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Tallgrass Film Festival aims to make its 20th year its most accessible ever

The Tallgrass Film Festival is making sure everyone can go to the movies.

Melanie Addington
Melanie Addington

The Tallgrass Film Festival is next week, and one of its goals is to make sure the movies are available to as many people as possible. 

The festival’s executive director, Melanie Addington, talked to Fletcher Powell about what they’re doing to make the event more accessible, including how the pandemic made film festivals rethink their approach.

Interview Highlights

Melanie Addington: I don't want to say the positive or the upside of the pandemic, but I think because film festivals who have been built on exclusivity and really, income access, suddenly all had to figure out how to be online. And then once they figured that out, they realized that's really easy to just add captioning. And then they realized-- as we started moving back, some decided this makes sense. Let's keep doing it. Some have chosen to go back to the old ways. But in terms of access, for Tallgrass, it's not just about, oh, there's some closed captioning at home. We're actually having open captioning screenings from here on out. And we're actually going to be doing a couple more audio description screenings, and that's films for blind people. So, you have your score and you have your sounds you're hearing, but then there is another third track of a person describing what you're seeing on screen. So, let's say it's Black Panther. You have a man describing what the Black Panther looks like, the visuals, zooming in on him. So, it's really-- I'm terrible at it (laughs). Um, But it's a really interesting way for people to experience what we take for granted, which is just looking and watching.

So, you mentioned open captioning and the audio descriptions. Is there anything else that Tallgrass is doing this year?

What we've always done and will continue to do is to make sure that all of our venues are fully accessible. We've also added back free screenings because economic access is as important.

That is definitely a barrier. I mean, accessibility isn't just necessarily about the type of body that you have and whether you're able to go to see the movie.

Right. It's an economic risk to be involved with film festivals. And it shouldn't be. Because movies are so accessible and so easy to see them, everyone should have that access. And so we're trying to make sure we eliminate as many barriers as possible. One thing we are adding this year that I had forgotten-- I really appreciate where you could just park your car once and get a free ride to the different venues. So we are adding a park and ride and shuttle situation for anyone who's trying to get to see a film. When I was a visitor in Wichita in 2017, that was one thing, I was very confused (laughs) where I was at all times. And so having that ability to just park and then have somebody take you where you need to go is something that I think will be a nice addition to the festival moving forward.

You mentioned some festivals have sort of reverted back to what they used to do and others are moving forward into continuing to increase accessibility. Have you noticed any kind of pattern as to which festivals are doing which thing?

Yes. Industry festivals are mostly moving sort of back into the way they were.

So those are the big ones.

The big ones that are there to sell films to distributors and get the big celebrity. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's just not the format of most regional film festivals, which is about building community. And that's what we are. I mean, why would you not want a full house at The Orpheum instead of 50 people who could buy in? Of course, you want more people to see these people's films. So, to me, it matters.

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.