The Tallgrass Film Festival wrapped on Sunday with the closing night film “Before I Disappear.”
Going in, the film sounded kind of dour. It was anything but, even though it deals with suicide. It focuses on a man in despair who gets a call from his estranged sister asking him to watch her daughter, who he barely knows. It’s director Shawn Christensen’s feature debut (based on his Oscar-winning short “Curfew”). He’s a talent to keep an eye on.
I got a chance to talk to several filmmakers who visited Wichita throughout the festival, and most praised Tallgrass for its energy, vibe and attendance.
Jon Michael Shink was at Tallgrass from Washington to present the United States premiere of his film, “We Are the Ones,” a documentary about three surgeons in an area of South Sudan dealing with violent tribal conflict.
“Tallgrass was a great time,” Shink said. “We’re already looking forward to our next opportunity to come to Wichita.”
I didn’t get to see everything, but my favorite films were:
▪ “The Living,” directed by Jack Bryan — This was the festival’s Stubbornly Independent Award winner. It was a dark, noirish thriller that boasted a fantastically detailed performance by Kenny Wormald, who did an about-face from his highest profile role in the remake of “Footloose.”
▪ “Before I Disappear,” directed by Shawn Christensen — Stylish and daring in its narrative, it keeps us guessing what’s real and what isn’t as we get further into the main character’s disintegrating psyche.
▪ “The Ladies of the House,” directed by John Stuart Wildman — Wild man is right! Wildman’s deliciously twisted tale of cannibal strippers was dark, maniacal fun.
▪ “Limited Partnership,” directed by Thomas G. Miller — A rousing and touching documentary about the struggles of one of the first same-sex couples in the world to be married.
▪ “A is for Alex” directed by Alex Orr — This was hilarious, about a man-child’s anxiety-ridden journey toward becoming a parent.
The festival’s award winners
▪ Vimeo audience award short — “Fools Day,” directed by Cody Blue Snider
Runner-Up: “The Phone Call,” directed by Matt Kirby
▪ Vimeo audience award documentary feature — “Keep On Keepin’ On,” directed by Al Hicks
Runner-Up: “The Life and Mind of Mark Defriest, directed by Gabriel London
▪ Vimeo Audience Award narrative feature — “The David Dance,” directed by Aprill Winney
Runner-Up: “A is for Alex,” directed by Alex Orr
▪ Best emerging filmmaker short: “Laundry Day,” directed by Michael Stevantoni
▪ Best Kansas short: “Good Conduct,” directed by Patrick Rea
▪ Golden Strand special recognition award: Joe and Peggy Sarno, “for their significant influence and contribution to the history of film.”
▪ Outstanding documentary for cinematic legacy: “A Life in Dirty Movies,” directed by Wiktor Ericsson
▪ Outstanding documentary in recognition of social action: “Silenced,” directed by James Spione
▪ Outstanding documentary: “The Overnighters,” directed by Jesse Moss
▪ Outstanding new talent: John Diaz, “Five Star”
▪ Outstanding ensemble cast: “Love Land,” directed by Joshua Tate
▪ Outstanding cinematography: Sean Porter, “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter”
▪ Outstanding narrative feature: “Man from Reno,” directed by David Boyle