Change in the Heartland

By Sam Watermeier

From touching tales of arrested development to powerful portraits of politically-active heroes, this is an eclectic year for the Heartland Film Festival. It's also a year ripe with change.

Not only will this year's festival host a record high of 87 films from across the globe, but screenings will now take place over two weekends. In a press release, Jeffrey L. Sparks, president and CEO of Heartland, said he hopes those extra days will give film fans "greater flexibility when deciding which movies they want to see."

Also new this year are advanced screenings of Truly Moving Picture Award winners. The most exciting of these screenings are Precious and Bright Star. Based on the novel, Push by Sapphire, Precious tells of a pregnant, illiterate teen who is struggling in school, on the streets of Harlem, and especially at home, where her abusive mother reigns. The film is garnering overwhelmingly positive reviews. Filmmaker Tyler Perry has raved that, "it has the ability and power to change lives." To top it off, Precious won Sundance's Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award as well as the Toronto film festival's People's Choice award. See it at Heartland Oct. 19 or 20 before it opens in November.

The other must-see (on Oct. 18 and 20) is Jane Campion's Bright Star, which portrays a three-year romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, preceding Keats' untimely death. Lead performances by Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish are already stirring up Oscar buzz.

The festival kicks off at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow night at the Murat Centre with Hachi: A Dog's Tale, a heart-warming Heartland offering about the powerful bond between a college professor and his loyal Akita, starring Richard Gere, Joan Allen, and Jason Alexander. Tickets are $12.

The Murat Center will host the Festival's hallmark event - the Crystal Heart Awards ceremony - on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. The Grand Prize brings in $100,000, and the best Documentary Feature prize is $25,000. In addition, Heartland will present the $10,000 Vision Award for Best Short to one of five Crystal Heart Award winners and two Jimmy Stewart Memorial Crystal Heart Award winners. Tickets are $35, and an after-party will follow.

Those who aspire towards winning a Crystal Heart Award may want to check out the Heartland Film Institute's seminar, "Insights into being an Independent Filmmaker," at the IUPUI Campus Center on Monday at 9 a.m. Tickets are $20 for general public, $15 for students and teachers.

Regular film screenings will take place at AMC Castleton Square 14 and AMC Greenwood Park 14.

"Between the extended schedule, increased programming and returning special events, the 2009 Heartland Film Festival is overflowing with options, while still being easy to navigate with easy access to the schedule and tickets," Sparks summarizes. "If someone has never attended the Festival before, this is definitely the year to give it a try."


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