Your All Access From-The-Couch Pass To This Year's Kansas City FilmFest International Is Just $10
Bored to death? Missing local culture? Great news: Starting Monday, you can attend a grassroots film festival showcasing 90 films — about two dozen of them by Kansas City-area artists — all week for just $10.
In normal times, movies in the Kansas City FilmFest International would have been shown on big screens all around the metro. But the festival’s executive director, Veronica Elliott Loncar, says the decision to stream the whole festival came after other, larger film festivals, such as SXSW and Tribeca, announced that some or all of their 2020 programming would be made available online for people staying at home due to the spread of COVID-19.
“We wanted to do whatever we could to avoid canceling, just because all of our filmmakers, they put so much work into their films,” says Loncar. “We didn't want to miss that opportunity to celebrate them and their films.”
The Kansas City FilmFest International (not to be confused with the Kansas International Film Festival) was founded in 1996 as the Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee, a platform for local filmmakers to showcase their work in a local setting; it merged with FilmFest KC in 2008. Because filmmakers from around the world have long been a part of the event, “International” was added to the name in 2018.
Short films and a handful of features will be available starting Monday at 9 a.m. Almost all remaining programming will be available by Wednesday through the end of the festival on April 19. Certain screenings, such as the Midwest premiere of documentary “Microplastic Madness,” will only be available during a scheduled time.
“Microplastic Madness,” which kicks off the festival at 7 p.m. on Monday, follows a group of Brooklyn fifth-graders trying to combat the presence of single-use plastics in their everyday lives. After the screening is a live Q&A with directors Atsuko Quirk and Debby Lee Cohen, as well as Bob Grove of the Climate Council of Greater Kansas City.
Here are some entries by Kansas City filmmakers to look out for at this year’s festival:
Directed by Mark Honer
Rachel Crane, a Los Angeles–based actor with a successful career in commercials and improv comedy, is also a farmer who travels 1,400 miles home to Kansas every year for the harvest.
Crane is the subject of Mark Honer’s documentary short “Combined,” about Crane’s efforts to balance acting and her agricultural roots.
Honer grew up outside the agricultural community of El Dorado. He does not come from a farming family, but says he was “surrounded by farmers.” In adulthood, he met people with stories similar to Crane’s: people with nine-to-five jobs who have farming backgrounds and love it too much to give it up.
“It was gonna be a number of individuals who come home,” Honer says. “I connected with Rachel, and she had just such a good story that I just ended up making it about her particular situation.”
Directed by Oliver J. Hughes
Wyandotte County is one of the most diverse in the country, with no ethnic majority and 75 languages spoken in its public schools. Oliver Hughes’ documentary short “Overlooked” introduces us to business owners, architects, nonprofit employees and more who all came to Wyandotte County by way of other countries.
Growing up in Overland Park, Hughes says, “I had no idea that Wyandotte County was one of the most diverse counties in the entire country.” He learned about Wyandotte County’s multiculturalism through Jarrett Meek, a pastor and the founder of the Mission Adelante ministry that offers services and community to refugees and immigrants.
Hughes says though the film is informed by current events, it’s not overtly political.
“We kind of have a conversation around immigrants and immigration in our country that's very contentious,” he says. “And we wanted to just introduce that and then show the evidence that not only are so many of those narratives wrong, they're actually driving so much of the growth of our city from the inside out.”
Directed by Mahryn Rose
UMKC student Mayhrn Rose’s short film “My Sappho” is part of KCFFI’s Heartland Student lineup.
In addition to making films, Rose is a writer, designer and painter. She says she spent around 48 hours in the production studio on the six-minute stop motion film, which uses paper cutouts, flowers, original art and other objects to retell the work of Archaic Greek poet Sappho. The images are set to poetry recitations by Rose (she rewrote them from a modern translation) and narration from a classmate, Tedeja Dean.
Rose says she wanted to “highlight how relevant and vital Sappho's poetry was, even though it's literally ancient.” She also wanted to show that Sappho was “a real person.”
Modern debate remains about Sappho’s sexuality, but she has been embraced by the LGBTQ community and some scholars as a lesbian icon. Rose uses Sappho’s modern cultural status to tell the story of her romance with Erinna, another Greek poet.
“I noticed a very nature-centric, whimsical tone in her writing and, plus, as a member of the LGBT community, I loved learning about figures In the community throughout history, and she's one of the most notable,” she says.
Directed by W. Dave Keith, Annie Walsh, Rachael Jane, Haley Chaffin and Allison Flom
Feature film “Loving Relationship” is the visual component of Kansas City band Suneater’s 2015 album, “Suneaters II: Loving Relationship.” The indie rock band’s six members made the film with the help of other local artists.
“Loving Relationship” is an anthology of 11 quirky love stories, one for every song on the album. Installments include “After the Settlement,” animated by Kansas City artist Haley Chaffin, about two rabbits whose love must endure an epic space battle.
The film was primarily shot in and around Kansas City, with the aim of highlighting the city’s hidden gems. Locations include the Park University caves, the Screenland Armour theater and the Replay Lounge in Lawrence.
“Kansas City is a city full of people who are frustrated artists who are looking for cool forms of expression,” says guitarist and vocalist Chris Garibaldi, who served as the film’s editor and producer. He says “Loving Relationship” was a passion project six years in the making.
“It was like building a family of people to … accomplish this fairly aggressive and ambitious goal and to do it in a very punk rock kind of way, where it's just people doing what they love and then trying to make it look and sound as good as we could possibly make it.”
Directed by Paola Prada
UMKC graduates Paola Prada and Jackson Montemayor collaborated on “The Colombian,” another entry in KCFFI’s Heartland Student category.
Their short film follows María, a young woman from Colombia, at a speed dating event in Missouri. One date goes on about how much he loves the Netflix show “Narcos,” about Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, while others express a similar lack of understanding about her culture.
Prada, who moved to the United States from Colombia four years ago, says she’s frequently confronted with similar questions and comments.
“We wanted to portray that and also, in a humorous way, we also wanted to portray it's not your fault,” she says. “There are a lot of movies and shows that are about us. So it makes sense that people will make that assumption.”
The story is also personal for Montemayor, but from the other side of the table. Montemayor is from St. Joseph, Missouri, where he says he encountered little cultural diversity.
“When I came to Kansas City and I started to meet people from all over the world,” he says. “I'm sure there were instances where I subconsciously made assumptions based on those stereotypes, and there wasn't any ill intent. Everyone's flawed, and that's something that we try to portray in the film.”
Directed by Nick Swing
After robbing a smoke shop in St. Louis, Missouri native Antonio Brison spent 13 years in prison. While incarcerated, he fell in love with acting thanks to a nonprofit called Prison Performing Arts. Today, Brison is a father with three kids. He’s part of the Prison Performing Arts alumni program, which holds events in St. Louis with other former inmates.
In the documentary short “$360,” Brison returns to the scene of his crime to tell his story. Brison produced the film and is a credited writer. Matt Swing, a 2019 University of Missouri graduate, directed the film.
Swing met Brison through Prison Performing Arts and proposed they make a film together. Brison agreed.
“I kind of let him take the reins,” Swing says of Brison. “I was afraid of using my bias that I was taking into the filmmaking process to tell his story about him being in prison, because of course, I have not experienced the same things that Antonio's experienced by any means.”
All-access passes to the festival can be purchased on the KCFFI website for $10, where there's also a full schedule of Q&As and one-time only screenings.
Follow KCUR contributor Courtney Bierman on Twitter @courtbierman.