Last year, the Heartland Film Festival started shedding light on the movie magic right here in the Hoosier state with its Indiana Spotlight category.
To be eligible for this category, 65 percent of a film has to be shot in the state. And its director, producer or writer has to be an Indiana resident or native.
This year, three feature-length films and five shorts are competing for the top prize of $5,000. The features are eye-opening works of creative nonfiction.
"Our Indiana Spotlight features are documentaries that will inspire moviegoers to look at Hoosier history and current events in a brand new way," says Greg Sorvig, the director of programming and marketing for Heartland Film.
Here are our reviews of those three feature films in the category — fascinating documentaries that cover vastly different corners of the state. But they have one thing in common. To borrow Heartland terminology, they're all truly moving pictures.
The Invisible Patients
While the other films in this category are traditional talking head documentaries, The Invisible Patients
is an intimate, fly-on-the-wall look at an American issue — our intricate, overwhelming healthcare system. "It's an important film about the healthcare epidemic we're facing today in Indiana and beyond," Sorvig says. "It gives moviegoers a valuable and empathetic view into the lives of Hoosiers and people across America."
The film follows nurse practitioner Jessica Macleod as she guides people through family struggles, financial difficulties and physical pain. We accompany her on monthly visits to the homes of four patients in Evansville. The heart of the film lies in the home of Roger Brown, a 30-year-old suffering from muscular dystrophy. Macleod comforts him and his mother during the end-of-life process, serving as a beacon of hope in the midst of their helplessness. Like her, the film casts a warm, gentle light in the face of death. It radiates with heart, humor, honesty and compassion — everything you could hope for during life's most painful moments.
Writer-director Patrick O'Connor takes a cue from Macleod and maintains a tender, hopeful tone amid the harrowing subject matter. The Invisible Patients
is a devastatingly beautiful film — one of the best of the fest. As Sorvig says, "This movie inspires, educates and engages — hitting all the staples of what makes an ideal selection at the Heartland Film Festival."
A Writer's Roots: Kurt Vonnegut's Indianapolis
The subject of this documentary may be Indy's brightest star, literary icon Kurt Vonnegut. A larger-than-life mural of him shines down on us as we walk through Mass Ave, and his influence radiates across the rest of the world.
The film follows him from his childhood in Indianapolis to his German capture in World War II and then through the legendary author's entire literary career. It's a mesmerizing, almost mythical story. Unfortunately, in terms of style, this is a rather dry documentary. It often feels like the kind of film you'd find playing in a loop in front of a display at a museum. However, it's not without some true delights, such as appearances from local legend Dan Wakefield
and NUVO's David Hoppe
. (Vonnegut would call Hoppe during Colts games simply to say, "Isn't Peyton Manning great?" and then he would hang up.) The film is filled with many fun anecdotes like this. If only the documentary were structured in a more stylish, cinematic way.
A Writer's Roots: Kurt Vonnegut's Indianapolis
never really puts you in Vonnegut's shoes and makes you feel the trauma of his time in World War II or the weight of his success after writing classics like Slaughterhouse-Five. It opts for a casual experience rather than an immersive one, making you feel as though you're sitting around a bonfire listening to people talk about a great friend and mentor. Maybe that's more fitting for a film about a member of our local family who has touched so many souls in this city.
"Living around Indy for 15 years now, I've been aware of Vonnegut and his Indy connections, but this documentary was a great crash course to fill in what I didn't know," Sorvig says. "Since watching the film, I've read Slaughterhouse-Five and am looking forward to visiting the Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library after our festival. The film certainly gave me a greater sense of pride and appreciation that we can call Vonnegut our own."
From the Ashes: The University of Evansville Purple Aces
After winning five college division national championships and the hearts of everyone in Evansville, the University of Evansville Purple Aces' triumph gave way to tragedy. The entire basketball team — coaches and administrators included — died in a horrific plane crash on December 13, 1977.
An original documentary from the Indiana production company Court Street Productions, From the Ashes
is a powerful film — a tender, heartfelt exploration of a harrowing event. The recollections of the crash are poignant and haunting. One witness says that he thought the plane landed among tombstones in a cemetery, but what he thought were grave markers were actually seats from the plane scattered across a field.
Through old news footage and heartbreaking testimonials, we see the community go through the grieving process and rise from the agony to start anew. It's a rich, inspiring slice of Hoosier history but also a story that will strike a chord with audiences outside of the state. (Heartland marks its world premiere.)
Director Joe Atkinson is scheduled to attend the premiere screening along with members of the cast and crew. An after-party will follow at the Premiere Pavilion outside of AMC Castleton Square 14.
Sorvig says, "This story will resonate strongly with our audiences and make for an especially impactful world premiere event."
(Editor's Note: This article was graciously boosted on social media by Heartland Film Fest [heartlandfilm.org/festival]. Heartland Film Fest had no input on the content in this article or the decision to create it.)