Movie Maniac

206 independent films light up Tallgrass Film Festival

“Gone Doggy Gone” is about a couple’s frantic search for their dog that has been kidnapped.
“Gone Doggy Gone” is about a couple’s frantic search for their dog that has been kidnapped. Courtesy photo

Wichita is a movie-going town.

It’s no surprise then, that the Tallgrass Film Festival has grown into a Wichita favorite. The festival kicks off Wednesday with five days of gala parties, film screenings, educational opportunities, VIP events and more.

The festival is now in its 12th year, founded by the late Timothy Gruver, and has steadily grown through the years. Last year’s fest drew 34 visiting filmmakers and an attendance of more than 11,000, according to festival figures.

This year, 206 films will be shown (49 features, 157 shorts), selected by the Tallgrass programming committee from more than 1,400 films submitted.

This year, a record 32 of the films have Kansas connections.

But films come from all over. In all, 34 countries will be represented, including Iraq, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Sudan and Bulgaria.

Films from across the country also will be shown, and about 40 filmmakers are traveling to Wichita. They will participate in Q&A sessions after their screenings.

Anthony Grippa is coming from New Jersey with “Half Brother,” a drama he wrote and directed. The film is about a 30-year-old man who must move back in with his parents after his girlfriend dumps him, only to find that his parents are in the middle of getting a divorce.

“It’s about how he gets sucked into their drama while he’s going through his own personal turmoil,” Grippa said on the phone recently, “and how he comes to terms with his place in this dysfunctional family.”

Grippa said he had heard good things about Tallgrass from a friend who screened her film here last year, and that’s why he chose to submit his film here.

“She just said that everyone that worked at the festival was really nice and everybody was really into the films,” Grippa said. “Everyone was into the experience of putting on a great film festival – that’s what I was really attracted to. I wanted to show my movie to people who really love movies.”

He thinks festivals such as Tallgrass are integral in getting smaller, unknown films seen.

“Especially given how over-saturated the market is with movies and independent films, in particular. It’s festivals like Tallgrass that have really good reputations that let the cream rise to the top, so to speak.”

John Stuart Wildman knows all about film festivals. He’s the senior publicist at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which just wrapped its renowned New York Film Festival. It was the 52nd year of the fest, so Wildman has an extensive insider view of festivals and about 10 years of experience working them.

But being at film festivals as a filmmaker is a new experience for him. He’s coming to Wichita to present “The Ladies of the House,” which he directed and co-wrote with his wife, Justina Walford.

Wildman said by phone that he has empathized with filmmakers through the years at what he thought it felt like to be in their shoes, “but until it’s really you going through the experience, the fun part or the angst,” you don’t understand what it’s like, he said. But, “it’s been a lot of fun.”

He describes “Ladies of the House” as a “post-feminist thriller,” following guys who meet a girl at a strip club then follow her back to her home to party only to discover that her roommates aren’t just fellow dancers, they’re also cannibals.

“My wife and I love genre films, horror films,” Wildman said. “They give you this opportunity to talk about stuff or to approach issues in a way that doesn’t seem like you’re hitting people over the head with it.”

It’s certainly the kind of film we don’t usually see in Wichita, but that’s what Tallgrass is all about.

“I don’t know if I should be afraid of Kansas or if Kansas should be afraid of me,” Wildman joked. “But I’m excited about getting there.”

And after seeing the diversity and quality of films offered in the program, Wildman says, “I’m very happy to be in that company.”

Reach Rod Pocowatchit at

If you go

12th annual Tallgrass Film Festival

What: Film screenings, filmmaker workshops, gala parties and more

When: Wednesday-Oct. 19

Where: Various locations in and around downtown Wichita

How much:

VIP TALLPass: $195 (includes admission to all galas, general admission films, educational offerings, receptions and VIP Lounge)

Student TALLPass: $80 (includes admission to all galas, general admission films and educational offerings)

General admission films: $10 ($8 for students, teachers, seniors, military)

General admission matinees: $5 admission for films starting before 5 p.m. on Thursday and Oct. 17.

Galas: $25 includes movie and after party

Gala film-only tickets: $15 available only for opening night, Return of the Reels and closing night galas.

More information and complete line-up:

If you go

Tallgrass opening night gala

What: Screening of “Life Itself,” a documentary about the late film critic Roger Ebert

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

How much: $25 gets you into the film and after-party with food, drink and entertainment; $15 for film only

Tallgrass guide

Look for the Tallgrass Film Festival program guide that ran in Friday’s Eagle. It also will be available at Tallgrass venues.

10 movies not to miss

“Before I Disappear” — This is the closing night film and follows an irresponsible man who gets a call from his estranged sister asking him to look after her daughter. 7 p.m. Oct. 19 at Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway .

“Gone Doggy Gone” — A comedy about a couple who treat their dog like a baby and freak out when it gets kidnapped. 7 p.m. Thursday at Orpheum Theatre.

“Half Brother” — A man returns home after breaking up with his girlfriend to discover his parents are getting a divorce. 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Orpheum Theatre.

“The Ladies of the House” — Guys who follow a stripper home to party discover her roommates are cannibals. 9:45 p.m. Thursday and 9:15 p.m. Saturday at Orpheum Theatre.

“Life Itself” — This affectionate documentary about the life of movie critic Roger Ebert is the opening night film. 7 p.m. Wednesday at Orpheum Theatre.

“The Living” — This is the winner of the festival’s Stubbornly Independent Award, and follows a man who awakens after a drunken night to discover that he has severely beaten his wife. 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Scottish Rite, 332 E. First.

“Mad as Hell” — This U.S. festival premiere explores internet sensation the Young Turks and Cenk Uygur’s rise to mainstream TV. 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Scottish Rite.

“Mood Indigo (L’ecume des jours)” — Michel Gondry directs this whimsical tale about a woman who has a flower growing in her heart. 5 p.m. Friday at Garvey Center and 2 p.m. Oct. 19 at Wichita Art Museum, 1400 W. Museum Blvd.

“Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo” — This chronicles a complete season of the International Gay Rodeo Association. 2:15 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Oct. 19 at Garvey Center, 250 W. Douglas.

“Silenced” — Oscar nominee James Spione’s look at political whistleblowers. 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bank of America Theater, 100 N. Broadway; and 11 a.m. Oct. 19 at Scottish Rite.

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