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Academy Award Shorts Return to Wichita February 18-25

For the 31st  year, the Wichita Public Library will present free screenings of every 2017 Academy Award-nominated short film, including selections in the Best Live Action Short, Best Documentary Short and Best Animated Short categories. Sing (Mindenki), nominated in the live action short was an official selection of the 14th annual Tallgrass Film Festival.

Tallgrass founder Timothy Gruver was very proud of Wichita’s longstanding tradition of screening these cinematic gems, and always made a point to head to the library every winter to catch up on the films he wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. Tim was especially fond of the foreign films, as it is much more common for those films to receive financial support from the government, leading to exquisitely produced productions.

 “Short films are unique in that a single story is distilled to it’s true essence,” says Jon Gann, founder of the DC Shorts Film Festival and shorts programmer for festivals across the country. “A director's ability to touch, inform, entertain and elicit an emotional response in only a few short minutes is truly an incredible feat — especially since many short films are created by new talents with little or no previous experience.”

Sing (Mindenki), by London-based Hungarian director Kristof Deák, tells the story of young Zsofi, who is having a hard time fitting in at her new school. Her distress grows when the choir director treats her cruelly despite her love of singing. Along with her friend Liza, Zsofi investigates the revered teacher in an attempt to reveal her true nature.

“The music alone will draw you in but it is the immediately identifiable characters and circumstances that endear you to this story of friendship, inclusion and triumph of over repression, says TFA Co-Director of Programming Gretchen Mitchell. “It is an important reminder that your voice makes a difference.”

The free screenigs take place at the Wichita Public Library, the Orpheum and the Warren Theatre. Click here for the full schedule.

Interview with a (VR) Vampiress

We are thrilled to report on a recent collaboration between a few alumni filmmakers who met at the Tallgrass Film Festival and who are now working together on a film project. But not just any film project…take it away Ingrid Serban and Justin Johnson.

TFA: Ingrid, Justin, tell us about the project.

IS: The VR film that Justin, Forest (Sun) and I have been working on this January is the feature documentary, Strigoi, the Real Vampires of Transylvania. With nothing but a camera and the belief that she will go unharmed, a filmmaker returns to her roots in search of real vampires. (Yes, that’s Ingrid.)

TFA: How did you come together on this project?

IS: Justin and I were both on the filmmaker Advisory Board for Tallgrass Film Festival in 2016. I was immediately drawn to his zest for life, creativity and humble attitude. His enthusiasm doesn't stop at film but he genuinely cares for the people in front of his camera.  I had been thinking about doing a VR vampire piece in Transylvania. I've been fascinated with the VR medium and thought that a VR short film with the same theme as our feature would be a great product. When I heard Justin's Tallgrass Filmmaker Lab on VR filmmaking, it became clear to me that he was the best person for the job. 

JJ: It started with my overall obsession with all things VR - showing demos to people at the Tallgrass hotel room, and then doing a workshop on filming 360 video and Ingrid and Forest attended. At some point on one of the last nights of the festival, Ingrid asked if I'd be interested in coming to Romania and filming some 360 stuff, and I said 'of course'! 

TFA: What was it like working together?

IS: It was an absolute joy. I can't think of many people who would have gone through what we had to endure to get the footage for the film and not crack at the seams. Justin was a real trooper. He infused life and excitement into our project with focus and professionalism. Both Forest and I are delighted that we get to work on this project together. 

JJ: It's been great so far! I've loved seeing a new culture, and Ingrid is such a delight to work with. She's got a fantastic locomotion and a steady hand when it comes to directing and producing - methodical and smart. She sets her mind on something and gets it done. Plus, she's super fun to hang out with!

TFA: What were the best and trickiest moments you experienced?

JJ:  Well, we survived an overnight stay in a cabin up in a nearly deserted village in Romania, with no running water (pipes had frozen) and an outhouse…an adventure for sure.

IS: The environment we filmed in was trying to say the least. Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that for a weekend, we lived somewhere at the crossroads of freezing, gagging and sleep deprivation. What made it bearable was our own determination, the sweetness of one of our hosts and the incredible landscape and chilling stories we recorded.

TFA: So we have to ask, did you find any vampires?

Yes. Two. Was I able to film them in the act? Not so much. I have witnesses on tape. Scary stuff.

TFA: What else do you want people to know about the film? And when can we see it?

IS: I am excited to be able to share this land, people and stories with the world in VR form; a truly unique and intimate way to share this experience. The VR short film will accompany the feature documentary where possible or travel on its own. We intend to have it available for the fall of 2017 and 2018 film festival circuit. 

TFA: Anything else you’d like to share?

IS: I am eternally grateful to Tallgrass Film Association for putting on my favorite film festival. Having been there two years in a row, it now feels like home. The life and productivity of filmmakers rests heavily and joyfully in collaboration. It is places like Tallgrass Film Festival that lead the way into a brighter future because we all get to shine together. 

TFA: Aw, shucks. We love you guys too and we can't wait to see the movie(s.) As for whether they found any vampires, guess we'll just have to wait and see...

