This Saturday, June 25, CinemaKC Presents the Best of the TallGrass Film Festival Shorts and Kansas Filmmakers program.
That may sound like a mouthful, or be an eyeful – but it needs to be clarified that this long-respected Wichita-based festival has been showcasing regional filmmakers since its origins. It’s only natural that they should have collected an amazing array of short films.
All Kansas Citians might not always have the luxury of visiting Wichita for the festival, but Saturday provides a rare opportunity to see these exciting films as they are brought to our doorstep, showing for the first time ever as a package, at the Screenland Crown Center theater.
This brisk, funny and informative program is co-presented by the Kansas Film Commission. Representatives from the Tallgrass festival, film commission and filmmakers will be on hand.
Now entering its 9th year, the Tallgrass Film Festival showcases the best of independent cinema from around the globe, including foreign, documentary, short, GLBT, retrospective and premiering films. The festival strives to serve as a venue and a voice for independent films and filmmakers, spotlighting films that would otherwise not have a proper theatrical screening in the Wichita region. Most of the films in this program are from Kansas filmmakers, with the exception of some stellar shorts from around the world peppered throughout.
Of particular note in this program is the short film Elijah Returns. The film was co-created with Tyler Emerson by festival director Tim Gruver, who passed away in the summer of 2005. The event shocked the community and threw the film’s completion into uncertainty. It was the beginning of one of Emerson’s worst years. He left film school for ‘personal reasons’ and moved back home where he worked until about a year later doing random odd jobs – working for my parents, cleaning out meth labs (true story), and working on a feature film in Kansas City that never came to fruition.
“In the summer of 2006, I was getting antsy and decided that I really wanted to do something, even if it was just a small film,” says Emerson. “I ran across the script in some files that I was going through, read it again, and started to laugh to myself. At the time, I wasn’t really sure if I was laughing because it was actually funny or just out of nostalgia. But regardless, I put it on my desk for a couple of days.”
From time to time since Gruver’s death, Emerson thought about going back to it. But it wasn’t until he went to go talk to Tom Mittlestadt, who was a friend of his and Tim’s, that things coalesced. “I stopped in and ran the idea by Tom (who would go on to be Production Designer on the film). Technically it would be Tim’s last film, since he was the screenwriter. Tom was excited about it and got me excited. I got in touch with most of the people who had worked on Tim’s last directed piece, “Ashes to Ashes.”
Emerson had been the First Assistant Director on “Ashes to Ashes,” so it was not hard to get most everyone to return to a passion project. Cinematographer Mark Oldham is not only an Emmy winner but a BAFTA-winner for cinematography. Tom Mittlestadt has been working in the industry forever, including work on “Twister” and “Heart of Dixie.” The music during the opening credits was adapted and performed by Catherine Consiglio from the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, with chimes performed by John Harrison – Concert Master for the Wichita Symphony Orchestra.
“To have resources like that available for my first short film puts me in awe even to this day,” says Emerson. “I have the utmost respect for everybody who gave their time for the project. It was a one-day shoot, one location. I then handed the one hour of footage over to my editor, Adam Williamson, and left on vacation for two weeks! Coming back, he had a rough cut and then he and I spent over 50 hours editing one hour of footage into the film”
Emerson is grateful for the contribution Gruver’s presence made in both the film and in his life. “I always felt like Tim was the bad cop to my good cop – in terms of style – at times, and it was difficult not having him there,” says Gruver. “I had to play both, and I’m not very good at bad cop. I’m much more laid back, and it probably got me into trouble at least once on the set of “Elijah.” It was my directorial debut and, while I had worked with everybody on the crew, it was different being “the guy” for the first time. This is going to sound corny, but it’s true. I like to think that at least a part of Tim stuck around on the shoot – both to help things go smoothly, and to throw a couple of wrenches into the plan just to push me.”
Elijah Returns debuted at the 2006 Tallgrass Film Festival where it got a fantastic reception. “The great thing about “Elijah” is that it’s a short short,” says Emerson, “only seven and a half minutes. And the comedy builds over time. So watching the first vignette and hearing giggles starting to come from the audience was a good sign. And listening to them laugh after the third vignette, that grew into roars all the way through the final scene and well into the end credits – it was just a fantastic sigh of relief.
Elijah Returns will play with these additional shorts Saturday, June 25, 7:30PM at the Screenland Crown Center Theater:
Kavi* (2009) Dir. Gregg Helvey ………………………. USA (KS)
Candy† (2010) Dir. Misti Boland ………………………. USA (KS)
Official Selection (2009) Dir. Vince Masciale ….. USA (KS)
Dried Up (2010) Dirs: I. Powers, J. Casper ………. USA (KS)
Electric Revolution‡ (2008) Dir. M. Moormann . USA (KS)
The Job (2007) Dir. Jonathan Browning …………………USA
Photograph of Jesus (2010) Dir. Laurie Hill ………………. UK
Spider (2007) Dir. Nash Edgerton …………………… Australia
Learn Self Defense‡ (2005) Dir. Chris Harding … USA (KS)
* Nominated for a 2010 Academy Award † Winner of Spotlight On Kansas Filmmakers Audience Award ‡ Winner of Tallgrass Audience Award, Short Film
For more information: www.tallgrassfilmfest.com