[media-credit id=164 align="alignleft" width="300"][/media-credit]Buying a festival pass to the 2010 Kansas International Film Festivalwas one of the best networking decisions I made all last year; it provided me with an almost excessively entertaining movie-going experience. Not only did it widen my cinematic horizons, but more importantly, it introduced me to a whole new side of local filmgoers. And with an even wider variation of movies this year, I positively had to commit myself to it again, all other responsibilities taking a backseat.
Amongst the regular crowds for the KIFF of predominantly middle-aged, independent film enthusiasts, I stood out as an apprehensive, wide-eyed high schooler. Going in last year without knowing anyone I was nervous about being surrounded by volumes of older people for seven days, but I knew it would be quite the interesting experience. And since it was the city’s best exhibit of distinctive filmmaking all year, I was guaranteed to learn a lot about the art form.
As an annual, weeklong event at the Glenwood Arts theater, the KIFF showcases more than 50 movies, with a lineup of independent and arthouse features as well as a wide array of unique documentaries. Most of the films haven’t been picked up by a distributor and likely won’t find much of an audience outside of festivals. However, a handful of the movies include upcoming, studio-produced arthouse flicks, building hype on the festival circuit before their theatrical release within the following few months.
As one who devotes his life to films, the prospect of seeing these much-anticipated arthouse movies ahead of most other people, and for a flat price, was more than enough reason for me to go last year. The clincher here being that I’d watch “127 Hours” and “Black Swan” several months before the general public.
A week of great arthouse films was a thrilling break from real life for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed the festival. So much so that I took a chance on the Film League meeting the next week. At this monthly gathering at the theater, about 15 people sit around and discuss several movies from the previous month, with this meeting focusing on KIFF films.
Upon my entrance I immediately felt out of place, similar to when I first entered the festival – except now I actually had to interact with these strangers. Looking around at the other attendees, the youngest one must have been been at least 25 years older than me, many of them much more than that.
But as the conversation got rolling, I slowly found myself easing in and began contributing to the discussion. By meeting’s end an hour later, I realized that the age barrier no longer presented a threat; I connected with them through the language of cinema.
Throughout the year I continued attending these meetings, developing a special bond with the group. Nowhere else have I found such a quirky, interesting and knowledgeable assortment of movie lovers, not to mention I’ve learned lots about the mindset of those from the Baby Boomer generation.
By the time this year’s KIFF arrived, my familiarity with the Film League members gave me companions with whom I could converse and compare reactions before and after screenings, putting me more at home this time around. They even helped me step out of my comfort zone as I went to far fewer studio pictures than last year, opening up to more independent, experimental and controversial fare.
[media-credit id=164 align="alignright" width="300"][/media-credit]One of the coolest screenings of the festival showcased a collection of odd, wacky silent short films, with a live performance by a three man ensemble known as the Alloy Orchestra providing the eclectic, fascinating score. Then, an Australian movie called “Nude Study” exemplified bizarre, experimental filmmaking with extreme stylistic flair, and was one of the weirdest yet strangely captivating features I’ve seen all year.
As if that didn’t already open my mind to new cinematic exploits, the subversive flicks certainly deepened my appreciation for films that make a statement.
The documentaries tend to deliver most of the insightful, haunting and thought-provoking experiences at the festival. A doc by the name of “Peep Culture” took a thoughtful, sometimes shocking look at how social media has evolved communication and personal privacy. But a mockumentary titled “Moment of Truth: The Andy Meyers Story” undertook the most ingenious style to make its point. The movie shows a documentary crew following an autistic 65-year-old on his last day of life before he plans to kill himself, and when it ended, the filmmakers came out for a Q&A and played it off to all be real, until the main actor appeared at the back of the theater.
This “Gotcha!” trick angered several audience members, one even threatening the director, but it totally blew me away. It amazed me how they got under viewers’ skin with such a simple concept.
The filmmakers stuck around afterwards and chatted with those remaining, so I had the opportunity to ask them and learn more about how they made the film. As an aspiring filmmaker myself, I certainly took in quite a bit from this conversation, inspired by how they had created a powerful, award-winning movie for only $15,000.
Such connections with filmmakers of the festival made the biggest impression on me. I wanted to see first time filmmaker Kevin Foster’s feature, and even though I missed it, I met him at the festival after-party. Not only did he give me a DVD of his movie, but we also talked for an hour and a half as he explained the entire process of making the film. He even gave me advice on starting out in Hollywood. I was dumbfounded with excitement as he also told me stories of on-set experiences from other movies he worked on, describing Robert Downey, Jr. on “Iron Man,” Sean Connery on “The League of Extraordinary Gentleman” and director Sam Raimi on “Drag Me to Hell.”
My whole exchange with Kevin stood out as my coolest experience at the festival, really giving me the drive to continue pursuing my filmmaking dreams. However, as far as lasting connections I made at the festival go, I’m now even closer to the Film League members, and I even discovered a SM South senior who’s just as well-read and obsessed with cinema as I am. Predictably, our new friendship consists of geeking out over movies and having long discussions about them.
The Kansas International Film Festival is a place to explore edgier, provocative and absorbing cinema. But personally, I cherish it more for the connections I’ve made through it – even if most of those connections do jump a couple of generations.