Indy Film Fest 2011: Cinematic journeys 

click to enlarge Brit Marling, star of the sci-fi drama 'Another Earth.' Submitted photo.
  • Brit Marling, star of the sci-fi drama 'Another Earth.' Submitted photo.

It's time for our favorite summer film festival. Whether you're looking to see great cinema or just beat the heat, head over to the Indianapolis Museum of Art as often as possible over the next ten days and travel the globe via this year's Indianapolis International Film Festival, July 14-24.

Each year, organizers select some of the best independent films available, many fresh from successes at Sundance, SXSW and other festivals, and bring them to Indy for a truly great series. We never fail to find a film or two that we can't stop raving about, and this year is no exception. With hundreds of short films, documentaries and features to choose from, as well as informative workshops and panel discussions, plus all those after parties, we're sure there is something here for everyone.

Thanks to our good friends at the Indy Film Fest, we had the opportunity to screen a few of the feature films in advance and here's a list of ten we highly recommend. But don't miss all the other great options. Head over to indyfilmfest.org and view all the scheduled films and their synopses to plan your ten-day cinematic adventure.

Another Earth

The mirror planet of Earth in this film is far more than an eye-catching sci-fi element. It is a symbol of hope and redemption. For Rhoda (co-writer Brit Marling), it embodies a chance for another life, a chance to possibly find the family she killed in a car accident. Marling delivers a deeply-felt performance as does William Mapother as the widower of the family. Co-written and directed by Mike Cahill, this film is starkly beautiful and tantalizingly alive - like the parallel Earth itself (which, as a spectacle, never distracts from the human drama unfolding below it). This is not just one of the best sci-fi films in a decade, but one of the best films, period. (Opening Night Event, Toby Theatre, Thursday, July 14, 7 p.m.).

Apart

A big hit at SXSW this year, Apart is a visually beautiful film chronicling the dark and tragic love story of Noah and Emily, both of whom suffer from the rare psychological disorder known as ICD-10 F24. Aaron Rottinghaus and Josh Danziger provide a thrilling screenplay, as well as fine turns as director and star, respectively. While the film uses innovation and pushes the craft beyond traditional storytelling techniques, the use of real case histories and research ground this otherwise mysterious tale in a haunting reality that is hard to shake. Also starring Olesya Rulin, Joey Lauren Adams and Bruce McGill. (Toby Theatre, Tuesday, July 19, 8 p.m.; DeBoest Lecture Hall, Sunday, July 24, 2:30 p.m.).

Cinema Komunisto

In 1947, the new nation of Yugoslavia was under the rule of the now legendary Communist hero Marshal Josep Broz Tito who, among other things, wanted to create world-class cinema in his homeland that could rival the glamour of Hollywood. Combining all types of film footage - from lost newsreels to Hollywood blockbusters, government propaganda and home movies - Cinema Komunisto weaves together a history of Yugoslavia that is at once dark and disturbing and visually arresting. The filmmakers have masterfully assembled a story that should be of interest to anyone aware of how images in media shape our personal and national identities. (DeBoest Lecture Hall; Saturday, July 16, 4:30 p.m.; Friday, July 22 at 7:15 p.m.).

Montreal Girl

Based on the question, what happens when a woman must move from the apartment and neighborhood she has called home for 25+ years, Montreal Girl is a multi-dimensional love story about friendship, community and human experience that never gets bogged down in sentimentality or excess. Combining urban documentary with dramatic fiction, writer-director Jeanne Crépeau tells the story of 46-year old Ariane as she packs up her memories and evaluates the relationships and community that have come to define her. (In French with English subtitles). (Toby Theatre; Saturday, July 16, 10 a.m.; Sunday, July 24, 12 p.m.).

Prairie Love

In an unlikely landscape, among unlikely candidates, love finds its way to North Dakota and into the lives of a newly-released prison inmate, her awkward pen pal and a wandering vagrant with tender, awkward, funny and ultimately beautiful results. Director Dusty Bias makes a whole lot of something where many others would see nothing, and the performances of the cast are spot-on. A 'quirky' film in the best sense, Prairie Love is laugh out loud funny and one of the most enjoyable of the festival. (DeBoest Lecture Hall, Sunday, July 17, 2:30 p.m.; Toby Theatre, Monday, July 18, 8 p.m.).

Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure

In 1987, Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D. recorded their neighbors' drunken arguments. You can't blame them for eavesdropping because when their neighbors went at it, they were like the Odd Couple on steroids, a microcosm of the country's fractious society. When their fights leaked out into the public, a phenomenon was born. This documentary, directed with exuberance and panache by Matthew Bate, creates the same visceral feeling of discovery as the audio phenomenon it chronicles. It's fascinating to watch the history of this pre-YouTube sensation unfold - and a relief to know that voyeurism isn't a modern, Internet-age invention. (Toby Theatre; Wednesday, July 20, 4:15 p.m.; Friday, July 22, 5:30 p.m.).

Small Town Murder Songs

The beginning of this film may seem a bit dull and bland, but that's just the calm before the storm. A rural noir in the vein of Winter's Bone, it follows a tired policeman (Peter Stormare) as he investigates a murder in his bucolic Ontario Mennonite town. Directed with a keen sense of place and detail by Ed Gass-Donnelly, the film's world feels lived-in and achingly real. At the same time, it has a surreal, dreamlike quality evocative of Twin Peaks. Strange, suspenseful and well-acted, Small Town Murder Songs is a murder mystery of the highest order. (Toby Theatre; Saturday, July 16, 5 p.m.; Wednesday, July 20, 6:15 p.m.).

These Amazing Shadows

Established by Congress in the late '80s at the behest of filmmakers and advocates concerned about colorization, the National Film Registry now lists 550 films (with 25 added per year) deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant," with each singled out for preservation by the Library of Congress. This well-appointed documentary about the Registry is most interesting when it covers unfamiliar territory, particularly the industrial, avant-garde and home movies that feature alongside Citizen Kane on the Registry. Less essential are talking-head montages about the greatness of well-known Registry titles (Star Wars, It's a Wonderful Life). (Closing Night Event, Toby Theatre, Saturday, July 23, 7:30 p.m.).

Way of the Morris

As quintessentially English as fish and chips, but in danger of extinction, the Morris dance is the subject of this rich, tender documentary. Writer-director Tim Plester traces the folk dance's roots and, in turn, his own. The inclusion of his family history with Morris dancing lends the film a personal, heartfelt quality that sets it apart from most documentaries. Plester even steps in front of the camera during interviews. His charisma and way with words makes him excellent company with which to tag along. All in all, this doc is as graceful and rousing as the Morris dance itself. (Toby Theatre; Saturday, July 16, 12:15 p.m.; Monday, July 18, 10 p.m.).

We're Glad You're Here

An innovative and emotional film that never feels heavy-handed or gimmicky, writer-director Hannah Fidell's film debut is a testament to narrative form as much as it is human spirit. The film follows the journey of 20-something Catherine, returning home to Bloomington, Ind., after financial realities and hardships make it impossible for her to continue pursing her post-college dreams in New York. Genuinely innovative and authentically original, We're Glad You're Here is one of the festival's best offerings. Screens with Type A, a short about artists Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin and their project developed for the IMA's 100 Acres Art & Nature Park. (Toby Theatre; Wednesday, July 20, 8 p.m., Saturday, July 23, 4:30 p.m.).

Best of Show

Don't miss the screenings of the festival's award winning films on Sunday, July 24 in the Toby Theatre.

2:00 Best Matter of Fact Film

4:30 Best World Cinema Film

7:00 Best American Spectrum Film

9:30 Audience Award Winning Film

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