Next weekend's eighth annual Tallgrass Film Festival is a film fan's feast. There's so much on the menu, it'll be impossible to do or see everything. But that's what makes the festival so inviting. If you're not giddily exhausted by the end of the day, you're not doing it right.
Tallgrass, which starts Friday morning and continues through Sunday night, will present more than 100 short and feature films this year. They are carefully selected through a rigorous judging process and curated into a program to please a wide array of tastes.
But why should you go see these films if you've never heard of them?
Well, that's exactly the point. And that's the festival's job — to show films you might not otherwise get to see. Most of them are filmmakers' passion projects — movies they have fought to get made over many years with little money and a lot of determination.
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Most don't have big-name Hollywood stars in them, but they have what a lot of mainstream films don't — heart.
Here are some of the highlights of the Tallgrass Film Festival:
* Opening Night Gala —The opening night film will be " The Dry Land," about a U.S. soldier returning home from war who struggles to reconcile his experiences as he settles back into life in Texas.
The film is written and directed by Ryan Piers Williams and stars Ryan O'Nan, America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty"), former festival attendee Jason Ritter (currently being seen on TV in "The Event") and Melissa Leo ("Frozen River").
It will start at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway.
The film will be followed by a speakeasy-style after-party just around the corner from the theater with music by popular Wichita band Carrie Nation & the Speakeasy. A $25 ticket gets you into the screening and after-party, which will feature an open bar and appetizers. You'll have to have a "password" to get into the party, but you'll get that when you buy your ticket or pass.
* Saturday Centerpiece Gala — You will have your choice of films to see Saturday night, both of them rousing, music-related documentaries. " Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone," will feature a Q&A after the screening with Norwood Fisher, bass player and founding member of the band Fishbone. The film starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Orpheum.
The other film featured at the same time (though at the Scottish Rite center, 332 E. First St.) is " Still Bill," an intimate portrait of soul legend Bill Withers, who penned such classics as "Ain't No Sunshine," "Lean On Me" and "Lovely Day."
Both films will be followed by an after-party at the Brickyard, 129 N. Rock Island, with a concert featuring Withers tribute band Under Construction and the Midwest premiere of Fisher's one-man musical show.
A $20 ticket gets you into the film and after-party event ($10 admission to concert only).
* Closing night gala presented by the Ulrich Museum of Art — A screening of Charlie Chaplin's 1922 classic silent film " The Kid" will be accompanied by a live original score by Wichita-native Arri Simon and his 21-person chamber orchestra. It starts at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Wichita State University's Wiedemann Hall.
A party with open bar and food follows at the Ulrich Museum of Art. A $25 ticket includes the film and after-party (it's free for WSU faculty and students, and members of the Ulrich museum).
* Visiting filmmakers — Tallgrass has attracted more than 300 filmmakers over its eight years who come to discuss and promote their films. This year, about 30 directors, producers and stars will be in Wichita, and will take part in Q&A sessions after their screenings. Go ahead, ask a question. They never tire of talking about their films, believe me.
* Audience awards — You can have a voice in the festival, as well, by voting in the competitive sections (for narrative and documentary shorts and features). You'll be given a ballot to rate the film you're seeing and you'll place the ballot in a box as you leave. Votes will be tallied and awards given in a ceremony during Sunday night's gala event.
* The Timothy Gruver Spotlight on Kansas Filmmakers — This collection of short films gets more popular every year and showcases our state's thriving filmmaking community. Work by filmmakers from the Kansas City area, Iola, Lawrence and Wichita will be shown.
* A showcase of Wichita's downtown — The festival brings everyone to the heart of the city, by mostly using venues in the downtown area. There will be two theater venues set up in the Garvey Center, 150 W. Douglas, and films also will be shown at the Scottish Rite center, 332 E. First St., the Wichita Public Library's downtown branch, 223 S. Main, the Bank of America Theater, 100 N. Broadway, Naked City Gallery, 121 N. Mead, and Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway.
For a complete lineup of films and events at the Tallgrass Film Festival, see our special section (and official festival guide) in Wednesday's Eagle. Films also are listed at www.tallgrassfilmfest.com.