Movie Maniac

Tallgrass Film Festival returns for 17th year. Here’s a preview.

The Tallgrass Film Festival kicks off its 17th year on Wednesday, Oct. 16, and continues through Sunday, Oct. 20, and area independent film fans will be en force.

There will be lots going on, with about 170 films on the schedule, as well as VIP events, gala parties, educational opportunities and much more. Many filmmakers and actors will be in Wichita to present their films and participate in Q&A sessions after screenings.

One of the highlights this year is the winner of the festival’s Ad Astra award, Bobcat Goldthwait, says Tallgrass Director of Programming Nick Pope.

“While he’s probably most well-known as a stand-up comedian, his work as an independent filmmaker over the last 15 years or so has truly become his passion,” Pope said. “There’s a signature dark humor to his work but the stories he tells about outsiders and people trying to find their place in the world are as profound and heartfelt as any other director working today.”

The Ad Astra award will be presented to Goldthwait at 7:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway, ahead of a discussion led by Pope, which will be followed by a 10th anniversary screening of “World’s Greatest Dad,” starring Robin Williams. In the film, Williams plays a lonely high school teacher who inadvertently attracts attention after covering up the truth of his son’s death with a phony suicide note.

Goldthwait also will introduce a late-night screening of “Shakes the Clown” at 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Scottish Rite, 332 E. 1st St.

Other film highlights this year include the opening night selection “Straight Up,” directed by James Sweeney, about a gay boy and a straight girl who become Intellectual soul mates. It will screen at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the Scottish Rite. The event will be followed by a gala party with food and drink at Union Station, 701 E. Douglas.

This year’s winner of the Jake Euker Stubbornly Independent Award is “Once Upon a River,” directed by Haroula Rose, about a 15-year-old part Native American girl who goes on an odyssey on the Stark River. The film will be shown at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18, at the Scottish Rite. An after-party follows at the former Greyhound Bus Station, 214 S. Topeka.

The competition is now in its eighth year and the winner was chosen from four finalists, which will all screen at the festival. To be eligible for the competition, domestic narrative feature films must have been made for $500,000 or less without traditional theatrical domestic distribution.

The DOXX Spotlight competition focuses on women documentary filmmakers. This year’s winner is “Fly Like A Girl,” directed by Katie McEntire Wiatt, about a movement of young girls and women who are relentlessly pursuing their passion for aviation, a field currently dominated by men. The film will be shown at 4:15 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, at the Scottish Rite.

The festival’s closing night film will be “Give Me Liberty,” directed by Kirill Mikhanovsky, a comedy about a medical transport driver who is torn between his promise to get his elderly Russian relatives to a funeral and his desire to help a headstrong young black woman in a wheelchair. It will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, at the Orpheum Theatre. The event will be followed by a gala party at the Wichita Art Museum, 1400 Museum Blvd.

There are many more films and events, and Pope says “we curate a program that runs the gamut of romantic comedies to stylish action films. These are films that often go on to be nominated for Academy Awards and garner additional buzz when they hit the likes of Netflix, but you’ll always see them at Tallgrass first.”

For a full schedule, go to

The 17th annual Tallgrass Film Festival

When: Wednesday, Oct. 16, through Sunday, Oct. 20.

Where: Various venues around downtown Wichita

How much: All-access TALLpass is $225; weekend platinum pass is $125; weekend film pass is $75; week day film pass is $50, tickets to an individual screening are $10 for general admission or $8 for first responders, military, students and teachers with ID, $7 for matinees before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18, and Friday, Oct. 19; gala film tickets are $15 or $25 for a ticket and the after-party.,

More information:

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Rod Pocowatchit is an award-winning independent filmmaker and SAG/AFTRA-eligible actor who has written and directed four feature-length films, all made in Kansas. He has been a journalist for 29 years and is also an internationally award-winning page designer.