A Sneak Peek Of This Year’s Indy Film Fest

Tyson Brown and Shelby Duclos appear in First Date by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, and screening May 13th at Tibbs Drive-In as part of the Indy Film Festival.

There’s two parts to a film festival: The films and the festival. I’ll get to the films in a minute.

The festival part is a challenge even for an organization as nimble as Indy Film Fest. Thanks to the killjoy COVID-19, it would be irresponsible to mingle in theater lobbies swapping notes on what to see and what to avoid. There’s no amortizing a biggie-size popcorn over a long day of multiple viewings. Schmoozing with directors and on-screen talent isn’t quite the same via Zoom.

On the other hand, online sessions do make it easier for filmmakers to be present, albeit virtually, at the festival. And Indianapolis still has a drive-in theater within city limits. We’re lucky that way. So just as the Oscars figured out a way to make their awards presentation work, the Indy Film Festival…  you know what, maybe the Oscars are a bad example.

And so just as other arts organizations have pivoted to hybrid models, so has Indy Film Fest, which is offering its 18th annual event from April 29 to May 19.

This year the festival offers a long list of films not available on your standard streaming services, including a batch of world premieres, some of which will be screened at Tibbs Drive-In.

Of course, with this many unknowns, it’s always a challenge figuring out what films to prioritize. Here’s a preview of the few that I was able to screen before the festival. “El Rey de la Fiesta” (“King of the Party”) is a smartly made Mexican tragicomedy about a man (Giancarlo Ruiz) who stumbles into a double life when his twin brother (also Giancarlo Ruiz) is presumed dead — and unidentifiable — in a plane crash. Director Salomón Askenazi doubles down on the use of reflective surfaces and other imagery that reflects the film’s main theme as complications ensue and identities blur. Warning: This isn’t exactly “The Parent Trap.”

Characters making bad, bad choices are also prevalent in “The Catch,” in which a troubled woman returns to her coastal Maine hometown and gets involved in a potentially lucrative drug deal. Meanwhile, her father and brother try to figure out who’s messing with their life-sustaining lobster traps. After a slow build, the two plots collide in a what-will-go-wrong-next climax. (Film nerds, think “Blow the Man Down” meets “A Simple Plan.”)

“Workhorse Queen” seems at first to be an extended up-close-and-personal TV segment about Ed Popil, aka Mrs. Kasha Davis of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” But like most good documentaries, it reveals its subject’s layers by telling the before, during, and after story of Popil’s five minutes of reality show fame.

The trailer for “Inspector Ike” made me smile, but the film itself didn’t live up to its promising premise. Presenting itself as a lost network TV mystery movie, it would have benefitted from kitschy commercials and a truncated running time. Even then, I’d wish the filmmakers had watched more episodes of “McCloud” and “Columbo” — and binged the “Naked Gun” movies — before rolling their cameras.

Among the short films, I’m glad I gave “Lines” a look, which brings animated life to the poetry of incarcerated writers. One of its most powerful moments is the blending of words and black and white images from the poem “I Got Up” by D. Crosland:

If you see him on his knees
is that a sign of submission
or was he once on his back
and rose to this position?

Among the films I haven’t yet had the opportunity to screen, the highest profile offering is “The Dry,” based on Jane Harper’s bestselling thriller and starring the Australian Hollywood star Eric Bana. It’s about a federal agent who returns to his hometown and discovers a possible link between decades-apart deaths.

There’s also “Swan Song,” featuring he’ll-take-anything actor Udo Kier (with 269 acting credits on IMDB.com and nine, count ‘em, nine films released in 2019 alone). In it, Kier plays a former beautician on a cross-city trek to work his make-up magic on a corpse for an open casket funeral. 

The online portion of the festival is formatted into three one-week blocks, each with its own set of flicks. Some of the Tibbs offerings are one-time only screenings, so if there are films you know you want to see make sure to check their availability. You can find the whole schedule at https://indyfilmfest.org.