It's an annual milestone, and one that Heartland seems to make better with each pass. This year, Heartland received over 1,750 submissions representing 95 countries. After a lot of deliberation and coffee, 145 films made the cut and are presented to us on a silver platter. Flicks hailing from Iran, Australia, Pakistan, Kosovo and Bulgaria will all make their appearances, but the biggest change coming to Heartland this year is a new category to highlight Indiana filmmakers.
"Filmmakers have many odds stacked against them in Indiana," says Tim Irwin, artistic director of Heartland. "We want to shine a spotlight on their work and encourage them to keep making films here."
Irwin is helping Heartland bring that wish to fruition this year through the festival's new competition category — Indiana Spotlight. Five films — out of the 1,756 submitted — are vying for the top prize of $5,000.
To be eligible for this category, a film's director, producer or writer has to be a current Indiana resident or a native. And 65 percent of their film has to be shot in the state. The accepted entries cast a wide cinematic light across Indiana — from the Fountain Square art district and the limestone belt to Bloomington's Little 500 bike tracks.
The documentary about the Little 5 race, One Day in April, is the only feature-length film in the category. Director Thomas Miller is no stranger to the local festival circuit now; he brought the doc to the Indy Film Fest in July. He's grateful to these festivals and people like Irwin for looking beyond Hollywood and seeing movie magic in the Midwest.
"It's tough to be a filmmaker in Indiana — that's why community support for your film is so important," Miller said. "One Day in April wouldn't exist without the support of Hoosiers who wanted to see an Indiana story on the big screen."
Another filmmaker competing in this category, Adrienne Wagner, adds that it's important to explore places like Indiana and the people here who "don't normally get a spotlight."
Wagner wanted to leave Indy a piece of herself. Before she moved to Portland this summer, the IU alumnus submitted a short film to Heartland.
"It just felt fitting that I leave a part of me with a city and a festival that I grew up with," she said.
Wagner holds onto memories of seeing Heartland films in high school with her aunt and making movies in the basement of her childhood home with the camera her dad used to film her soccer games.
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The titular setting of her film, My Grandpa's Garage, is an incredibly intricate museum of family memories.
Like her grandfather, Wagner has a talent for packing a lot of material tightly together. In under seven minutes, she explores his service in the Korean War, his education at Ball State, his time with her as a child and more, all of which is documented in his little museum. Like the Fountain Square art district in Your Catfish Friend and the stone mill in A Stone's Pace, the garage is an evocative Indiana time capsule.
Wagner sat down to talk about walking down memory lane.
NUVO: When did you get the idea for this film?
Adrienne Wagner: I was sitting in my grandparents' kitchen having coffee and reminiscing over old times and how absolutely bizarre it was that I was going to be completing my undergrad in May (of 2015). After we finished our coffee, I went outside to my grandpa's garage so we could change the oil in my car. I climbed into the upper attic and was looking at all of the stuff and wondering what would possibly happen to it all. I also knew that I wasn't going to be in Indianapolis very much longer, and I had to do something to remember it all.
NUVO: What was your grandpa's reaction when you approached him about the documentary?
Wagner: It's funny because I don't know if I ever actually asked him whether he wanted to do the project, but more that I just told him what I wanted to do, and he was more than happy to help out. By the time I had arrived home from our discussion about the film when I first brought it up, he had already emailed me a bunch of short writing pieces he had typed up about his collections.
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NUVO: What was the most surprising discovery you made about him during the production?
Wagner: I think what was so striking was the fact that every single item he had seemed to have an elaborate and intentional story behind it. A lot of the random things that I would pick up all seemed to have a purpose or a memory attached. The production process itself was quite magical that way, in the sense that through the interviews and filming his things, I found out a lot about my own family history and my grandparents and different eras of the world in relation to my own heritage. It was very personal, and as he was able to show me a lot of the things he likes and has accumulated, I was able to show him a bit about what it is I "do" with my expression through film.
NUVO: How did he react to the finished film?
Wagner: My family sat down and watched it together in a little living room screening at my parents' house, and when it was over, there was a heavy sense in the room. The film is lighthearted, but at the same time, I think it pokes at the inevitable just enough to get the audience thinking. My grandparents are not going to be around forever — none of us will. They went home after we watched the movie, and I wasn't exactly sure what he thought. Then I got an email asking for a few DVDs of the movie for him to add to his collection.