Indianapolis is a city best known for its Motor Speedway and the Indy 500. But the “Racing Capital of the World” is also home to a growing film and art scene. It’s true, there is more than corn in Indiana.
In 2001, the city launched a multi-million dollar campaign called the Cultural Tourism Initiative in an effort to raise the city’s cultural profile and encourage residents and visitors to experience the artistic offerings within the community. Earlier this year, the Indiana Film Commission presented Indiana Film and Video Week, a state-wide campaign to raise public awareness of the impact locally-produced films have on the state’s economy and standard of living.
But, politics and government agencies aside, many exciting things are also happening on a grassroots level, in a movement that is very much youth-driven. Budding actors, artists, and filmmakers, as well as musicians from Indy’s thriving music community, are joining forces and combining talents to form multiple collectives that are doing much to foster a creative and collaborative spirit throughout the Circle City.
Key Cinemas/Filmmakers Showcase
This independently-owned two-screen arthouse on Indy’s south side became the epicenter of the Indianapolis film scene when it opened its doors to area filmmakers every second Tuesday of the month for the Filmmakers Showcase. Owner Ron Keedy wanted to “provide an opportunity for Indy filmmakers to strut their stuff on the Big Screen, and then discuss and critique with fellow local filmmakers and enthusiasts.”
There is no charge to screen your film, and admission is free. Films begin at 7 p.m. and run until 10 p.m. or whenever the last credits roll. Key Cinemas is also the only theater in town that has digital projection capabilities. “We don’t want to leave anybody out,” Keedy says. “We can project 35 and 16mm as well as VHS, S-VHS, DVD, BetaSP, or directly from any little camera with an S-video output.”
The showcase has become so popular that even filmmakers from outside Indiana have brought their films to the event. The theater was a stop on Rooftop Films and Clamor magazine’s “Power of Living: Become the Media” Midwestern tour. Key Cinemas also plays host to the local Queer as Film and Indianapolis Underground film festivals as well. And that creative vision is expanding. Due to popular demand, Keedy is opening a second venue in Columbus, Indiana, later this summer and hopes to eventually add a third on the north side of Indianapolis. “It’s a labor of love,” he adds.
When local work or festivals are not screening, Key Cinemas plays alternative films, such as documentaries and foreign films. This arthouse is also one of the most cost-effective places to catch a flick, with tickets selling for only $5. And it should also be noted that their classic 1948 Manley Popcorn Popper makes the best caramel and kettle corn in the state.
For more info, contact Key Cinemas, 4044 South Keystone Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46000; phone: (317) 784-7454; www.keycinemas.com.
The Film Commune
Formed in 2001, the Film Commune is a collective of young directors who describe themselves as “working in much the same spirit of the French New Wave filmmakers of Paris in the 1960’s” and have joined together “to cause a scene and make Indy synonymous with indie film.” Most of them met while students in the New Media program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). In addition to making films, the “comrades,” as they call themselves, also coordinate the annual Indianapolis Underground Film Festival each December.
The festival showcases edgier and more provocative cinema that would otherwise would go unscreened in this traditionally conservative town. It has introduced Indy audiences to films ranging from Jennifer Arnold’s feature documentary American Mullet to Ari Gold’s sixty-second Sundance crowd-pleaser, Culture. But in its inaugural year, it screened only films from Indianapolis-based directors. “We wanted to prove to the city that there were living and breathing filmmakers here who were making interesting and innovative work,” says Jyvonne Haskin, the program’s director. And as a result, the festival caught people’s attention.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know there was much of a film scene at all in Indianapolis until the Commune created as much buzz as they did. I think it both surprised and inspired a lot of locals,” says John Karamanski, executive producer of Indie Scene TV. Karamanski approached the group about producing a television show to highlight the local film community. In the fall of 2002 they produced Indie Scene TV, an original series, for local ABC affiliate WRTV-6. What was it like for filmmakers to try television? “It’s a paradigm shift, that’s for sure. TV is quite demanding, with multiple assignments and mounting deadlines,” proclaims Joel Umbaugh, who pulled double-duty as both a producer and editor of the program, “but it was a learning experience, and we had fun.” The six half-hour-long episodes aired late on Saturday nights and promoted the city’s independent filmmakers, artists, and musicians. Each program contained director interviews and film clips, as well as on-the-scene segments at premieres, productions, festivals, and screenings. Indianapolis’ mayor, Bart Peterson, was even a guest on the show to discuss the impact and importance of the arts on the community. Today the comrades are all working on various film projects and planning for the next festival, to be held in early December 2003.
For more info, see www.thefilmcommune.com.
Heartland Film Festival
Heartland Film Festival director Jeff Sparks has had a lot of trouble over the past few years explaining what this festival, which has been heavily associated with the phrase “family values,” is all about. “No, this is not a religious film festival,” he explains. “It’s not a conservative or Republican festival either.”
Established in 1991, the Heartland Film Festival has developed many ways to pursue its mission: “to recognize and honor filmmakers whose work explores the human journey by artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of life.” Over the course of ten days each October, Heartland screens films from around the world, ranging from dramas to documentaries to animation, all of which “take entertainment to a higher level.”
One thing Heartland clearly has is money. In its first ten years, the festival wrote checks totalling more than $1 million to winning filmmakers. Each year, over $100,000 in prize money is given out, including a $50,000 grand prize for Best Dramatic Feature, with smaller awards going to various independent films and student productions.
Heartland also recognizes theatri-cally released films that “seek to enrich, inspire, and provide hope” with awards presented prior to a film’s theatrical release. The festival’s Truly Moving Pictures Award of Excellence recognizes these works “as examples of what happens when Hollywood makes movies with substance.” The award has been embraced by some studio marketers and now lands on about a dozen films a year, and made the poster for Remember the Titans and the video case of Hearts in Atlantis.
In 2002, Heartland also launched Heartland Film Festival Video, a new video distribution initiative. It will provide an outlet for promising independent films that otherwise may not gain wide distribution. Sparks hopes the label and the festival will encourage filmmakers to make movies that inspire, “but not necessarily in religious, family, or conservative ways.”
For more info, contact the Heartland Film Festival at: 200 South Meridian St., Ste. 220, Indianapolis, IN 46225-1076; phone: (317) 464-9405; www.heartlandfilmfestival.org.