Screening twice during the 2016 Heartland Film Festival, the Indiana Shorts block of films is a sleection of short films either made by Hoosier directors/producers and/or short in Indiana. The films, if they qualify, are vying for the Indiana Spotlight Award, a $5,000 total award for films that also must be U.S. or World Premieres at the festival to qualify. This year's Indiana Shorts Collection includes:
Director Tim Taylor is a returning Heartland award-winner entered in this year's competition with the 22-minute documentary short Go Get Your Horn, a celebration of mentorship, community and the art of listening that explores the Indianapolis jazz scene largely through those who gather on a weekly basis at Indy's iconic The Jazz Kitchen and other local clubs. The beautifully photographed film is a definite gem, a feel good and truly Heartland kind of film with a tremendous life spirit and a spirit that comes alive through the words spoken and the notes played. It would be practically impossible to watch the film without falling in love with Cliff Ratliff, a longtime veteran of the Indy jazz scene with a laid back persona, horrid memory and a mentoring spirit. Ratliff, who was present for the film's world premiere screening at Heartland, is the kind of guy who is iconic precisely because he has no clue he's iconic. The spirit that Taylor captures on the screen was alive in the theater as two of the up-and-coming musicians that he's mentored, Jared Thompson and Richard "Sleepy" Floyd, were also present for the screening and effusive in their praise of Ratliff. Rhythmic and insightful, Go Get Your Horn is another winner from Tim Taylor.
The other world premiere screening as part of the Indiana shorts is Michael, a 16-minute short film from writer/director C. Thomas Lewis shot in Swahili with English subtitles that is a narrative short following the story of Michael, a 14-year-old Kenyan boy whose mother has died after a prolonged period of being HIV+ and left Michael with a detached father and a step-mother who makes it obvious she'd prefer he not be around. Can a young boy with a survivor's spirit actually survive without the support of those around him? That's one of the core discussions to be had following the rather fundamental yet important short film. The script, loosely based upon a story familiar to the filmmaker, is familiar and predictable and the acting lacks the emotional resonance that would draw us closer into Michael's story, though Michael beautifully captures the Kenyan countryside and the familial bond that can take a troubling situation and somehow make it right.
Raising a Village is having its U.S. premiere at Heartland, an awesome thing for the Indianapolis-based film that explores the inner workings of early childhood education and stresses the importance of educational development in the earliest years of younger children. Oh, and it also happens to feature some of the most adorable children EVER. Seriously. The film centers around an early childhood program run by Kelly Jones, an effusive child advocate and believer in children, whose presence during a post-screening Q&A only cemented my appreciation for her message and the film from director Jonathan Eddy. The 17-minute film seemed to be having some tracking issues during its Heartland debut screening, issues that are relatively minor and easily fixed yet also distracting during the actual screening of the film. Raising a Village takes a gentle approach to seriously discussing the devastating impact of a nation that doesn't prioritize early education and the negative impact that can have on children and our communities. The problem isn't a simple one or, for that matter, even just a single one. The problems include everything from actually funding the programs to social justice issues for lower income families and, of course, the pathetically low pay for those who work in early childhood education and, even with that low pay, the horrifically low staffing expectations that government often carries that can have a tragic impact on society's most vulnerable population. While the technical issues were a distraction, Raising a Village is an important film that will resonate deeply with anyone who cares about our nation's kids.
IU basketball is at the forefront of the relatively unknown story of William Torphy, a promising young member of the IU basketball team during its NCAA Championship season in 1940 under Branch McCracken. At that time, the NCAA had limits as to how many players could travel with the team for the NCAA tournament and, for those teams with more than 12 players, that meant making the tough decision to leave some hardworking athletes at home. In 1940, Torphy was one of those athletes. Despite a list of accomplishments during the season, Torphy was left off the championship roster and his presence largely forgotten by history following his death as an infantryman during World War II. It was only when a relative wrote IU requesting research into Torphy's absence from the 1940 team photo that the truth was discovered and steps made to amend the team photo to include a small statement, [Not Pictured]. In the process of discovering the truth about Torphy, IU discovered two other athletes who had also been left off the team photo and left out of the accolades that have long followed recognition of the 1940 team. Along with looking at Torphy's basketball history, [Not Pictured} poignantly looks at his contributions during the war. The film is a simple, straightforward documentary with a weaving together of historical archives with present day memories of those who remember Torphy, though I must confess I more than once found myself wondering "If these people remembered Torphy so fondly, why didn't anyone actually mention this while most of us family was living?" Minor questions aside, [Not Pictured} is a meaningful doc short about a slice of Indiana history that may not be familiar even to those of us, myself included, who are lifelong hoosiers.
The final film in the Indiana Shorts collection is Undertaker, written and directed by Brenton Oechsle, that is a quick 3-minute short film that defies the usual boundaries of microcinema by tackling a serious subject quite effectively and in a most thought provoking way. In the film, a mortician finds himself dealing with loss. While this sounds like it can't possibly be effectively addressed in a 3-minute film, Oechsle essentially takes a momentary glimpse into one man's grieving process yet uniquely makes that man a mortician who spends his days dealing with death. It's a simple, powerful film that has stayed with me long after watching it.
The Indiana Shorts Collection screens one more time - on Wednesday, October 26th at 7:45pm at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12. If you get a chance, check it out and support up-and-coming Indiana films and filmmakers. As a side note, it is worth noting that both Undertaker and [Not Pictured] screened at the 2016 Indy Film Fest with Undertaker taking home the Hoosier Lens Short prize.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic