This year's sixth annual Indianapolis International Film Festival promises a tradition of continued growth and commitment to bringing a host of independent shorts, features and documentaries to Indianapolis.

When the event kicks off at the Indianapolis Museum of Art tonight, what began as a three-day event in 2004 with 2,400 filmgoers viewing 24 films will conclude as a 10-day festival with upwards of 10,000 in attendance.

Staying true to its mission to present films that inform, enlighten and educate by providing a vivid reflection of the rich cultural diversity of Indianapolis and the world beyond, this year the IIFF presents more than 100 films from 50 countries.

And there are a lot of good ones to choose from. Previous IIFF films have garnered 15 Academy Award nominations across several categories, including Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Documentary and Best Foreign Language Film.

The IIFF has new leadership this year in Dorothy Henckel as its president. Producer of the film Foil, which won the Indianapolis 48-Hour Film Project Award in 2008, Henckel has served on the IIFF board since 2005, but her community service commitment extends further, including membership on boards for Treasured Homes, ReImagine! Neighborhoods, Dan Shi Club and Indy-East Assets Development Corporation, which is a 2012 Super Bowl Legacy Project Partner.

Henckel is joined in leading the festival by Kelli Safford, IIFF vice president. A member of the IIFF board since 2006, Safford also serves on the newly formed Fountain Square Arts Council, and is a committee member for the Southeast Neighborhood Development Corporation in Indianapolis.

In addition to new leadership, another big change for this year is the centralization of the festival at the IMA. All films will be screened in either the IMA's Toby Theatre or the DeBoest Lecture Hall.

"We had been in various locations downtown and we had shown at the IMA before, but we have tried to pare back to just one venue," Henckel says.

"We have shared missions," Safford adds, "and knowing they are developing a focus on films themselves, it seemed like a good fit."

Location isn't the only change this year aimed at making the festival more accessible. The IIFF has also partnered online with B-side to provide a comprehensive and informative Web site for the festival that includes the ability to purchase tickets, find info on all the films and even build a personal schedule of films to see during the festival (

The new and improved site "allows individuals to rate films, share their thoughts with their friends and actually allows the filmmakers to be involved and promote their own films," Safford boasts.

Interaction with the filmmakers and other invited guests is also a part of the festival, and Henckel and Safford both encourage festival-goers to take advantage of the opportunities to get to know the men and women involved in the process.

George Hardy, whom Henckel describes as "just the coolest guy ever," is scheduled to attend the double-feature of his films Best Worst Movie and Troll 2. "We are showing them as a double feature, you must see them together," she adds. "It's really good. We also have confirmed that the producer of Prince of Broadway, Darren Dean, will be here."

"For our closing night, we have the director and three stars of Racing Dreams coming," Safford adds. "But we have 108 films and we keep it open for whatever actors, directors, screenwriters, producers want to come." According to Henckel, the invited guests also include "a few ringers in the back that we aren't going to say anything about just yet."

And while they are hesitant to name favorites, Henckel and Safford do have a couple of don't-miss recommendations of which films should be at the top of everyone's list.

"My favorite," Henckel says, "and I have not watched everything yet, but my favorite so far is Zift."

"I definitely second that, its very good, but I can't pick the same thing," Safford adds. "I do love our closing night's Racing Dreams; its an excellent documentary."

"And Official Rejection is so interesting, it really tells you what film festivals are about. It really makes fun of film festivals, its embarrassing to watch in some ways," according to Henckel.

As for any local connections for the international festival, Indiana is well represented.

"Tiger Next Door is about a guy from south of Indianapolis who has all kinds of exotic animals. It's good and it has Hoosier connections," Safford says. "And on July 16 we have three shorts and one full-length film with Indiana directors and producers."

"We work with Film Indiana," Henckel explains, "and they are presenting the Hoosier Lens award that night as well."

See NUVO's recommendations for the best of the 2009 Indianapolis International Film Festival here:

What you need to know

The Indianapolis International Film Festival begins tonight, July 15, with a 7 p.m. screening of the film 500 Days of Summer at the Indianapolis Museum of Art's new Tobias Theatre, followed by a party at Massachusetts Avenue's 45 Degrees. The party will cost $20 for non-IIFF members and will include food and a cash bar.

For the entire festival, $150 all-access passes or $80 10-ticket bundles are available in advance at the IIFF's Web site or at the box office. All-access passes allow holders to view as many films as they want and also include invitations to festival after-parties and special events.

IIFF's Web site at contains details about each film, including screening times, as well as the latest festival news. Festival-goers can use the Web site to build and share customized personal calendars with schedules of the films they want to see, rate and review the films they've seen, share information on those films with friends and obtain recommendations from other film-goers.

Purchase tickets online at or and at the door.

And the award goes to ...

Film festivals are competitions, in addition to entertainment, and the 105 films chosen for this year's Indianapolis International Film Festival are all in the running for one award or another.

According to IIFF Program Director Craig Mince, "The films will be rated and reviewed by a juried panel of 15 members; each award category has three jury members."

The winning films in each of the following categories will be announced on closing night, including the film voted best by audience members:

* American Spectrum Feature

* World Cinema

* Documentary Feature

* Best Short Film

* Eric Parker Social Justice Award

* Black Expressions

* Hoosier Lens

* Audience Award


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