By Andrew Hoff | Echo
"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die," quoted Rob Reiner to a huddled group of smiling journalists, who let out a collective "aha" and then scribbled in their reporters' notebooks. It was his favorite line from a 1987 film he directed - you may have heard of it - "The Princess Bride" (which, if you do the math, will have its 30th anniversary this year!).
The 26th annual Heartland Film Festival kicked off last Thursday night on a red carpet, and "The Echo" was there to capture it. Heartland is Indianapolis' largest, most acclaimed international film festival. Each year, thousands of film lovers gather in Indy "to inspire filmmakers and audiences through the transformative power of film," as Heartland's website puts it.
In its 26th year, that mission is still on display. The festival anticipates more sold-out screenings this week than ever before. The sheer number of independent films in the 11-day event has increased from 138 films last year to 213, all of them in theaters this week. Each one is given the opportunity to be nominated for the Academy Awards.
Few of them can be found in a local theater, and only some of them are on Netflix. It's not the same "going to the movies" experience. After many of the screenings, the director, producers, actors and actresses (who are often in attendance) walk to the front of the theater and host lively Q&A sessions with the audience.
Last Friday afternoon, on the first full day of the festival, a special screening of "Life Itself" was hosted at the Castleton AMC on the north side of Indianapolis. "Life Itself" is a documentary feature about the life of legendary Chicago-based film critic Roger Ebert. An extremely well-done film, it was made even more powerful by a special member of the audience that day: Chaz Ebert, Roger's widow herself. She hosted a Q&A following the film. It's hard to imagine there could have been a dry eye in attendance.
"I miss him . . . he was good," Ebert said. She hadn't seen the film since its initial release in 2014. Several audience members consoled her with stories of having befriended Roger at one film festival or another. The woman next to me leaned over during the film and told me she had religiously watched his show, "Siskel and Ebert," whenever it was on television.
Yet another experience came later Friday evening, at the U.S. premiere of a Japanese film called "blank 13." "Blank 13" is a film about a traditional Japanese funeral, with some unlikely characters shedding light on a mysterious man's life. The director came up after the film and told us that it was actually a true story, and that the funeral scene had been entirely improvised. (I turned in my audience award ballot with the highest rating I could give.)
Last weekend boasted of several wonderful films, but Heartland Film Festival 2017 isn't over - in fact, you'll find that this weekend (Oct. 20 - 22) presents the special award screenings at theaters all over the Indianapolis area. Tickets go for $10 to $12 a movie, and when you consider the value of these kinds of films, it's worth every penny to make the trip.
A few tips for those who, like me, are headed down to Indianapolis this weekend. First, get to your theater at least 15 minutes early - at Heartland, a theater will be completely full if you get there on time. Recline your seat. Talk to the strangers you sit by in the theater; you'll hear some fascinating stories. Finally, take an hour or two after each film screening to think about it. There's much to learn and be inspired by. The power of film is, truly, transformative.