The 2019 Indy Film Festival may very well be having one of its best years yet as it kicks off at Newfields in Midtown Indy for its 16th annual film festival here in Indianapolis. The all-volunteer festival is growing quite the reputation for attracting fine indie cinema to Indiana and this year is no exception. While narrative features and docs may get all the attention, one can never forget the always high quality shorts screening at Indy Film Fest. The first block I've had the chance to check out this year is the "Beauty of Nature" shorts block, a collection of short films centered in and around nature.
Directed and filmed by a female-led crew, The Big Five Dive follows a group of women as they attempt to scuba dive in all five Great Lakes within a 24-hour period as a powerful statement that there's a place for everyone under the water. Directed by Elizabeth Kaiser, The Big Five Dive is a 23-minute doc short that has been on an extended fest run that began way back in January 2018 at the Thunder Bay International Film Festival. While The Big Five Dive has some obvious inspirational appeal, the film's impact is somewhat muted by an over-abundance of interview footage and a surprising lack of actual scuba footage. While the film's opening dive gives us some decent captures of the shipwreck that awaits divers, a good portion of The Big Five Dive is spent on the way to or from one of the five destinations. Key project participants like Jacque Edwards, Stephanie Gandulla, Meaghan Gass, and Hannah MacDonald are clearly passionate about their involvement in scuba diving, though The Big Five Dive never quite elicits that same kind of passion from the viewer.
Karl Koelling's 9-minute short doc An Old Man's Game has the kind of warmth and intimacy one might expect from a filmmaker tackling a short film about the wonderful human being who is his own father. While you might suspect a lack of objectivity, there's no such concerns to be found in this wonderful little short film about an aging Christmas tree farmer who is struggling to maintain his crop while simultaneously grappling with his own mortality and the value of his work. There's a beautiful simplicity to An Old Man's Game, the kind of film one might expect should a Norman Rockwell painting ever come to life. There's also a strong sense of melancholy at the core of An Old Man's Game, a sense that Koelling wants his father to recognize the beauty that he sees in his life and in his work. A quiet, understated film about a quiet, understated man, An Old Man's Game finds a beautiful reality at the core of this little sliver of Americana.
Indiana's White River is the featured place in Brandon Walsh's 16-minute short documentary Onward Ever, a film that looks to the future and potential of a river that flows through Indy with majesty and beauty yet has all too frequently been dismissed by both city officials and area residents. In recent years, White River has sprung back to life in a myriad of wonderful ways and Walsh captures all of this quite nicely with interviews ranging from local volunteers to longtime Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Executive Director David Forsell, whose home is merely footsteps away from the river that many once avoided because of its pollution and waste. Weaving together interviews among business, artistic, environmental, and social leaders of Indy, Onward Ever beautifully captures how Indy is changing how it exists with its natural world and we're all the better for it. While the slo-mo photography is a tad overdone, Onward Ever is the kind of locally made short film you expect to find at Indy Film Fest and I'd dare say it'll make you proud to be an Indy resident and part of the growing solution for bringing White River back to life.
Places Like This centers around a group of veterans who embark on a Colorado Outward Bound program through the Colorado Wilderness, a six-day winter expedition with a vision of using nature to nurture old wounds and needs that defy explanation to those who've never experienced military conflicts. Beautifully filmed within that Colorado wilderness by Nicholas McNaughton, this 10-minute short film does an excellent job of introducing its captivating characters quickly and making us care about their stories. It's a 10-minute short film that could have easily been even longer, a difficult challenge that brings a smile to your face when you know that these veterans have accomplished far more than simply completing their challenging six-day journey.
Dugger, Indiana' s Lonnie Bedwell appears in two Indy Film Fest presentations this year. He's mostly in the background of the doc feature The Weight of Water, but Bedwell is front-and-center of Feel of Vision, a 26-minute doc short screening as part of the Beauty of Nature shorts block while also completing among the Hoosier Lens films. After losing his eyesight, Bedwell discovered that kayaking, yes kayaking, opened up the whole world for him. Feel of Vision tells the story of a guy who spends his time engaging fellow blind paddlers in the spray and white foam of the Ohioplye and Yellowstone wilderness. Co-directed by Tucker Gragg and Austin Gardner, Feel of Vision is the true highlight of the Beauty of Nature shorts block, an inspirational film that avoids being overly sappy and even more wisely avoids the tendency toward "inspiration porn" that seems to plague so many films centered around disability. Feel of Vision gives us a Lonnie Bedwell who is open about his physical challenges, but it also gives us a Lonnie Bedwell who has learned to live a pretty amazing life in the midst of them all. Bedwell was surrounded by friends and family during the film's opening screening at DeBoest Lecture Hall in Newfields and Feel of Vision does a wonderful job of capturing the ways in which his friends and family have gone on their own journeys right alongside Bedwell. Heart-tugging and constantly feel good, Feel of Vision is one of the 2019 Indy Film Fest's feel good gems.
The Beauty of Nature shorts block closes out with its only narrative short, an 11-minute short film from The Netherlands directed by Niels Bourgonje about a young man, Gijs, who receives a phone call from his mother while on vacation with his girlfriend. Fraught with tension, it's a phone call that reveals her troubled mental state and the complex nature of the relationship between mother and son. While it may seem like an unusual subject matter for a shorts block about the beauty of nature, rest assured that Skogafoss earns its place in this block and it's that wide chasm that exists between the beauty of their surroundings and the harrowing nature of the unfolding story that gives this film much of its power. Written by Bastiaan Tichler, Skogafoss is the kind of film that lingers in your psyche' long after the closing credits have rolled. It features tremendous performances from its ensemble cast including Martijn Lakemeier, Gaite Jansen, and the remarkable vocal work by Anneke Blok. While decidedly different from everything else in this shorts block, it's a perfect way to end "The Beauty of Nature."
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic