readers also voted Tallgrass as one of the coolest film festivals in 2013.
2. Tallgrass Film Festival takes you to some cool venues.
With 200 films during five days, the festival screens films in many traditional and non-traditional places. Attending Tallgrass Film Festival screenings has provided an unexpected tour of buildings in Wichita I’d otherwise never see. One year I sat in a room on the top floor of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum to watch a fascinating documentary (“The Iran Job”) following an American professional basketball player in Iran. I’d driven by that distinctive castle-esque building that used to be Wichita’s City Hall and even took photos of its exterior. Finally inside, I spent another 90 minutes after the film touring the museum’s galleries.
That same year, my husband and I went to the Scottish Rite Temple to watch “The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne,” a documentary that explores how a poor, single, African-American mother from segregated 1950s America winds up as one of the world’s most notorious jewel thieves. Until the film festival we had never been inside this cool building, and my husband has lived all 45 years of his life in Wichita!
3. Tallgrass Film Festival isn’t all about sitting in a dark theater
I watched a film on the life of country music star Chely Wright, who grew up in Kansas, while sitting a row away from her father and sister. They took questions from the audience after the screening. One of the filmmakers of “Blackfish” took questions from the audience after we watched his movie about the controversial captivity of killer whales at SeaWorld.
More than 60 visiting filmmakers from across North America come to Wichita to show their films and talk to audience members. In addition to the films, there are panels, workshops and parties throughout the festival.
Another of my favorite experiences comes with the VIP TALLPass: in addition to access to all films and events, you can stop into the filmmaker lounge before and after movies for free food and drink from local establishments and entertainment and socializing with other movie-goers as well as the visiting filmmakers.
Have I convinced you yet? Here’s what you need to know about this year’s festival:
The 14th Tallgrass Film Festival is Oct. 12-16. Individual tickets can be purchased for any film or VIP and other packages are available. Toward the end of September check Tallgrassfilmfest.com for a list of the films that have been selected along with trailers. About two weeks before the festival, the full schedule will be available in print and online.