This year, 101 features and shorts are part of the Heartland Film Festival--and you really should consider getting out and seeing a few (you have through Oct. 23.)
To give you a little more incentive, I've got some tickets to give away. Just post a comment below on either your favorite Heartland film from past years (if you haven't gone, enter anyway with your thoughts on the festival and the kinds of films you'd like to see there).
What should you see?
Well, while I couldn't get an early look at all of them, I did see a good percentage of the features. You can find some of my best of the fest picks--including "Thundder Soul," "The Parking Lot Movie," and "Paradise Recovered"-- in this week's IBj (and online here).
As to the rest of the fest, here are my thoughts on those that either didn't make my best list or weren't screened early enough to be considered.
And since I'm only one person, I've asked some fellow IBJ staffers to screen some that I didn't have time to get through. Their comments follow mine.
For complete festival information, including showtimes, click here.
“Mister Rogers & Me’
Fred Rogers is, of course, interesting. It’s the “me” that the problem in this documentary about an MTV employee who becomes fascinated with his neighbor, the esteemed gentle gentleman of kid TV fame. The framing device may be wobbly, but any chance to reconnect with Rogers’ message to keep things “deep and simple” is worthwhile—and there’s a beautiful sequence in which Tim Russert shares a story about the great man
It’s a given that what’s onscreen in some festival films is going to inadvertently show their low budgets and quick shooting times. In the end of Bilal’s Stand,” though, when we learn the story behind the story, those deficits end up making the film more powerful. Up until then, it’s “Boyz in the Hood” meets every competition film you’ve ever seen (in this case it’s, believe it or not, ice sculpture), with some sharp insights into urban teen life that I haven’t seen in conventional Hollywood films
In a style similar to those annoying Charles Schwab ads, this animated feature offers an unconventional twist on science fiction expectations . Often very funny, the film follows a trio of astronauts as they attempt to find out what happened to a robotic Mars lander from a previous expedition. If only the ending of this atmospheric, original flick didn’t fizzle out completely, it might have made my strong recommendation list.
“Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good”
While I admire and applaud actor Gary Sinise for his sincere and effective efforts to entertain the troops with a cover band named for his “Forrest Gump” character, this documentary has no dramatic arc or momentum to drive audience from congratulatory scene to congratulatory scene.
"Come Together: A Beatles Tribute"
Here's another doc with no build. Focusing on the phenomenon of Beatles cover bands, the film has a few insights but is also saddles with pedestrian narration by John Lennon's sister and an unwillingness to get below the surface with the hundreds of immitation Johns, Pauls, Georges and Ringos.
"Looking for Lurch"
The first few minutes of this documentary offers the Ripley's-like kick of seeing a beast of burden with the largest circumference horns in the world. But the title is deceptive. Lurch is found within minutes and the rest of this too-long documentary is a been-there look at a woman helping needy animals.
There are strong moments in this WWII drama, in which a barber (Eric Stoltz) and his family are relocated to a base next to a POW camp, the screenplay attempt to jam too much in, including a friendship between his daughter and a prisoner (which ends badly) and a romance between his daughter and a Jewish soldier.
Cursed with an unappealing lead actor, this flick covers most of the cliches of the underdog/redemption sports film, telling of a former ballplayer with a few too many DWIs doing time coaching an Orthodox Jewish baseball team. Nothing new--or particularly interesting--here.
Okay, so I'm starting to sound overtly negative. (Remember: the films I'm most bullish on are in this week's IBJ.)
Now, though, I'll turn the blog over to my colleagues.
“My Vietnam, Your Iraq”
A diverse and often gut-wrenching look at Vietnam veterans and their children fighting the war in Iraq. The families are from different ethnic groups and from different parts of the country, which offers a nice variety, but at times you’ll wish the camera stayed longer with a family instead of trying to fit eight stories into an hour. Still, it’s impressive how much the parents and children are willing to share, even severely emotional moments of buddies dying or memories of soldiers covered in blood. Regardless of your views on either war, the film is also worth viewing to see how both generations have handled their time in the service and after, as some have gone on to organize or join anti-war organizations.–Rebecca Berfanger
“Don’t Quit Your Day Dream”
If you think the vagabond lifestyle of a struggling musician sounds unappealing, this documentary will only reaffirm your suspicions. Two musicians haul their band, The Good Listeners, across the country and pair up with unknown (and mostly drunk) players. with names like Bingo. It’s kind of fun watching the ambitionless group make songs together but by the 12th one you’re ready for them to just shut up already. –Gabrielle Poshadlo
A pastor (played by director Corbin Bernsen) feels he has lost his connection with God, leaves his church, and moves back to the small town where he was raised. There he is drawn to his best friend from high school who is now in trouble with the law. The redemption theme may be familiar—and the film starts slowly—but a strong finish makes me want to recommend it friends open to its Christian message.—Perry Reichanadter
Weaving a science fair, raspberry plants and a family’s struggle into a heart-warming tale of perseverance, this charmer is told from the point of view of a young girl learning that life isn’t always like a science project. In her eyes, life has more to do with understanding and love. —PR
An overstressed loser into data recovery gets a gift, an urn of ashes, from an unknown source, setting in motion a predictable journey of self-discovery. A surprise ending doesn’t make up for the slow pace.