Indy Film Fest Highlights Local Filmmaking
One of Indianapolis’s perennial cultural events of the year, the Indy Film Fest has returned for 10 days of independent films. The festival, which draws local, national, and international talent, got under way Thursday, July 13, and runs through Saturday, July 23 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Indy Film Fest features movies across all genres, budgets, and cultures. Thursday’s sold out opening night film, Wind River, starred Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen hunting for a murderer in the frigid Wyoming wilderness.
While screening films made both domestically and internationally, the festival does showcase projects with local roots through their Hoosier Lens category. Broad Ripple’s own Henry Johnston, creator of the dark existential comedy known as King Rat, acknowledges there is a buzz about creating films in the heartland. “I think there’s a lot of draw to filming in Indiana right now. I grew up in Indiana and I love it so much. I’d love to film everything here,” says Johnston.
Johnston’s film tells the story of an aimless college senior (Julian Hester) terrified to face the realities of post-college life. In his final days on campus he befriends the commencement speaker (Bradley Grant Smith), a washed-up filmmaker trying to find new direction. Shot at Johnston’s alma mater, DePauw University, the film isn’t autobiographical but does deal with the filmmaker’s fears of living with the choices he’s made in life. He expands on this by saying that his picture, “Deals with the ‘what if I hadn’t stayed with my now-wife and focused on this career instead.’”
Johnston also discussed how the commencement speaker at his own graduation ceremony was actor Kal Penn and how, “I thought it would be cool to be friends with him, so King Rat is loosely based on my imaginary friendship with Kal.” King Rat is Johnston’s first feature-length film and will be shown Tuesday, July 18 at 9:00 p.m. at the Toby theater in the IMA and Saturday, July 22 at 1:30 PM in IMA’s Deboest Lecture Hall.
Another Hoosier Lens filmmaker is Marion-born and New York City transplant, Michael Goldburg. His project, Sure-Fire, is less of a short film and more of a long trailer called a “proof of concept.” As Goldburg explains, “The short film is essentially a calling card for the feature-length film, which we will begin in summer of 2018.” This is a common practice that helps filmmakers garner funding for their feature-length films and has worked for features such as Whiplash and Sling Blade. Goldburg didn’t start seriously focusing on making films until he was in graduate school at New York University and has had his works in the Indy Film Fest three years in a row.
Sure-Fire is a crime comedy that centers on a gangster who turns to the film industry to try to make money to pay off his debts. “What isn’t shown in the short,” adds Goldburg, “is that he turns out to really enjoy it. He has this sort of midlife crisis and really enjoys making films.” Although Goldburg himself has stayed on the straight and narrow, he adds that some parts of the film were based on his own experiences, influenced by some of the sketchy people he met when first starting out as a filmmaker. “I answered an ad for a screenwriter and met this shady film producer who wanted to pay me in pizza, not money,” he says with a laugh. “I thought it was funny and knew that he’d be a great character inspiration at some point.” Sure-Fire screens Thursday, July 20 at 4 p.m.
Another film that many locals will recognize is Daniel Arthur Jacobson’s Chatterbox, a documentary about the eclectic jazz bar of the same name, which has been a cornerstone on Mass Ave since the 1930s. The bar, helmed by current owner David Andrichik, has become one of the premier jazz hot spots in Indy, drawing local and national talent with its convivial atmosphere. When Jacobson decided to do a film in Indiana, there was no better place than the local hang-out right in his own backyard. Working with a crew of Hoosiers, Chatterbox lifts up a local business, fledgling musicians, and adds to Indy’s burgeoning film scene all in one 16-minute documentary. “There are so many talented people in Indy, people who know how to light things in a really cool way, tons of directors and producers. We all just need to support each other and keep creating that community,” says Jacobson.
While some patrons might get uncomfortable with a film crew trying to take over their favorite haunt, Jacobson acknowledges that the regulars at Chatterbox brought out their genuine hospitality and welcomed the crew like family—in exchange for few beers of course. “Those who knew who we were and what we were doing were great,” he says. “They’d give us a jab every time we went in, heckling us. It was a really great environment.” A relatively low budget film produced by volunteers using the crew’s personal equipment, much of the cost of the film came from filling people’s bar tabs.
Despite the warm welcome from Chatterbox regulars, filming in a club had its own challenges for the crew as the low lighting and tight quarters made for some logistical complications. “It can only hold 40 or 50 people so on nights when it was packed that was a little challenging, but people knew what we were doing and were super cool about letting us move around and stuff,” says Jacobson. “We just ended up embracing it and it really added to the film.” The film, described as “a love note to a much needed jazz club in Indianapolis,” is truly just that, a love note to the Hoosiers, musicians, and venues that make the Chatterbox possible.