At the Heartland Film Festival

Movies express hope, positive values through family entertainment

October 28, 2010

Indianapolis has seldom been on Hollywood’s radar map, but the good folks in charge of the 19th Heartland Film Festival plan to change that.

Each year in October, hundreds of filmmakers and thousands of film lovers gather in the heartland of America for the 10-day festival “to recognize and honor filmmakers whose work artistically expresses hope and respect for positive values of life,” as Heartland’s mission statement reads.

Although the festival showcases mainly independently produced films, there are many touches of Hollywood in evidence: actor Gary Sinese (Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Truman), on hand for Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good, the documentary feature about the band he has assembled to honor and entertains troops and first responders; actress Madeline Carroll (Flipped), one of the stars in the spiritually themed dramatic feature Café; young actor Alex Etel (The Water Horse, Millions) starring in Ways to Live Forever, a film about coping with dying; actor Don Most (Happy Days), one of the stars in The Yankles, a feature about a baseball team of Orthodox Jews; and actor Quinton Aaron (The Blind Side), coming to present this year’s Pioneering Spirit Award.

Receiving the Pioneering Spirit Award were producers Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove, co-founders and co-CEOs of Alcon Entertainment, which produced 16 films distributed by Warner Bros., including The Blind Side, P.S. I Love YouMy Dog SkipInsomnia, Racing Stripes, Chasing Liberty and The Book of Eli.

In receiving the award, Johnson and Kosove credited Heartland’s selection of their 2000 release My Dog Skip as a “Truly Moving Picture” as helping to make the film a breakthrough for their company.

Throughout the year Heartland identifies and promotes numerous films with its “Truly Moving Picture Award.” The designation promotes the film and helps people looking for family entertainment to find worthy films.

Although most of the films are new, the award also calls the public’s attention to older worthy films, such as The Mission, Mrs. Miniver and The Music Man. One of the latest honorees is the soon-to-be-released Conviction, about a sister who earns a law degree so that she can help prove the innocence of her incarcerated brother.

The nine films that I saw during the 10-day festival certainly advance their mission of promoting and encouraging family entertainment. If you are a film lover, you might want to save this article for future reference, because most films mentioned won’t be shown in local theaters for at least several months.

Of the four documentaries that I have seen, Mr. Rogers and Me is closest to my heart because I met and interviewed Fred Rogers several times when I lived near Pittsburgh. Co-director Benjamin Wagner worked at MTV when he first met Rogers on Nantucket Island, where both were vacationing. Mr. Rogers was literally his next-door neighbor. The film, shot after Rogers’ death, is a tribute, a journey of discovery of how the Neighborhood host inspired a variety of people and a challenge to continue Rogers’ marvelous ministry of being totally present, especially with children.

Little Town of Bethlehem is a good film for peacemakers because it introduces us to several residents of the town of Jesus’ birth — a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian — revealing that all are committed to non-violence in their resistance to Israeli occupational policies as well as to the violent activities of Palestinian extremists.

Thunder Soul is like a real-life Mr. Holland’s Opus in that it chronicles the reunion of an award-winning high school jazz band 35 years later to honor the now-elderly band director who impacted their lives so deeply.

Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good reveals a side of Gary Sinese that most of us did not know: that of musician and globetrotting entertainer of US troops, as well as for firefighters who responded to the burning towers on Sept. 11. There are so many emotional moments in this film about a good-hearted man who is a worthy inheritor of Bob Hope’s mantle that if you are not tearful by midway through, your name must be Scrooge.

I can do little more than list the three of five Crystal Award dramatic feature films that I have seen, in order of preference. Of the numerous dramatic feature films submitted, the Heartland judges awarded five as Crystal Heart Award winners, which includes a cash award. From these, a $50,000 grand prize is given.

Bilal’s Stand — A unique true-story-based film about a Detroit African American high school senior forced to choose between following his dream of going to college or staying where he is badly needed to provide the major help in running his family’s taxi stand.

Ways to Live Forever — Similar to Letters to God but far more subtle in its use of spirituality, this film is about two boys who become fast friends when they enroll in a class for leukemia victims that is presided over by a kindly counselor.

Café — A writer observes the comings and goings of people at a West Philadelphia coffee shop, where one of them receives a surrealistic divine call.

The Space Between, the Grand Prize winner, is a story about understanding and tolerance between a flight attendant who is to escort a small Muslim boy halfway across the country right after Sept. 11.

To read more about the festival or any of the films, visit the Truly Moving Pictures website.

The archival files about all of the films honored in the past make this site a good place to check out when you are not certain about what to rent on Netflix or at the video store.

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