This month, the Heartland Film Festival, always a proving ground for up-and-coming directors, celebrates its 20th anniversary. We talked to four who trace their success back to Indy.

Michael Tollin

Then: Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream, 1995
Philly native Michael Tollin brought his first documentary to Heartland, where it won a Crystal Heart Award and became a calling card for the fledgling Tollin/Robbins Productions.

Now: Tollin has since directed several feature films, enjoyed a few hits as an executive producer of TV series (Arliss, Smallville, One Tree Hill), and continues to direct documentaries, including the award-winning 30 for 30 series for ESPN. “Heartland provided validation for us when we needed it most,” he says.



Mark Pellington

Then: Going All the Way, 1997
Mark Pellington’s career was just getting started when he presented Dan Wakefield’s classic on Heartland screens 14 years ago.

Now: Arlington Road (starring Tim Robbins and Jeff Bridges), The Mothman Prophesies (Richard Gere and Laura Linney), and 79 episodes of TV’s Cold Case are among Pellington’s projects since. “Heartland embraced me again in 2008 with my most personal film, Henry Poole Is Here,” he says. “It’s a great festival and only reaffirms my faith in Indiana and all it has to offer creative souls.”


Kurt Kuenne

Then: Validation, 2007
Kurt Kuenne couldn’t believe that his short film won a Crystal Heart Award in 2007—or that a festival existed that gave a $10,000 cash prize for shorts.

Now: The prize money helped Kuenne finish his film Dear Zachary in 2008. And he just directed a new feature, Shuffle (starring TJ Thyne of the TV show Bones). “During the past three years, I’ve received nine letters from people who claim that Dear Zachary made them discard their suicide plans,” he says. “Heartland may not have been aware of it, but they helped make that possible.”


Irene Taylor Brodsky

Then: The Final Inch, 2009
One day you’re at Heartland, the next you’re at the Kodak Theatre vying for an Oscar. At least, that’s how it was for Irene Taylor Brodsky. Her 2009 short about the mission to eradicate polio won a Crystal Heart and was quickly nominated for an Academy Award.

Now: Brodsky continues to make documentaries, most recently Saving Pelican 895, about efforts to rescue the 895th oil-covered pelican in Louisiana after the Gulf disaster. “Filmmakers come from all over the world to Heartland,” she says. “I just hope they have me back.”


This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue.