Best bets at the Tallgrass Film Festival

The eighth annual Tallgrass Film Festival begins Friday, offering more than 100 feature and short films through Sunday at various venues, mostly in downtown Wichita.

Our special section (and Tallgrass' official festival guide) ran in Wednesday's Eagle and will be available at festival locations. It contains detailed film synopses and event listings, but there's so much to do and see, you may not know where to start.

Here are my recommendations for a fantastic fest experience.

Key events

* Filmmaker forum —Visiting filmmakers will gather for a panel discussion about their films and the art of filmmaking, to be moderated by Mike Wood, director of the Media Resource Center at Wichita State University. It's at 11 a.m. Friday at Loft 150, 150 N. Mosley. Admission is free, but a buffet lunch is $9.

* Opening night gala —Includes the film "The Dry Land," about a U.S. soldier returning home from war to life in Texas (starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway), followed by a raucous party at a "speakeasy" just around the corner. You'll need a password to get in, which you'll receive when you buy your $25 ticket, which includes the film and party with open bar and snacks.

* Saturday night centerpiece gala —The cost is $20, which includes your choice of the music-related documentaries "Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone" (7:30 p.m. at the Orpheum) or "Still Bill" (8 p.m. at the Scottish Rite center, 322 E. First Street) plus an after-concert party at the Brickyard, 129 N. Rock Island.

* Ad Astra Award winner —The festival's signature award this year goes to composer Rolfe Kent, who wrote the score for the Oscar-winning "Sideways." A special screening of the film with Kent in attendance starts at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Scottish Rite center.

* Closing night gala —Charlie Chaplin's 1922 silent film "The Kid" will be accompanied by a live orchestra starting at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in WSU's Wiedemann Hall. That will be followed by a party at the Ulrich Museum with drinks and snacks. A $25 ticket includes both events. It's free for WSU faculty members and students or Ulrich museum members.

10 promising films

* " Bibliotheque Pascal" —Dark, stylish, surreal tale about a brothel where customers act out their literary sexual fantasies. Hansel, meet Gretel.

* " Cell 211" —Fierce Spanish prison tale about a guard who must pose as a prisoner during a riot.

* " Cleanflix" —Director Andrew James will be present for his documentary about Utah DVD retailers who "sanitize" films of nudity, sex and violence.

* " Do It Again" —Journalist Geoff Edgers (who will attend) tries to get his favorite band, the Kinks, back together. Very fun film.

* " Fruit Fly" —Colorful, vibrant GLBT musical following a Filipina performance artist who moves into an art commune.

* " The Wayman Tisdale Story" —Documentary about the former basketball star and jazz musician who went on to battle cancer. Director Brian Schodorf will attend.

* " The Family Tree" —Dysfunctional family comedy about a mom who gets amnesia.

* " Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" —Musical biopic about iconic punk rocker Ian Dury (played by Andy Serkis, who's been getting raves).

* " The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner" —A man and his grandson set out on a journey of self-discovery, identity and chess.

* "Louder Than A Bomb"— Director Greg Jacobs will be present for his film about Chicago student poets.

Kansas connections

* " Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone" —Chris Metzler, who grew up in Kansas City, is one of the directors of this uproarious, enjoyable documentary.

* Timothy Gruver Spotlight on Kansas Filmmakers —Annual showcase of Kansans' short films.

* Joel Fein High School Shorts Program —Wichitan Parker Smitherman's film will be included.

* " Thy Will Be Done" —Heartfelt documentary about male-to-female transsexual Sara Herwig's path to ordination in the Presbyterian Church. Herwig's former spouse Billie Fredholm lives in Wichita.

* " Stuart Mossman: A Modern Stradivari" —Chronicles Winfield native's luthier work.

More online

For showtimes and ticket information, see the Tallgrass Film Festival guide available at www.kansas.com or www.tallgrassfilmfest.com.

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