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A few questions—and answers—about this year's Tallgrass Film Festival

Andre Seward and Hannah Bother from the Tallgrass Film Festival

The Tallgrass Film Festival returns this week in a hybrid format, with in-person screenings through Sunday and online screenings running from the 24th through the 29th. Festival goers can be forgiven for having some questions about how it's all going to work, so KMUW's Fletcher Powell sat down with the festival's director of programming, Andre Seward, and the Short Film Program Director, Hannah Bothner, to sort it all out.

Interview Highlights

Fletcher Powell: The festival of course begins in person first… it’s been two years since we’ve been able to physically be at the Tallgrass Film Festival, what might people expect if they actually want to get back out there and really be at the festival again?

Andre Seward: So, the biggest difference here is obviously our capacity for the theaters are a little bit limited. So with that, we are asking people who have passes to the films to reserve their tickets so we can control the capacity. And then obviously people are buying individual tickets, we'll just count that towards the total capacity. We're also asking that everybody wears a mask during all situations in which they can't be social distanced. So obviously in screenings, they're going to have to be masked up and we are encouraging people to be vaccinated if they want to come to the festival.

Encouraging, but not requiring.

Andre Seward: Correct.

One of the things that people have really loved about Tallgrass in the past, of course, are the parties. Are there parties?

Andre Seward: Yes, we have a party every night except Wednesday. And all the parties are outside. That way people can, you know, when you're outside the rules and regulations and recommendations for distancing and masking are a lot more relaxed, according to national and local guidelines. So, all parties are outside and they’ll be about business as usual. The biggest thing, again, is we do encourage people when they're outside to wear masks, if they can't be away from each other, but we are not requiring it

Hannah Bothner: And parties this year are going to be just as fun and amazingly themed as they always are. Our team is so great about that. So, those will be really awesome this year.

Did you struggle at all to bring in filmmakers?

Hannah Bothner: A little bit. Though I will say that I probably have one of the, maybe the most filmmakers that will be in attendance from shorts that I have had in a while. More people that are close enough to drive in than people flying in, but we still do have, I'd say that this one competes with the amount of filmmakers that we've had in the past years to0.

Andre Seward: Yeah. I would say it's comparable to previous years. And, you know, since we are one of the few festivals that are going in person in United States this year, people have been very eager. So I think anybody who wants to come to the festival and not only experience the films but actually interact with the people who made the films, there are lots of opportunities to interact. I think we have around 45 to 60 Q and A's set up. So that's a combination of feature films and shorts programs. So anybody who comes to the festival will definitely have a full festival experience.

Hannah Bothner: And if you aren't comfortable coming out to the festival in person, of course, we will have our online option. And with that, we will have a messaging board, virtual place, like we had last year where you can come in and talk to filmmakers and talk to other festival guests, too. We've got a lot of filmmakers that have already signed up on that platform. That’ll be a really great place to get to know some of the filmmakers and talk to them there.

That leads me a bit into what I wanted to ask you next. If there is any sort of benefit to having a pandemic it's that it makes people rethink what works and what doesn't work with something like a film festival. And one thing that a lot of festivals found worked last year was this virtual option, showing the movies online and also having a place for filmmakers and for festival goers to get together online. It's great that this is an option again this year. What can people expect when they go into the online festival? Are all movies available instantly? Is there a schedule where they're rolling out? How is it going to work logistically?

Andre Seward: Most of the films that we're showing in-person will be available online, but not all of them. So that's important to note. In our program and on our website, we've noted if it's in-person only, that you have to go to the in-person screening. If it doesn't have that tag of in-person only, then it will be available both, but our current schedule is just to have them all available as soon as we open up the online portal and then everybody has about 48 hours to watch the film after they've started it.

And so do people buy single tickets to each film, a pass for the entire slate of films…

Hannah Bothner: You can do either. You can buy single passes for films. You can also, there will be a virtual pass for, the virtual portion only. And if you purchase a TallPass, you will also have access to the virtual area of the festival too, which I think is really great because I think one of the things that people really struggle with during the festival is trying to pick which films to go to. And maybe you've got two films that you, that both sound really, really interesting that one of them starts in the middle of the other one. So again, another benefit is that you have the opportunity to potentially watch every single film in the festival. You don't have to do that pick and choose. You can try to see everything.

You both are very responsible for forming the program for the festival. I'm curious if, as a result of the pandemic, you saw any particular commonalities in the movies that were being submitted to you, whether that's quality, whether that's a particular aesthetic or style that kept popping up, whether there are particular themes that you saw through the submissions. Was there anything that really stood out to you that maybe you can attribute to the pandemic?

Andre Seward: Well, this one's hard because a lot of the films that are submitted, maybe they were completed right before the pandemic. Some of them were completed during the pandemic. And so it's hard to say how much the pandemic influenced people's artistic decision and script making. And I don't know if it's been coincidence or not, but for me, as far as on the feature side, and I also saw some in the shorts, there are a lot of films that are a little bit darker, a lot of dark comedies, a lot of excessive comedic gore. I don't know if that was coincidence or influenced, but a lot of the films do kind of, I don't know, it seems appropriate for the aftermath or coming out of this.

Hannah Bothner: Yeah, I will say though, from the short-film side of things, it was a little bit more of a struggle this year to find films for the comedy section, though that's a really great slate of films and, and definitely some lighter fare, if you would like that. A lot more darker films this year. But the other really, I think, benefit of a lot of people having to take some time off is that people were just able to really delve more into their creativity and were able to-- a lot of films that I saw finished filming right before the pandemic, and then were able to spend a ton of time in (post-production) and create exactly the film that they wanted it to be, which is really exciting to see.

Andre Seward: I totally agree. I feel like overall, for the submissions that we received this year, the quality was just much higher than in previous years. And I think that the time that they had to sit with the films definitely played into that. I mean, for me, it was one of the most difficult years for watching films because so many things were good and we had to make a lot of really hard decisions.

Is there anything that is in the festival that you are particularly proud that you landed?

Andre Seward: All of them?

Sure, sure…

Andre Seward: So, this was actually, our executive director, Melanie Addington, she helped get this film, but there is a movie, our opening night film, called The Humans. And I believe we’re maybe the third festival in North America to show it. It's a film that was originally a play, written and directed by Steven Karam, a Lebanese-American director. And it stars Amy Schumer, Steven Yeun, and some other great people,

Richard Jenkins, maybe?

Hannah Bothner: Richard Jenkins, yep.

Andre Seward: And the film is very much a-- for me, it's a film that you kind of have to sit with it afterward to really feel it. And it's nice to be one of the first festivals in the country to have the film. And I think that people in Wichita will really connect with it. And we'll be one of the first audiences in North America, and the world, to see that. So that's pretty exciting.

Hannah Bothner: This was a really, really tough year for me, definitely a lot of beloved films for me on the cutting room floor. But we've got 11 shorts programs and I love each one of them more than the last. So, a couple of exciting ones to highlight. “I Heart ICT” has three documentaries that revolve around this beautiful city, highlighting three different kind of eras, kind of a little bit of a past, present, and future. And then that will be playing at the Orpheum, as well as our Kansas block this year will also be playing at the Orpheum, which is really exciting, getting to move it to a larger venue. And then, one of my favorites every year is always the “Let's Get Weird” shorts. It’s been like maybe the third year that I've gotten to do something like that. And it's, if you're into weird films, anything like that, check it out. It's just such a strange mix of different things. A cosmic gumbo, if you will.

The festival schedule and more information are at tallgrassfilm.org.

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.