Five Must-See Films At Indy Shorts International Film Festival


Courtesy Nick Rieth

An electric-scooter-riding cowboy roaming the Midwest. A paranormal investigator chasing after ghoulish voices in an RV. The tale of a Sikh man defending his religious liberties at an airport TSA checkpoint. These three short films should have nothing in common—and yet, at the Indy Shorts International Film Festival, they’re competing in the same category, for the same cash prize. The connecting thread? All three were shot almost exclusively in Indiana.

Indy Shorts has already proved a rousing success—especially after 2018 finalist Period. End of Sentence snagged an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject this past February—and the two-year-old festival is still growing. With an increase of 800 film submissions from the previous year, Indy Shorts 2019 promises to captivate audiences with even more compelling, high-quality films.

But out of the 152 films premiering at Newfields this July, the ones that have captured our attention are those competing in the Indiana Spotlight category. To qualify, films must be mostly shot in Indiana, and/or the filmmakers themselves must be Hoosiers. While this category is not eligible for Academy Awards, these films are still competing for a $2,000 cash prize—and for viewer acclaim via the Audience Choice award.

So keep your eyes peeled for familiar faces and places when you check out this year’s Indy Shorts International Film Festival at Newfields from July 25 to 28.

After sitting down with several of the filmmakers at the Indy Shorts Release Party last month, we’ve highlighted some of the most promising Indy-centric films on the festival’s lineup.

Only In My Dreams
Director: Zac Cooper
Places You’ll Recognize: Thunderbird in Fountain Square, Smash Social on Ohio Street, St. Clair Street Bridge, Tavern at the Point, and more

We say that we’re looking for the person of our dreams, but when Anna and Thomas literally meet in their dreams, can their relationship stand the trials of the real world? Zac Cooper’s endearing romance entices viewers with whimsical, colorful visuals and thought-provoking questions about the insecurities surrounding dating. Shot primarily in Fountain Square, on Massachusetts Avenue, and near the Canal, Only in My Dreams showcases delightfully romantic venues in and around Indianapolis. Cooper, an Indiana native himself, loves being able to share his film and its message with local members of the community. “I want them to feel bold in their feelings and to express themselves, and not be afraid to chase what they want,” Cooper said.

Director: Nick Rieth
Places You’ll Recognize: 16th and Pennsylvania, Thirsty Scholar coffeehouse and wine bar, Herron High School, Town Square in Hope, Indiana

Westerns may have dominated the film industry for years, but Nick Rieth seeks to challenge the genre by introducing Midwestern, a short film about a cowboy who spots an old wanted poster that sends him on a journey through the heartland. Rieth’s inspiration? “I saw a plastic bag rolling down the street, and I thought, This is kind of like the tumbleweed of the Midwest,” he said. Rieth hopes to inspire smiles and laughs with his “farcical piece,” which was originally destined for YouTube when the film was in pre-production. He’s overjoyed to be showing it at Indy Shorts. “The fact that I can go to a film fest that’s this high-level in my own town is really cool,” Rieth said. “Even if [Midwestern] hadn’t made it into the festival, I would be so excited to be a part of it.”

Director: Jenna Ruiz
Place You’ll Recognize: Indianapolis International Airport

While most of us have grumbled about the painstakingly thorough process of the TSA security checkpoint in airports, few have ever been forcibly removed from the premises for not complying with TSA’s demands. So when Jenna Ruiz heard about Gurinder Singh Khalsa’s experience at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, she knew she needed to share it with the world. “It was an incredible story,” Ruiz said. In 2007, Singh Khalsa was flying out of Buffalo to visit his dying mother, but when he protested against removing his turban, TSA refused to let him board. But his reluctance to comply was about more than just his turban. “I stood [up] for everybody who believes in freedom of faith and religious liberty. That’s what America stands for,” Singh Khalsa said at the release party. Ruiz’s film documents not only Singh Khalsa’s experience, but also his efforts thereafter to actively change TSA headgear policy for thousands of Sikh people all over the U.S. In only 14 minutes, Ruiz hopes people will gain “a new perspective” of what it’s like to step into Singh Khalsa’s shoes. He said it himself: “If I cannot stand for myself, how can I stand for others?”


Golden Voices
Director: Layne Marie Williams
Executive Producer: Grace Pisula
Places You’ll Recognize: Brown County State Park, Story Inn, Houck Covered Bridge, Haan Mansion Museum of Indiana Art, Lane Place antebellum mansion, and more

Goosebumps dart across your skin. Hair prickles on the back of your neck. Shivers shoot down your spine and settle into your fingertips, a cold reminder that something isn’t right—that you aren’t entirely alone. Gold Point Studio exhibits this unnerving sensation perfectly in its thrilling sci-fi adventure Golden Voices, which follows paranormal investigator Radha Laburnum as she hunts down the source of mysterious voices whispering to her about “gold.” Pisula, the executive producer, may be from Chicago, but after scouting around, she and her crew decided to set their supernatural mystery in and among the raw wonders of the Hoosier State. “Indiana has a natural beauty that often gets overlooked, and we really wanted to showcase that in Golden Voices,” Pisula said. As part of the Indiana Film Race, the crew filmed in five counties in five days, featuring local sights and landmarks from Tippecanoe to Brown County. The film may have a paranormal slant, but the heart of it is centered on being aware of your surroundings. “The question throughout the whole film is, What is the gold?” Pisula said, “and it’s that discovery of the beauty around us.”

INDY-viduals: Rising Above
Directors: Adele Reich and Hope Stauffer
Place You’ll Recognize: No Label at the Table Bakery in Carmel

The docu-series created by high school filmmakers Adele Reich and Hope Stauffer was off to a great start … until their teacher canceled it. While only two episodes were produced, Reich and Stauffer believed that their mission to highlight remarkable INDY-viduals in the greater Indianapolis community was a worthy cause, so they submitted an episode to the high school competition in Indy Shorts. Now, with the Indiana Award under their belt and a $2,000 cash prize looming in the future, Reich and Stauffer look forward to sharing the story of Carmel resident Shelley Henley and her gluten-and-dairy-free bakery with the rest of the world. No Label at the Table employs people on the autism spectrum and invites people to leave not only food labels behind but labels on other people as well. “No one should be labeled as autistic—that doesn’t define anyone,” Stauffer said. The documentary she made with Reich features touching interviews with employees and details from Henley about the job training and opportunities she can provide for people on the autism spectrum. “All of them had something to say, they just needed someone to get them to say stuff, and that person was Shelley,” Reich said. “All these kids, they can do stuff, they just need a bit of help, and that place is really great for kids who need that.”