Filmmakers – Three Local Film Festivals Capture Audiences

Paris Manhattan - The Opening Film at the KIFF 2013Film festivals hold an increasingly important sway to viewers and those who make films. While a theatrical showing may have a financial reward, many times it’s through cable packages and DVD sales that help. Of course, a film festival allows smaller films to find a screen and a market. They may find a niche for the home video market. For others, a film festival allows an audience to seek out films they may not normally pursue in the larger cinema houses made for mainstream cinema.

From Oct. 12 to Oct. 20, the Kansas City Jewish Film Festival (KCJFF) brings in nine narratives and documentaries that explore and celebrate Jewish culture and film at the Jewish Community Center.

Rabbi Neal Schuster says film festivals, on the most basic level, bring people together. “Many festivals play films that we don’t have access to outside of the context to bring a movie in. There might be a connective element, such as a theme or genre. Many films can stand alone, but string them together, as with the Jewish Film Festival, and there is even more.”

Schuster will facilitate the discussion after the documentary film, Hitler’s Children, Oct. 15. Only two of the nine films directly deal with the Holocaust. Hitler’s Children is the third that leans on the Holocaust, but is very different, Schuster says. The 2012 documentary examines the lives of children and grandchildren of some of Hitler’s top leaders: Himmler, Goering, Hoess, Frank … “With the film, we are trying to understand the post-Holocaust experience. Can children and grandchildren carry the sins of another generation,” he says. Schuster says another aspect is this idea of perpetuating evil. “It is easy to see these men as monsters and we do so, but as appealing as that it, they were ordinary people on so many levels and had ordinary children.”

Schuster is the senior Jewish educator at the University of Kansas Hillel. He teaches on Jewish film and film in general. He looks at values and lessons presented. “The message, the teachable moment, is to look at the lines you don’t cross. I can see the tremendous burden and how difficult it would be to build a life, to create a sense of self when you want to remove yourself from the past. Film gives people a chance to view something powerful and seeing documentaries are something we don’t get often. We can learn about something together with this film festival.”

Associate Professor and Department Chair Tamara L. Falicov from the KU film studies department will also facilitate a discussion. She will lead a panel after the showing of the autobiographical Foreign Letters Oct. 20. In a note from the filmmaker, the film is autobiographical and looks at how critical and difficult it can be to be a teen, let alone being an immigrant teen.

The Kansas International Film Festival has hit lucky number 13. From Oct. 4 to Oct. 13, at the Glenwood Arts Theatre, hundreds of enthusiastic film buffs will parade in to catch more than 50 films.

Dr. Dotty Hamilton, vice president of KIFF and in charge of programming, says one of the highlights is the audience awards for both the best documentary and the best narrative feature. There are two jury awards – one for best narrative feature and one for best social justice documentary – chosen prior to the festival, but announced that Sunday morning at the Filmmaker Recognition Brunch.

“All four award winners receive a one week theatrical run at the Fine Arts Theatres,” she says. “It’s a great prize for filmmakers looking for more recognition and exhibition of their films.” The jury award winners are also replayed on the Wednesday and Thursday evening of the festival. “On opening night, we will screen the Manhattan Short Film Festival, which screens around the world that weekend and our audiences get to vote on the winners, which are announced on MSF website.”

Other collaborations include working with the Kansas City Women in Film and TV, who will sponsor female-directed films for closing night, as well as the Independent Filmmakers Coalition, who will have a Wednesday night screening of their members’ films, Hamilton says.

Tallgrass is the most distant of the film festivals in Wichita, but Kansas City filmmakers have been known to enter this film festival. Last year, the 10th annual Tallgrass Film Festival screened nearly 190 films from 30 countries around the world, including two world premieres and 1 U.S. premiere.

Tallgrass flew in 34 visiting filmmakers from all over the country to present their films to Wichita audiences over four days, which also included parties and educational offerings. The 11th Tallgrass Film Festival will be held in and around downtown Wichita, Kan., Oct.16-20.

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