Up-and-Coming Films at an Up-and-Coming Festival: A Whirlwind Adventure at the 2011 Indy Film Fest
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There’s just something about a film festival—about gathering in the dark with fellow movie buffs for screening after screening after screening of movies that you might otherwise never see in a theater. It’s an absolutely exhausting experience—especially for those of us who try to squeeze in as much as possible in a short amount of time—but it’s one that I absolutely relish. So when I got the email that my application for press credentials to this year’s Indianapolis International Film Festival had been accepted—just two days before the festival was scheduled to begin—I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try something new.

Fortunately, my film festival survival kit is always packed and ready to go—so, on Monday morning, I threw some clothes in a bag, grabbed some road trip snacks and a selection of audio books, and hit the road for Indy. Thanks to Joseph Finder’s latest book on CD, the otherwise uneventful three-hour drive flew by—and, before I knew it, I was pulling up at my hotel.

It was hot in Indianapolis—uncomfortably, oppressively hot—so I was eager to get to the air-conditioned comfort of the film festival. And, since I know how crazy film festivals can get, I made sure to arrive an hour before my first film—so I could get checked in and get my bearings.

The festival is held at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, a gorgeous building that I would have loved to wander around for a while—but I had other places to be and other things to do. And as soon as I walked through the big glass doors, I realized that I wasn’t in Cleveland anymore. While my annual experience at the Cleveland International Film Festival is a crazy, chaotic blur of anxious movie lovers who seem to take up every inch of space inside the Tower City Cinemas (as well as the nearby hallways, restaurants, and parking lots), Indy is more subdued—more laid-back. When I got inside the museum, I was greeted by a cool rush of air-conditioning and a calm, quiet lobby. Of course, that’s partially because I happened to be there at 4:00 on a Monday afternoon, when many of Indy’s film buffs would still be at work. It was also an hour before the next screening was scheduled to begin—so most people were either already in a screening or somewhere en route. But it could have had something to do with the location, too. After all, an art museum is generally a serene kind of place—a place for strolling around and taking in your surroundings, not pushing and shoving your way through bustling crowds (unless, of course, you happen to get caught up by a passing tour group at the Louvre).

Despite its refined (and some might say “intimidating”) location, though, the Indy Film Fest isn’t a stodgy film festival. As I made my way to the will-call table to pick up my credentials, I was greeted by friendly volunteers and a few colorful posters. It took no time at all to check in, and I was directed to the DeBoest Lecture Hall, where my first movie would be screening. Actually, all of my movies would be screening there. I’d hoped to check out the Toby Theater—the festival’s other screening room—but the overlapping schedule made it easier to pick one venue and stick with it.

I wandered down a long, quiet hall to the DeBoest lobby, where I was greeted by a young volunteer who seemed rather surprised to see me there. He told me that the next screening would be letting in at, oh, five or so—not “wait in this line” or “pass holders should wait by this door”—so I found myself a chair nearby and flipped through the festival guide as I waited.

The Indy Film Festival is a relatively young festival. Founded in 2004, it hasn’t yet grown to the point of renting out an entire theater—morning, noon, and night—for a full 10 days (like Cleveland) or building its own state-of-the-art venue (like Toronto). Instead, it generally runs on two screens—all day on weekends, just evenings during the week. Instead of having to deal with the issues that older, more established festivals face—things like crowd control and sold-out shows and reserved seating—Indy can be more relaxed and flexible. You probably won’t see people racing from one theater to another or pushing through crowds. And you probably won’t experience the kind of Film Festival Rage that comes with dealing with those crowds for days on end. Instead, you’ll see people wandering down hallways, offering friendly greetings as they pass by. And you can rest assured that, if you stop to get a glass of wine at the museum’s Nourish Café before your screening, you’ll have a seat waiting for you when you arrive at the theater. It’s that kind of cool and classy event.

And, when it comes to the movies, you’ll find a good variety. This year’s festival featured more than 100 features and shorts from more than 30 countries. So whether you prefer foreign dramas, romantic comedies, documentaries, or quirky animated shorts, you’re sure to find them in the program guide.

Since I had just one day to take it all in, though, my choices were limited—and I could fit only three screenings into my schedule. But I still found a good variety: an American indie (Littlerock), a gritty Scottish period drama (NEDS), and a political/family drama from Chad (A Screaming Man). And I didn’t find a bad movie in the bunch.

Of course, I probably would have enjoyed A Screaming Man more if it hadn’t been for the gaggle of obnoxious moviegoers who giggled and conversed loudly in the back of the theater (even after another audience member politely asked them to stop), seriously limiting my ability to read the subtitles. At one point, maybe 30 minutes into the film, one of them shouted out, “I don’t know what the hell they’re saying” (apparently failing to realize that the movie was in another language). They eventually walked out—but it would have been nice if a festival staff member or volunteer would have been there to throw them out before it ruined the movie for the rest of us.

Apart from a couple of inconsiderate festival-goers, though, I enjoyed my laid-back day at the Indy Film Fest. My only regret was that I couldn’t stay longer, to take in more of the events and to see more of the festival’s fabulous films.

If you’ve never been to a film festival—or you’d like a break from the hustle and bustle of bigger festivals—this one’s worth a try. As for me, I look forward to returning to Indy to watch this up-and-coming young film festival as it continues to grow.

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