It’s Wichita cinephiles’ favorite time of the year, as the Tallgrass Film Festival returns Wednesday, Oct. 17, through Sunday, Oct. 21.
There’s so much that goes on, with more than 100 feature-length and short narrative and documentary films, gala parties, workshops and panels, that it’s impossible to do everything — but it’s fun to try.
This is the 16th year for the festival, and Nick Pope, director of programming, has been with the festival since its inception but says that “every year is fresh.”
“I truly believe this is one of the coolest events in the city,” he said. It’s so cool that “people who use their vacation days to come and watch movies and hang out and talk with filmmakers and talk about movies.”
Pope says there are lots of “exciting things” coming this year. Here are some highlights:
OPENING NIGHT GALA
This year’s opening night film is “Bathtubs Over Broadway” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Scottish Rite, 332 E. 1st St. The documentary follows a late-night comedy writer who stumbles onto a hilarious, hidden world of entertainment and finds an unexpected connection to his fellow man. It includes interviews with David Letterman, Martin Short, Chita Rivera and more. Director Dava Whisenant and the film’s subject, Steve Young, are scheduled to attend the screening and participate in a Q&A session after the film. An afterparty with food and drink follows at Candela at the Lux, 120 E. 1st St.
AD ASTRA PRESENTATION
This year’s Ad Astra award recipient is iconic actress Pam Grier, a staple of early 1970s Blaxploitation movies playing bold, assertive women beginning with Jack Hill’s “Coffy” in 1973. Other notable films are 1974’s “Foxy Brown” and 1975’s “Sheba, Baby.”
Pope will present the award to Grier at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, at the Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway. A conversation with her will follow. After that will be a special screening of 1997’s “Jackie Brown,” directed by Quentin Tarantino. The film follows a middle-aged woman (Grier) who finds herself in the middle of a conflict that will either make her a profit or cost her her life.
A late-night screening of “Coffy” will start with an introduction by Grier at 11:15 p.m. Thursday at Roxy’s Downtown, 412 E Douglas.
Pope said that Grier was on Tallgrass programmers’ radar for a long time and expects the “Jackie Brown” screening to sell out. He says she’s still “very sought-after.”
“She was probably the first black female action star,” Pope said. “What she did for film and for actresses and for actresses of color in the ‘70s was monumental. And the fact that she is still well-respected is a testament to both her character and her talent.”
Friday evening is special to Wichita as it feature the U.S. premiere of “This is Love,” a documentary directed by John Alexander about Wichita musician Rudy Love. The film will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, at the Orpheum. An after-party follows at 115 N. Mead with performances by Rudy Love and the Love Family.
Many local filmmakers worked on the film, including Wichitan Shawn Rhodes.
STUBBORNLY INDEPENDENT GALA
This year’s winner of the Jake Euker Stubbornly Independent Competition is “Eleven Hundred to Lubbock,” about a group of unlikely friends who pay tribute to their recently deceased loved one by relay-running his ashes across the country. Writer/director Sara Radle will attend and accept the award. Preceding the film will be a screening of “The Smile and the Light Blue Eyes” by Wichitans Peter Espinosa and Brayden Frazier, which was the grand prize winner of this year’s Down the Wire 24-Hour Film Race.
Pope says “Lubbock” is “very, very sweet, very funny with a strong female cast.”
CLOSING NIGHT GALA AND AWARDS CEREMONY
The closing night film will be “White Tide: The Legend of Culebra,” a documentary about a desperate Florida man who goes on a treasure hunt for $2 million worth of cocaine he believes is buried somewhere on the shores of the Caribbean. Director Theo Love will attend. It will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21 at the Orpheum.
“It’s fast and it’s wild and it’s funny,” says Pope.
SOARING TALENT AWARD
The inaugural award will be given to actor Martin Starr, who currently stars as Gilfoyle on HBO series “Silicon Valley.” He is also known for roles in “Freaks and Geeks,” “Party Down” and “Veronica Mars.”
Starr will be presented with the award at 3:45 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, at the Scottish Rite, followed by a conversation about movies and a screening of “Silver Lake,” about a writer (Starr) caught between the odd world of his eccentric friends and the more stable world of his girlfriend and her young children.
OTHER VISITING FILMMAKERS
More than 50 other visiting filmmakers will be in Wichita to present and talk about their films. Pope says “it’s always great when filmmakers come through and then go back to L.A. or New York and talk about how much they love Wichita.”
DON’T GET THE WRONG IDEA
Sure, these are mostly movies you may never have heard of, but don’t let that frighten you away, says Pope, adding that people should leave behind preconceived notions about what an “independent” film is. “These movies are movies for everybody and no matter what kind of movies you like, there’s going to be a movie that you want to see, for sure.”
TICKETING AND FULL SCHEDULE
There are many different ticketing options and passes available. They can be purchased at the festival’s main box office at the Scottish Rite or online at www.tallgrassfilmfest.com. For the first time, Tallgrass has its own app, which can be downloaded to your phone, where you can watch trailers, schedule films, purchase tickets and more.