Kansas City FilmFest

The annual film tradition expands.

Co-Directors Todd Norris and Mitch Brian experiment in film. They have been creating promotional videos for theater companies such as the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s show The Rainmaker.

Around 130 films – shorts, feature lengths and animated – will be part of the Kansas City FilmFest 2014 in early April.

In its 18th year, the film festival has grown film by film, filmmaker by filmmaker. Founder Fred Andrews created the festival to provide a venue for local and independent filmmakers to screen their films.

Veronica Elliott Loncar, executive director for the Kansas City FilmFest, honors Andrews’ initiative, along with an active board and a group of advisors. “Our mission is to bring films to Kansas City and promote those local films and filmmakers. I spend a lot of time, meeting and talking to organizations in Kansas City. We strive to create relationships and partnerships. We have been part of our community for 18 years. We know that many artists are also filmmakers and when we unite with others, we raise the awareness for everyone. Film is a way to celebrate the art of storytelling in the form of film. Film is an art form and another avenue for many artists in our community.”

Loncar believes the movies need to be celebrated as an art form. “It’s an art form that captures storytelling. We need to help artists and those particular filmmakers understand the invaluable joy they give.” The festival has grown to need two cinema theaters: the Alamo and the Cinemark on the Plaza. “We are growing and simply we need more seats. It’s a joy when roughly 70 filmmakers come in with their films. Kansas City likes to talk to them about the blood, sweat and tears it takes to make the films. All of us want to know what inspires filmmakers.”

Loncar started working on films as a production assistant. Her roles with independent films have included craft service, makeup, props, producing and more. “I learned as much as I could. I worked freelance on commercials. I can appreciate what filmmakers do.”

Another event in the festival is the Reel Spirit contest. Loncar says an entire day will be given. “We want them to have their own day. It’s Saturday April 5. The kids and families enjoy the attention.” The Kansas City Women in Film and Television will also get a day dedicated to them. “The focus on scripts and screen plays will be April 8. We want an evening where the actors can attend the staged readings. After all, filmmakers are often actors. It is a nice crossover,” she says.

“I want people in Kansas City to see films that they might not normally see,” Loncar says. “We are excited to see films as well. There is a sense of pride to have a festival in Kansas City. When people come out to support films, it continually raises the bar on what quality is put forth to an audience. Everyone gets excited when good films are put in front of audiences. Soon we will be mentioned in the same breath as those larger film festivals.

Loncar also believes that people still enjoy watching films together. “Watching a film on the big screen is a unique shared experience … truly a shared cultural experience. One big event I am looking forward to is sharing Ernest and Celestine, an animated film nominated for best animated feature.”

Due to the deadline of KC Studio, the selected films will not be announced until March 1. However, visit KC Studio’s website after March 1 to see the choices. However, several local filmmakers entered films into the contest for judging. Todd Norris is  one such filmmaker. He spends much of his time making short films and music videos. Not only is he
competing in the Kansas City FilmFest, but also other festivals such as the Los Angeles fear film festival called Shriek Fest.

“The first time I ever shot a film, I was in sixth grade,” Norris says. “If I was objective about describing my style, I would describe my work as a mix of comedy and horror. I usually try to put these elements together in my films; the genres of humor and horror are
two of my favorites. As an example,  a favorite is Tremors. It’s an enjoyable and unpretentious film that is not necessarily high art and that seems to lend to its success. I think that ability  to fly below the radar. However, I enjoy trying to stretch myself. I did a romantic drama a couple of years ago called Candy Apple Red. I really do try to do a little bit of everything.”

Norris works often with Mitch Brian, a filmmaker, screenwriter, and visiting assistant professor at UMKC. The two men have worked on several videos for the bands Tiny Horse and the Grisly Hand.  Norris says the video Ride, by Tiny Horse, fronted by Abigail Henderson, is a testament to her legacy. “It’s difficult to watch. She helped bring people together. She and others in the music community founded the Midwest Music Foundation, a group that sponsors health-care programs and provides financial relief to local musicians who have suffered a health-care crisis. She died at the end of August 2013.”

Grisly Hand has an Americana old school, country/rock sound, Norton says. “They are a very upbeat band and that allowed us to be very creative. When they asked me to direct the video, I felt honored. I admire the band and the song. I took the reins to direct a goofy and fun video. On top of it, we have received good press for the videos.” The two men are also working on a video for The LateNight Callers, another local band.

Entering film festival competitions is a toss-up, Norris says. “You can make a great film and the judges don’t care for it. Art, after all, is subjective … so dependent on their moods and personal tastes. There is no strategy. I worked on a film with Gary Huggins called First Date. We submitted to other film festivals and we were despondent, but then we made it into Sundance.”

Norris is his own cinematographer and editor. “I have worked as a cinematographer on other films from other local filmmakers, and I enjoy that job just as much as I do directing.” He served as cinematographer for First Date. “It is thrilling to have a venue in Kansas City to screen your work and to be judged by professionals and potentially win. Truly, film festivals can be a catalyst to do even more good work. As a filmmaker, the festivals force you to raise the bar. Certainly people will make their art, but a film festival spurs you on to meet deadlines because you want to try to enter a film for
that competition.”

He also likes to make short films and enter those. “I do enjoy short films. I realize I am a better sprinter than a marathon runner. It’s like capturing a one-act play.” As new categories are made for film festival contests, Norris believes it is because of the ever-changing way in which younger filmmakers are sharing their craft with such tools as YouTube. “It comes a lot easier to younger people to use these resources. It’s a different way to get entertainment. Mitch and I may be working on a web series as well. It’s a brand-new form of storytelling we want to jump into, plus Mitch and I have been doing short promos for several live theaters in the city such as the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, the Living Room, and the Unicorn.”

Other Kansas City filmmakers of note include Tony Ladesich, Gary Huggins, Christopher Good, Michelle Davidson, Patrick Rea, Bryce Young, Kendall Sinn, Jeremy Osbern and Lyn Elliot. Young is one of the nominations for his work on various web series including Withered World. The category was added this year. Learn more at kcfilmfest.org.

About The Author: Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.


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