2016 Tallgrass Official Selections: In The News & Now Streaming

TFA sends hearty congratulations to three films from the 2016 festival that were nominated for Academy Awards, including A Man Called Ove and The Salesman for Best Foreign Language Film; and Sing, for Best Live Action Short. Additionally, Free In Deed was nominated for the 2017 John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards. Wichita will be rooting for you!

In addition, we’re especially excited to share these 2016 Tallgrass Film Festival titles that are now available on Netflix, streaming or on-demand. These films deserve to be seen by the masses and we’re proud of all the blood, sweat and tears that these Stubbornly Independent filmmakers put into their projects. If you saw them at Tallgrass, share them with a friend or watch them again!

A Man Called Ove, 2017 Academy Award Nominee, (Music Box Films): Rent or purchase on VOD platforms

Author: The JT LeRoy Story (Magnolia Pictures: Rent or purchase on VOD platforms

Closet Monster (Strand Releasing): Rent or purchase on VOD platforms

Growing Up Coy: Now on Netflix

Harry Benson: Shoot First (Magnolia Pictures) - Rent or purchase on VOD platforms

Mad Tiger (Film Movement): Now on Netflix

To Be a Miss, U.S. Premiere/14th annual Tallgrass Film Festival (Cargo releasing): Now on Netflix

Underfire: The Untold Story of PFC Tony Vaccaro (Cargo Releasing): Now on HBO Go


Tallgrass TV: Alicia Slimmer

Tallgrass TV Host Naythan Smith sat down with Creedmoria filmmaker Alicia Slimmer at the 14th annual Tallgrass Film Festival. The film was both a 2016 Stubbornly Independent nominee and winner of the Golden Strands Programming Award for Best First Feature. Writer/Director/Producer Slimmer borrowed many elements from her own life growing up in Queens, NY, in the 1980s.

Indie Filmmaking Pro Tips:

  • More money was spent on Munchkins than on any other prop because the crew kept eating the "picture food." (Who can blame them, really?)
  • Alicia personally made all 72 deviled eggs you see in the film.
  • She dodged getting a ticket for doing donuts in a parking lot by putting the cops in her film. (Ingenious!)


Tallgrass TV: Beth Dewey

Tallgrass TV host Aaron Wirtz chats with Director/Co-Writer Beth Dewey about Erasing Eden, a 2016 Stubbornly Independent nominee.

Dewey's filmmaking experiece includes working for the legendary Roger Corman, and as a picture editor for the Oscars, she has been nominated for 3 Primetime Emmys.

To Beth, Stubbornly Indepndent means "not only means taking risks but means blasting through one's own comfort zone to approach storytelling in original and unconventional ways. It means telling uncomfortable stories to shine a light on social issues in an effort to better humanity. It means persisting to make a film when all roads lead to "no" and pushing through to honor the voice inside."


Tallgrass TV: Brad Johnson, Ian Nelms & Eshom Nelms

Meet Producer Brad Johnson and Ian Nelms and Eshom Nelms, three of the filmmakers who participated on the 2016 Filmmaker Advisory Board. The Nelms brothers have screened two feature films at Tallgrass including Lost On Purpose and Waffle Street, both of which starred James Lafferty and the latter of which was produced by Johnson.

Together, they will premiere their new film Small Town Crime, starring John Hawkes and Octavia Spencer, at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival.

Marci Hawks Joins TFA as Executive Director

Tallgrass Film Association has hired Marci Hawks as its new Executive Director. Marci began with the organization in mid-November.
She comes to us with 12 years of service in the non-profit sector, most recently as Director of Development and Community Relations with Wichita Habitat for Humanity.  In that role, she served as the organization’s lead fundraiser as well as managing public relations and marketing.  She brings significant relationships and skills to will be a tremendous benefit to Tallgrass.
 “I am thrilled to be part of the Tallgrass Film Association and look forward to assisting the organization with its growth and stability, working to maintain its excellent reputation while building on its reach and impact," said Marci. "Tallgrass is an outstanding organization and community asset, and I am anxious to roll up my sleeves and get to work with the team.”
TFA also welcomes several new Directors to its Board in 2017, including Art Busch, Jamil Malone, Jennifer Ray, Janice Van Sickle, and past president Paul Witte returns as well.


Tallgrass Staff on the Move

2017 brings staffing changes for Tallgrass Film Association as we welcome Denise Bullock to the Tallgrass team. Denise comes out of retirement to serve as the organization's Finance Director.

Meanwhile, longtime TFA Executive Director and Co-Founder Lela Meadow-Conner remains with the organizaton as Creative Director. She'll play an integral role in stewarding the Tallgrass brand. Collaborating with the Executive Director and Programming team, she'll help to cultivate year-round programming opportunities, and oversee the organization’s marketing and communication efforts. Representing Tallgrass Film Festival throughout the film industry, the Creative Director conceives the festival’s aesthetic, and develops and implements its educational programming, while elevating the filmmaker experience.

Nick Pope, who became the organization's second full time staff member in 2014, adds Director of Education to his existing title of Director of Programming. Nick, who has a film degree from the University of Kansas,  started as a print traffic volunteer in 2003 after graduating from college and worked his way up the programming ladder. In addition to overseeing the programming team, he will cultivate TFA's growing year-round educational offerings for students and amateur and professional filmmakers in the Wichita area.