Heartland Film Festival officially runs Oct. 16-25, but it'll get started early this year with an Oct. 4 "special kickoff screening event and party" featuring The Judge, starring Robert Downey, Jr. as a lawyer who returns to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana to find that his dad (Robert Duvall), also the town's judge, is suspected of murder. Director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Shanghai Knights, Clay Pigeons) will attend the screening at AMC Castleton Square 14, preceded by a party at Cafe Patachou. $40 gets you in to the party (with the screening included for free); head to heartlandfilmfestival.org for tickets and more info on all events. We'll note here that Carlinville is, of course, not an actual Indiana town (there's one in Illinois) and the film was filmed in Massachusetts.
Next stop on the Heartland special events itinerary is the "opening night screening and after-party" on Oct. 16, featuring Jason Reitman's new one, Men, Women & Children, about a group of high schoolers (including The Fault in Our Stars star Ansel Elgort) and their parents (Jennifer Garner, Adam Sandler) coping with this modern world. Tickets also run $40 for this one, which takes place at the The Toby at the IMA.
Let's get to some other key calendar info: As usual, the first day of screenings, on Oct. 17 at AMC Castleton Square 14, is comprised entirely of Festival Award-winning films with filmmakers scheduled to attend. You'll recall that Heartland is something of a two-tiered festival: The jury picks a crop of Festival Award Winners in advance in each category (narrative and documentary features, and narrative and documentary shorts), and they then select the Grand Prize Winners from that group. Films in the second tier of "official selections" can still win audience awards but can't make a dark horse run at the Grand Prize.
So you're seeing what Heartland believes to be the best of the fest on Oct. 17, based on their ability to "create some kind of perspective-shift in the viewer" and "change the way he or she sees the world," to quote from Heartland's programming criteria. Screenings of all films (including the "official selections") run Oct. 18-25 at AMC Castleton Square, AMC Traders Point and the Wheeler Arts Community, with the two AMC theaters generally screening films throughout the day and the Wheeler limited to evening programs starting Oct. 20. Individual tickets run $9 online and $11 at the theater with an unlimited screenings pass going for $210.
Other special events? The Oct. 18 awards ceremony at Old National Centre, the Oct. 19 filmmakers' brunch at Omni Severin Hotel (a chance to meet and engage in a Q&A with filmmakers). Other talking points? Heartland is calling this its "most diverse lineup," featuring several films with LGBTQ themes (festival winner Drunktown's Finest and the documentaries Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo and An Honest Liar). And a record number of 1,634 films were submitted this year for consideration, up from 858 in 2011.
Heartland's biggest cash prizes are slightly down from last year. The Grand Prize Winners for Best Narrative Feature and Best Documentary Feature will each receive $45,000, instead of $50,000 as in 2013. Other figures remain the same: Grand Prize Winners for Best Narrative Short and Best Documentary Short will still take home $5,000 each, with $2,000 going to the winners of the Jimmy Stewart Memorial Crystal Heart Awards for best student short and $2,500 to the Grand Prize Winner of the High School Film Competition.
Two other notes: The covers to the media kit and festival guide, along with Heartland's new logos, are really spiffy; props again to creative director Derek Hulsey. And as I type, Ed Johnson-Ott is probably watching a screener for one of this year's films at Heartland; look for a typically robust review guide in mid-October.