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The Tallgrass Film Festival returns this week

The festival makes its triumphant return this week, and has sort of moved up a bit in its schedule, now beginning tomorrow night with a special screening at the Orpheum of the 2018 documentary This Is Love, about Wichita musical icon Rudy Love, Sr., who passed away just a few weeks ago. This, followed by a 20th anniversary showing of Shrek at Naftzger Park Wednesday night, before things get going in earnest on Thursday.

Like most festivals that didn’t outright cancel in 2020, last year’s Tallgrass was entirely online, and if there’s anything that has come out of this pandemic that’s actually good, it’s that festivals realized they can benefit from meeting people where they are. With that in mind, this year’s Tallgrass festival runs in person only through the 24th, and then switches to an online format from then until the 29th. Most movies will be available either way, but people who are interested should know that not all of them will be. One that’s not is The Humans, which so far is getting great buzz, adapted by director Stephen Karam from his own Tony Award-winning play. It’s playing Thursday night, officially in the Opening Night Gala slot, and looks at a family meeting for Thanksgiving on a night in which, let’s say, there’s some… tension.

As usual, there’s a variety of options for various tastes—features, documentaries, and shorts—although I do want to point to the wonderful retrospective of films from Gordon Parks, including one that I only saw for the first time this year, and that I’m betting most of you haven’t seen. It’s Parks’ 1976 biopic of the legendary blues musician Leadbelly, and for a while it seems fairly standard for that kind of movie, but its breezy, freewheeling tone gives way to complex layers of loss and sadness that reflect Leadbelly’s own life and also tell the story of the larger Black experience in the United States. That one plays Thursday afternoon and is in-person only, but if you get a chance to go, you really shouldn’t miss it.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.