The Tallgrass Film Festival got off to a rousing start Friday with screenings all day at various venues downtown.
But the highlight was Friday night's screening at the Orpheum Theatre of " The Only Good Indian."
The film tells the plight of American Indian children who were forced to go to government-run boarding schools in the 1800s. It premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival.
But the film came home, in a way, as many scenes were shot in Wichita, mostly at Old Cowtown Museum. The production used many Wichitans as extras and crew members.
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I hosted a Q&A session after the screening with director and University of Kansas film professor Kevin Willmott and star Wes Studi, who has appeared in more than 50 productions, including "Last of the Mohicans" and "Geronimo: An American Legend," and will appear in the upcoming James Cameron space epic "Avatar."
Willmott touched on several of the film's social issues during the Q&A. He also stressed how making movies in Kansas is not only possible, but liberating.
"We can make movies that Hollywood won't," he said.
Representatives from Wichita's American Indian community also presented Studi with gifts and an eagle feather, a highly revered honor.
Overcome with emotion, Studi paused before speaking, thanked everyone in his Cherokee language, and said, "It is an honor to represent my people."
Kansan films — The Timothy Gruver Spotlight on Kansas Filmmakers program has become a favorite event of the festival, mainly because of its local emphasis. The program will start at 3:30 p.m. today at the Orpheum Theatre.
This year's program includes:
"Misfortune Smiles," directed by Jon Niccum (Lawrence)
"Muni," directed by John Birmingham (Wichita, Lawrence)
"The Little Ones: A Dogumentary," directed by Grant and Kasey Babbitt (Lawrence)
"Autumn," directed by Sandra Powers
"Evelyn," directed by Shih-Shan Chen (Lawrence)
"Rhubarb Pie," directed by Mitch Brian (Hutchinson)
"Official Selection," directed by Vince Masciale and produced by Krysta Rinke (Wichita/Los Angeles)
Festival finale — The festival's closing night film is " Mommy Is at the Hairdresser's (Maman est chez le coiffeur)." Set in the summer of 1966, the coming-of-age drama/comedy follows a teen girl who must take over caring for her eccentric family when her mother suddenly leaves them.
In French with English subtitles, the film starts at 6:30 p.m. today at the CAC Theater on the WSU campus. Tickets are $20, which includes an after-party at the Ulrich Museum (the event is free for WSU faculty and students with ID).
Screenwriter Isabelle Hebert will attend the screening and participate in a Q&A afterward.
For a schedule of today's events, go to www.tallgrassfilmfest.com.