The Kansas International Film Festival 2018 starts Friday. Here’s what to know.
The Kansas International Film Festival returns for its eighteenth year this Friday, October 12. That means filmgoers at the Glenwood Arts Theater will have abundant access to cultures and viewpoints from across the globe — 144 films from 29 countries, to be exact — through Thursday, October 18.
The fest this year boasts a solid lineup of local films as well as some buzzed-about, bigger-name indie films. Below, a primer. (See kansasfilm.com for a complete schedule.)
⊗ In addition to a screening of the Sundance family drama What They Had, starring Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon, Iranian filmmaker (and two-time Oscar winner) Asghar Farhadi’s 2018 Cannes entry Everybody Knows — a Spanish-language thriller starring Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem — is showing a full four months ahead of its awards-friendly February 2019 release date.
⊗ Two high-profile documentaries sure to appeal to older art-house crowds are also having their local theatrical premieres at KIFF: Maria by Callas, which unearths never-before-seen footage and performances of the legendary opera singer, and Tea With the Dames, a 90-minute reflection on art, love, and friendship, with British acting legends Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, and Eileen Atkins.
⊗ Locally, the homegrown documentary Uncommon Allies tells a story that still may not be familiar to those who live in and around the Kansas City community. Director Jon Brick profiles the work and passion of Rosilyn Temple, whose son was murdered in his KC apartment in 2011. Brick was originally set to film a promotional short for her community activist group Mothers in Charge, but was struck by Temple’s life story. He was working on another project with editor Douglas Blush (Oscar-winning docs 20 Feet From Stardom and Icarus), who Brick says mentored and encouraged him to pursue the bigger picture and branch out on his own. After filming at his first homicide scene, everything changed.
“Almost all of the film was shot on the east side of Kansas City,” Brick says. “We filmed for over three and a half years. When I first began filming, I would go to homicide scenes with Rosilyn as a first responder. In time, the KCPD saw and appreciated what I was doing. They recognized my integrity and that I was genuinely trying to help create awareness about what is going on in Kansas City with homicide and gun violence. So KCPD gave me access to film them and tell their side of the story. From the limited screenings since the film has wrapped, there has been an outpouring of support from the community to do what they can to help create awareness around this subject matter.”
Brick says that what Temple and the KCPD are doing with positive police-community relations is something that both local residents and similarly afflicted communities across the country can learn from. The film recently received a grant from the Kauffman Foundation to help set up social impact grassroots screenings of Uncommon Allies at schools and community organizations around the KC metro area. And outside of town, the documentary continues to get accepted into film festivals as far away as Baltimore, Santa Monica, Miami, and London. (KIFF is showing Uncommon Allies on Saturday, October 13, at 5:20 p.m.)
⊗ Kansas City-based filmmaker Patrick Rea needed a break from the horror genre. His previous two feature films, Arbor Demon and Nailbiter, were not only creature-based suspense movies, but also “container films,” shot mainly in one location with a limited cast. So when local screenwriter Amber Rapp’s Belong to Us — about an injured dog that inspires a young girl and changes the lives of a fractured family — came his way, he decided it was time to flex some different muscles.
“The opportunity definitely came at the right time. One of the aspects that really attracted me to the project was the father-daughter relationship, which I felt I could relate to,” Rea says. “I also liked that there is an underlining dark tone to the story that reminded me of films I loved as a kid.”
Rapp has a similar perspective. Her inspiration for the film, though, was two-fold. “My daughter and my dog,“ she says. “I wanted a story that focused on a role model that featured the character at the center as a young girl who is empowered to act without any frivolity. Our lead, Brooklyn Funk, embodied those qualities.”
The movie was shot mostly in Shawnee, Kansas and Peculiar, Missouri, and for Rapp it was truly a family affair. Her mother’s responsibilities included everything from production assistant to craft services, her aunt and uncle drove baseball uniforms all the way from Burlington, Kansas for one scene, and her dog, Duke actually plays the main dog in the film (and he’s absolutely central to the plot).
Belong to Us won Best Heartland Narrative Feature at the Kansas City FilmFest, where it premiered in April, so the KIFF screening at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, October 13, is a chance for those who missed it there to catch up. The future is looking good for the film, which has already snagged international distribution in at least five countries.
⊗ Unless you’ve actually been to the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas, you probably don’t know that married couple’s remarkable story — how they explored the wildlife and cultures of then-unknown exotic lands like Africa, North Borneo, and the Pacific Islands in the 1920s and 1930s. The Ark of Lights and Shadows is a new documentary by Czech Republic filmmaker Jan Svatoš, and it illuminates the groundbreaking nature films, lectures, books, and articles the Johnsons created while also examining the resistance they encountered to the modern views they arrived at as a result of their journeys — namely, humanism and environmental protection. Just last week, The Ark of Lights and Shadows won the main documentary prize at the 51st International Tourism Film Festival, the oldest festival of travel films in the world. It screens Wednesday, October 15, at 5:15 p.m.
The Kansas International Film Festival runs Friday, October 12, through Thursday, October 18. In the past, KIFF has been purely dedicated to showcasing independent international films, but this year the festival is expanding its offerings to include musical performances, talks, and panel discussions with filmmakers and authors. More info at kansasfilm.com.