Indianapolis International Film Festival, Brian Owens

It was just over five years ago that Brian Owens returned to Indianapolis from a trip to the Toronto Film Festival. Owens had not only feasted on all the films on offer there, but he was struck with a vision he couldn’t shake: He was convinced the time had come for Indianapolis to have an international film festival of its own.

Now, five years later, the Indianapolis International Film Festival has established itself as a destination for cinema from around the world. “It’s definitely grown faster than I’d originally expected,” Owens says. “I knew it was something people would take to, but I think word spread a little faster than expected, especially outside the city.”

Indeed, the IIFF’s reputation may be larger among filmmakers on the national and international festival circuit than it is among folks in Indianapolis.

But that is changing, thanks, especially, to the festival’s success in attracting younger audiences. While the IIFF has succeeded in drawing filmgoers of all ages, it has proven to have a special appeal to college-age fans and people in their 20s. “Seeing that loyalty from a young audience is really exciting,” Owens says. “It’s not about wearing hip colors. It’s about letting people know we have the best of something we can possibly offer.”

The festival has created a unique venue for types of films that don’t generally find wide distribution. It’s a gold mine of short films — works that can be as short as 90 seconds — and foreign language features.

Owens sees Indianapolis occupying a distinctive niche among film festivals. “If you come here and succeed here, odds are you’re going to succeed anywhere. It used to be Peoria, I think it’s us now. We’re a really good test market. I think that’s what we offer.”

But Owens believes that, ultimately, the IIFF is for and about people in Indianapolis who simply love movies — all kinds of movies. “This is about the public.”

— David Hoppe

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