Indy Film Fest will be all over town during the next couple weeks, from the Harrison Center gym to the Eiteljorg, Sun King to the Libertine, the Indiana History Center to Tibbs Drive-In.
Home base for the tenth annual edition remains the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where two screening rooms will churn out new movies from July 18-28.
But the fest has been synonymous with mobile cinema for the past year - launching a full season of Roving Cinema, which pairs movies with appropriate venues (say, Fight Club in the City Market catacombs); winning $10,000 at a 5x5 idea pitching event to make mobile screenings happen in places unequipped with screen, projector or sound.
And so it makes sense that a Roving Cinema component is at the core of this year's edition.The fest will move out of the IMA and into the community for six nights of the 11-day festival. Medora, a documentary by the creators of Found magazine, about Medora High School's woeful but proud basketball team, opens up the fest's pop-up schedule at the Harrison Center for the Art's gymnasium on July 19.
Then comes Hey Bartender, a doc about mixology, at The Libertine (July 22); Lost for Words, a slick rom-com set in Hong Kong, at Tibbs Drive-In (July 23); Out of Print, a brisk, wide-ranging doc about, mostly, e-book technology, in a free screening at the Indiana History Center (July 24); and Fall and Winter, a doc about climate change, at the Eiteljorg Museum (July 25). The series closes out July 26 at Big Car Service Center with Detroit Unleaded, about a Lebanese-American who reluctantly inherits a gas station (and, along with the surprising and excellent CASS, one of two films made in Detroit on the festival lineup).
Indy Film Fest itself has been on the move. Last year's edition was headquartered at the Earth House, which closed under financial duress at the end of August. The organization stuck around in its office until January, when the building's owners finally forced it to vacate. They've ended up in a temporary home on North Penn, and it was in the waning hours of the afternoon that NUVO caught up with board chair Craig Mince and marketing and PR head Kate Pell in their new space.
An all-volunteer operation
It had to be late afternoon because Indy Film Fest is a wholly volunteer-run organization, and just about everyone has day jobs - Mince at the IMAX at the Indiana State Museum, Pell with Simon Property Group (and formerly with the Arts Council of Indianapolis). Mince says there are eight year-round volunteers on staff, but that there's also a "sleeper cell" of temporary volunteers who activate every year during the summer festival.
Mince joined the board in 2009 when festival founder Brian Owens took on a full-time job with the Nashville Film Festival. Owens launched the festival after he returned from a trip to the Toronto International Film Festival and decided Indianapolis deserved something on a similar level. The first edition was a three-day affair at Circle Centre's movie theater, and it expanded from there, eventually reaching its current 11-day length. But if Owens was a visionary, he also left the festival with a debt burden that Mince and the board worked until last year to pay off.
"It's surprising when you can get rid of bottom-line debt, how much you can reinvest," Mince says.
Mince stepped in as someone with theatrical and festival experience; he'd organized a couple editions of the Really Big Short Film Festival, featuring shorts on IMAX's really big screen, before he answered the call for a programming expert. Pell says of Mince that "he puts his heart and soul into this," that "he wants to see Indy thrive as a film community; and for a change, we're actually putting a dent in that goal."
Pell is new to the festival. To give a little context, Mince is one of the veterans on staff, and no single staff volunteer has stuck around since it was founded. Pell started last year as a blogger, then took on her PR and marketing position in 2013. "Anyone on the board will tell you that I know nothing about film," she jokes. "It's gotten to the point where they stop asking if I've seen this or that movie. It's not so much about the film aspect for me, but about the way art and film get to the masses. It's encouraging people to talk about art, getting people to the Fringe Theatre or Indy Reads Books."
Mince says he'll be around forever - "you'll have to pry me off this thing with a pry bar" - and that, like Pell, he's doing this for the community, not for outside filmmakers (or cinephiles, necessarily) or to impress anyone outside this market. From that perspective, the festival is about "adding another layer to the market as far as cultural events that bring in and keep people here professionally." And it's also about helping the local filmmaking community via Skype Q&As and in-person interactions - and showing outsiders that Indianapolis is a viable spot in terms of both distribution and production.
It hasn't all gone according to plan, of course; Mince talks of technical glitches and last-minute theater changes and that time that a tiger nearly mauled a captive audience. Wait, that's a little sensational; as the story goes, in 2009, the Fest presented a documentary called The Tiger Next Door about a rather unbalanced dude living in Flat Rock, Ind., who kept an awful lot of tigers and other dangerous animals in his backyard. The director and the animal keeper were scheduled to attend the first screening, and a few days before it was to take place, the keeper called up Fest staff to inform them that he would be bringing a tiger to the screening. In a cage, of course. And he wasn't asking; he was telling, just giving a fair warning.
The requisite shitstorm ensued, as the IMA, then the DNR and probably other acronyms got involved, while the keeper remained committed to bringing his animal friend. The DNR sent two armed constables to the screening, but they ended up twiddling their thumbs; the keeper didn't bring his cat, and the screening went ahead without any sort of dimension-crossing, cat-leaping-out-of-the-screen surrealism. "It was not a PR stunt," Mince assures (and this writer will add here that NUVO is taking this story on Mince's word, because it is a good story).