The Tallgrass Film Festival saw a first this year: snow.
But wintry weather didn’t keep movie lovers from flocking to the festival, which kicked off Wednesday night with a gala screening and after-party at Botanica with a fun Hitchcockian theme and live music by Virgin Mary Satellite.
Thursday’s highlight was the 20th-anniversary screening of Wichitan Leif Jonker’s cult hit “Darkness,” which drew a game and enthusiastic crowd to the Orpheum. I hung out with the director and cast members Randall Aviks, Gary Miller and others before and after the show.
Friday’s highlight was the festival’s centerpiece gala, which featured a screening of “Pulp Fiction” on 35mm film. It was a treat to see it on the big screen. Former Wichitan Jason Bailey, who wrote the book “Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece,” led a discussion afterward with the film’s casting director, Ronnie Yeskel, and music supervisor, Karyn Rachtman.
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Afterward, festivalgoers coralled into Abode Venue for a party and live music by Seven Nation Army.
Saturday morning, my short film “Walker” screened in the “Down to the Wire Spotlight,” a collection of short films from the CreativeRush/Tallgrass-hosted 24-hour film race that took place earlier this year. Afterward, Brian Hickey chatted with local filmmakers Kevin Wildt, Ian Blume, Wade Hampton and myself about our maddening experiences trying to make a film in just 24 hours.
As of Saturday, my favorite film of the festival hands-down is “Worm,” which follows the adventures of a small-town, well-meaning crook as he tries to find the people who have framed him for murder. The film was stunningly shot in one 90-minute take with a GoPro Hero 2 camera. It’s truly a daring, brave experiment and an astounding feat. It’s visceral, heart-pumping and, ultimately, touching.
Writer/director/star Andrew Bowser discussed the making of “Worm” with an enthusiastic crowd after the film. He even got a standing ovation. Bravo, indeed.
Saturday night’s screening was the winner of the festival’s Stubbornly Independent Award, “The Favor,” a dark thriller about a man who asks his best friend to help him get rid of a body. But the experience scars the friend, making him unhinge slowly. It’s a gritty thriller reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple,” perhaps.
Afterward there was a party at Executive Center.
Sunday was filled with more movies (I saw four in a row) and ended with the closing night gala screening of the documentary “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story.” A beautiful closing night party at the Scottish Rite followed, where partygoers danced to a live orchestra.
Tallgrass also announced its award winners on Sunday. Here they are:
Vimeo Audience Awards
(Voted on by Tallgrass movie-goers.)
($1,000 prize): “Forev” (James Leffler and Molly Green, directors)
Runner Up: “This is Where We Live” (Josh Barrett and Marc Menchaca, directors)
Vimeo Audience Award Documentary Feature ($1,000 prize): “Blackfish” (Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director)
Runner Up: “A Lovely Day” (Kerri Gawryn, director)
Vimeo Audience Award Short Film ($500 prize): “Dotty” (Mick Andrews and Brett O’Gorman, directors)
(Voted on by Tallgrass programmers.)
Best documentary feature: “I Will Be Murdered” (Justin Weber, director)
Best narrative feature: “Blue Caprice” (Alexandre Moors, director)
Directing recognition: Andrew Bowser, “Worm”
Acting recognition: Golshifteh Farahani, “The Patience Stone” (Atiq Rahimi, director)
Best short film: “The Butcher’s Dozen” (Eirin Strickland, director)
Best Kansas short film: “Full Service” (Erich Rumback, director)
Best emerging student short film: “Why Not?” (Mariah Hall, director)
Vimeo Stubbornly Independent Award winner ($2,500 prize): “Favor” (Paul Osbourne, director)