This was a great year for mainstream cinema, proving audiences can have their popcorn and eat it, too. Hollywood delivered such raw, reinvigorating films as Mad Max: Fury Road and Spotlight — films that are familiar yet fresh. 2015 has felt like the start of a new Golden Age for cinema, producing films that push boundaries, provoke audiences and fill viewers with wonder.
This year, film fans could also find just as much movie magic in the Midwest. From film festivals to horror conventions, locally-made movies to sold-out premieres, Indy proved to be a city suited for great cinematic achievements. Here are five of the many that stood out.
Shot partly in Indianapolis, this quirky comedy is fiercely original. But it has smacks of Wes Anderson films, revolving around a world that seems strange yet lived-in and achingly real. Like the indie comedy itself, the main character Walter (Andrew West) finds himself on the fringe of mainstream films, tearing tickets at his local megaplex. But he doesn't just direct moviegoers into theaters; he also decides whether they are going to heaven or hell. The awkward twenty-something claims to be a son of God.
Walter premiered for an excited, sold-out audience at the Indiana State Museum in March. Producer Brenden Hill, writer Paul Shoulberg and star Andrew West presented the film, talking about how the Indy locations brought the story to life. The Fountain Square arts district accentuated Walter's eccentricities; Long's Bakery brought out the little boy in him; the Speedway symbolized the cyclical nature of his life. Production designer Michael Bricker — the co-founder of Indy's People for Urban Progress — seamlessly linked the film's Los Angeles locations with its Indiana settings.
"I forgot the movie was filmed largely in L.A.," West said when I interviewed him before the premiere. "It feels like it was all shot in the Midwest. Audiences will get a real sense of the beauty of Indiana that a lot of the country isn't aware of."
For Indiana residents and non-Hoosiers alike, Walter is a great reminder of Indy's beauty.
Indy Film Fest's Hoosier Lens
This year's 12th annual Indy Film Fest featured more films tied to Indiana than ever before. The Hoosier Lens category included six feature films and 14 shorts. They covered a vast terrain of drama, following cyclists, zombies, eccentric artists, grieving families, the list goes on.
One of the films that stood out was One Day in April — IU alumnus Thomas Miller's fly-on-the-wall look at Bloomington's Little 500 race. This intimate documentary puts you in the dirt alongside the cyclists, thrusting you into the race through cameras built into their sunglasses. It also subverts the sexism of most sports films. Miller made sure none of the female cycling footage fell on the cutting room floor in favor of a male focus. One Day in April stands as a strong co-ed sports story. And it makes a small-town college sports community seem larger than life.
The documentaries Peanut Gallery and Almost There also left a lasting impression. The former is an unflinching exploration of a family's grief, bringing a little girl back to life through hazy home movies and heartbreaking interviews. The latter follows a troubled painter in East Chicago, Ind. as he emerges from his dilapidated basement and rises through the ranks of the art world. Both films competed for the Indiana Film Journalists Association's Hoosier Award.
This year's HorrorHound Weekend convention was one for the books. It not only marked the horror magazine's 10th anniversary; it also included a reunion panel with the cast of 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street. The convention ended up turning into a memorial for the writer-director of that film and so many other horror classics, Wes Craven, who died a little over a week before. You could feel his spirit surging through the crowd as fans celebrated the genre he helped create.
HorrorHound Weekend was ultimately a bittersweet yet bracing occasion. It was a time to grieve the loss of a legend, but it was also refreshing reminder of what he contributed. Fans and fellow filmmakers recalled the heart he brought to horror, testifying so tenderly about the cathartic quality of his films. As Craven once said, "Horror films don't create fear; they release it."
Heartland Film Festival
It was the best Heartland Film Festival in recent memory. First of all, it kicked off with the year's most powerful film, Room. The tale of a mother and son trapped in a garden shed, the film is a powerful exploration of how life can take you to emotional places that seem like alien worlds. "Are we on another planet?" the boy asks his mother in the midst of the nightmarish situation. Room is an inspiring exploration of people escaping darkness and adjusting to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Heartland also offered five heartfelt films from Hoosiers. All of them vied for a $5,000 prize in the festival's new competition category, Indiana Spotlight. This year, Heartland ultimately crossed the $3 million mark awarded to independent filmmakers, building up to that total since the first festival in 1992. This running total is the highest cash amount that any domestic film festival has ever awarded to filmmakers.
Shot in Crawfordsville, this indie gem premiered to a packed house at the Strand Theatre in November. The holiday comedy also streamed on Vimeo during the week of Christmas after stirring up buzz on social media.
"The outpour of love, support and curiosity for our little film has been incredible," said co-writer, director and star Michael Malone, who started his successful career in stand-up comedy at Morty's Comedy Joint in Carmel.
Bethlehem follows two troubled thirtysomethings (Malone and Melissa Revels) as they struggle to put on happy faces for their dysfunctional family on Christmas Eve. The film pays homage to Roseanne, John Hughes movies and other comedies of Malone's youth. It's rude and crude but bathed in a warm light, as if filmed through a haze of nostalgia.