Tallgrass turns 10

The rousing documentary ‘Pablo’ kicks off the film festival on Thursday

10/14/2012 7:08 AM

08/08/2014 10:12 AM

You may not know Pablo Ferro. But you know his work.

The same might be said for Timothy Gruver, who in 2002 had a vision for Wichita: Create a film festival.

So he did, through much tenacity and labor. It started out small, growing every year.

Gruver unfortunately died in 2005, but his legacy lives on as one of Wichita’s premiere events — the Tallgrass Film Festival. Thanks to a tireless staff and countless volunteers who have kept the festival running, you do indeed know Gruver’s work.

The festival celebrates its milestone 10th anniversary this year, starting on Thursday and continuing through Oct. 21 with more than 120 films from around the world and more parties and events than you can shake a movie ticket at.

Tallgrass executive director Lela Meadow-Conner remembers the early days of the festival fondly.

“When we first started, Tim and I went around and talked to people and they were like, ‘What’s a film festival?,’” she said. “Now people look forward to it. I think it’s really cool how the festival has grown in recognition and scope. I think Tim would be pretty proud.”

Since its inception, the festival adopted the motto “Stubbornly Independent,” coined by late Wichitan Jake Euker, a longtime supporter of the festival.

Meadow-Conner says the slogan was a key factor in choosing the opening night film, “Pablo,” a rousing documentary that blends film footage, animation and motion graphics to tell the story of Ferro, a colorful individual and renowned film artist.

“He’s just such a stubbornly independent character,” Meadow-Conner said. “He made such an impact on the industry but no one really knows what he’s done. He’s not a household name.”

But the films he’s associated with are. Ferro created groundbreaking title sequences for such films as “A Clockwork Orange,” “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” and “The Thomas Crown Affair,” among many others. His work is dazzling, daring, bold and in-your-face. He made title designs as integral to the film as its plot. And he’s one of the rare artists who got opening screen credit for his designs.

“Pablo” follows Ferro’s start in Havana, Cuba, to his work as a comic book artist for Stan Lee, who is interviewed in the film along with such other stars as Angelica Huston, Andy Garcia and Beau Bridges. Jeff Bridges narrates with his typically distinctive style. The film makes its U.S. premiere at Tallgrass on Thursday night.

After working for Lee, Ferro stumbled into film. He became good friends with director Stanley Kubrick. He also would form a longtime, loyal friendship with director Hal Ashby.

Ferro eventually became known for his outlandish style as well as his work, with a tousled thick head of hair and trademark red scarf. But not all is happy with his story, as any artist’s life would be. The film follows his slow decline and, finally, his rebound.

It’s an enjoyable, engaging, inspiring story that will appeal to die-hard film buffs, but it’s entertaining enough for the casual filmgoer, too.

Film fans will find plenty of other movies to enjoy next weekend, as well. The festival’s program includes a spotlight on Scandinavian films, a children’s film festival dubbed “Smallgrass,” four evening gala screenings and after-parties, 19 narrative feature films in competition and more than 20 documentary features in competition, and much more. Filmgoers can even participate in the festival by voting on their favorite films to win an “audience award” in several categories.

There are also many programs of short films featuring filmmakers from around the world and around the state. The entire program was hand-selected by Tallgrass screeners and programmers, who narrowed it down from a field of more than 700 films submitted.

So rest up. You’ll need your stamina. You’ll meet lots of other film fans and more than 30 visiting filmmakers who will present their films.

You may not know who they are. But you’ll certainly remember their work.

About Movie Maniac

The Eagle's Rod Pocowatchit offers his musings on the screen scene.

Reach Rod at rpocowatchit@wichitaeagle.com.

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