Movie Maniac

Tallgrass wraps up festival with honors, local films

This year's Tallgrass Film Festival is drawing record crowds.

Friday drew more than 1,000 viewers, Tallgrass board president Ann Keefer announced before the opening night film.

The energy was certainly buzzing Friday night at the Orpheum Theatre, with strong response to " The Dry Land" —a poignant, powerful story driven by an electric performance by star Ryan O'Nan. The film's producer, Mark Mathis (whose works include "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" and "Brick"), engaged the audience in a friendly, thoughtful Q&A session after the film.

Festivalgoers then ventured a couple of blocks away to the opening night party, which was held in an old warehouse with a 1920s-style speakeasy theme. Visiting filmmakers (including Ad Astra Award recipient Rolfe Kent) mingled among the energetic crowd.

The turnout on Saturday was even bigger, according to Tallgrass executive director Mike Marlett.

"Our attendance has just been off the charts," he said Saturday afternoon. "Ticket sales are way up and everything's going great guns."

Among Saturday's highlights were a screening of the high school poetry slam documentary " Louder Than A Bomb," which drew impromptu beat slams in the venue lobby, and a screening of " The Wayman Tisdale Story" that drew a standing ovation when filmmaker (and native Wichitan) Brian Schodorf stepped up for the Q&A.

His film was an emotional, inspirational tribute to the basketball player and musician who died in 2009.

"It wasn't really a story about a guy dying," Schodorf said. "It was a story about a guy living."

Local flavor — The festival pays tribute to Kansas talent with its " Timothy Gruver Spotlight on Kansas Filmmakers" program, which starts at 12:45 p.m. today at the Scottish Rite center, 322 E. First Street. Nine short films by Kansans will be shown.

Another local filmmaker, Wichitan Parker Smitherman, will be included in the "Joel Fein High School Shorts "program, which starts at 11 a.m. today, also at the Scottish Rite.

Musical finale — Tonight's closing night gala activities include a screening of Charlie Chaplin's classic silent film " The Kid," to be accompanied by a live orchestra made up of about 18 students from Wichita State University and East High School. It will take place in Wichita State University's Wiedemann Hall.

Tallgrass commissioned Wichita native Arri Simon to compose the score, and it was underwritten by Kari Schmidt, Jeff Emerson and Chamber Music at the Barn. Simon will conduct the live performance of his piece.

"It was a challenge, as it is my first film score composition," Arri said in a statement. "And because the film is silent, there is virtually no break for 55 minutes."

The event also will include an awards ceremony, where the winning films of the festival's audience awards will be announced. The festival's Ad Astra Award will be presented to film composer Rolfe Kent, whose extensive resume includes the score for the Oscar-winning "Sideways."

That will be followed by a party at the Ulrich Museum with drinks and snacks. A $25 ticket includes everything (it's free for WSU faculty members and students or Ulrich museum members).

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