2021 Festival News

The Ones You Can’t Stop Thinking About

I, like most film nerds, really love those stories you just can’t stop thinking about after having seen them. For me, two of those this year were Messania’s Story (a documentary short) and Road to Vrindavan (a documentary feature). 

When I first watched Messania’s Story, I went into it entirely blind, meaning I chose not to read the information or spoilers provided. It was one I watched early on in our screening process (a process that takes many months), and I have not stopped thinking about it, even to this day.

The story focuses on an elderly Kenyan woman named Messania as she tells her story of growing up. When she was young, a girl’s worth was tied to who she married. And who she married was determined by her female circumcision (“the cut”). It’s what they all knew, it’s what they all believed, it’s what they all supported and performed for many, many years. Messania tells her life story and how “the cut” changed it. Really, the rest is too good for me to give away right here (but you can find more info by clicking around on our film listings and schedule), but I’ll end my praise with this… The shots are perfect, the story is moving and empowering, and the re-enactments are anything but cheesy (which is something I often fear in documentaries).

If Messania’s Story wasn’t enough for you, I’ve gotta recommend a documentary feature called Road to Vrindavan. This one made such an impact on me that I fought pretty hard for it to be in the festival. (The fight for it might not have been necessary, but I was impassioned!)

Road to Vrindavan is one of those documentaries that sets out to be about one thing but then changes course midway through as it’s being filmed. (Personally, I love that in documentaries, so that really worked for me.) The filmmaker is a former monk who returns to Vrindavan (where he spent a lot of time as a monk) to examine gender roles. He believes that women in India deserve education and opportunities to succeed, and he conducts many interviews with local villagers about the topic. But, things change when he’s essentially asked why HE, a man, is making the documentary. Is it his story to tell? (Very fair point, let’s be honest.) It’s at this point that he starts to examine more closely what needs to change on the side of men in order for these women in India to succeed and thrive. We get a lot of stories similar to this one, but it’s when he starts to examine what needs to happen from men that makes this documentary stand out as one I found worth fighting for and that I think about often.

Obviously, it’s my strong suggestion that you watch these two films, but my real hope is that you also find some films in this year’s Indy Film Fest that you can’t stop thinking about! (And if or when you find those, reach out to us on social media about them!)


You Learn Something New Every Day

As a kid, I always dreamt I’d be a film critic. I sought out all the classics and DVRed them, and I made sure to catch Ebert and Roeper’s reviews. By sheer happenstance of loving to volunteer, I found myself with the opportunity to first volunteer for the Indy Film Fest a few years back and then eventually screen films for it and ultimately become the Assistant Documentary Programmer, specializing in the documentary shorts.

I joke sometimes with my fellow programmers that I am only in this for the glory, but the truth is that I’m infatuated with how many unique stories I get to come across that are reality…happening right now…all around us. I’m legitimately learning something new every time I sit down and watch new films that need to be screened for the festival. (Side bar: if this is something you’d geek out about too, we’re always looking for more screeners!)

So, for my first blog for the 2021 Indy Film Fest, I wanted to highlight a few of the stories that I felt shaped me the most and taught me the most this year.

First up? Bury Me At Taylor Hallow, found in our The Long Goodbye shorts block.

Bury Me At Taylor Hallow showcases the process of one man getting a conservation burial site established in Tennessee. (And believe it or not, we had several shorts submitted for consideration about “green burials” this year!) Let me be the first to say that I had NO idea this was a thing. And you know what? Consider me sold! Who wouldn’t want to be given back to the earth in a natural way, while also helping conserve land in a park-like setting that your loved ones can visit?! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be thinking this, but here we are!

The next film I want to highlight is called The Scarecrows and can be found in the Before Midnight shorts block.

The Scarecrows is largely about a dying town. (Great, lots of docs are, right?) This one in particular is about a remote village in Japan that is dying out due to an aging older population and younger populations moving to cities. And what makes it most interesting? The “scarecrows” or life-size dolls that are crafted by a dollmaker in the village to represent those who have passed on. The dolls FILL the village, anywhere you could look! Bet you had no idea you’d learn about THAT when you considered supporting this year’s Indy Film Fest, did ya?! (Also, who’s down to visit this town now?)

Finally, I want to highlight Bundini which can be found paired with Welcome to Monterey.

Bundini is about Muhammad Ali’s hypeman. I mean, first of all, did you know “hype man” was a legit profession?! Second of all, had you ever heard about the man Ali himself said “made him The Greatest”? While the film itself could be entirely about their relationship, it’s not. It goes to show how interesting and inspiring Drew “Bundini” Brown truly was. As someone who doesn’t necessarily love history, I ate this story up, as did many of our screeners. I’m sure you’ll feel pretty hyped up about it, too! (…Sorry…)

If we’re being honest, I could list so many more unique stories I learned about and continue to think about months after originally screening for this year’s festival, but I’ll leave it with just those three prime examples.

Now, go forth and learn about something else you had no idea about until you tuned in and turned on that doc short!

What do you want?

One thing that all the features in the fest’s World Cinema category have in common this year is that they include people who are trying to figure out what they want. Whether it’s the 20-something struggling actress on vacation with her boyfriend who has more important things to do in This is Where I Meet You, or the young Wessi coming back to Mongolia after many years growing up in the West trying to assert herself in Black Milk, or the titular character in Tereza37 who is trying to deal with societal expectations and figure out what she actually wants.

While some of the films in this category feature stories of women as main characters, women are not the only ones who are not sure what they want. There is also Karsten in Irgendwann Ist Auch Mal Gut [It’s Gonna Be Fine] who is trying to figure out how to deal with his parent’s blunt announcement that has massive repercussions on his life, and Josue in Un 4to de Josue [A Quarter of Josue] who is trying to figure out how to get the girl and graduate high school, and in El Rey de la Fiesta [King of the Party], there is Héctor, in a major midlife crisis, bored with his life and contemplating being someone else for a while. In Eyimofe [This is My Desire], both Mofe and Rosa are trying to figure out how to make their dreams of moving abroad come true.

The fun part is that they all have a different twist on this same basic premise, some are hilarious, some are serious, some are playful or silly and some are total mind trips. Choose your adventure!


Tickets and Trailers

PRESS RELEASE: 2021 Lineup Revealed


As a hybrid virtual and physical event, filmmakers from far and wide are available to Zoom-in to talk about their processes, their inspiration, and what it’s like making art in a pandemic.

Indianapolis, IN, April 21, 2021 — Indy Film Fest released the entire film lineup, running April 29 to May 19. The movie possibilities are endless… and include both shorts and feature-length options from World Cinema, Documentaries, American Spectrum, and “Hoosier Lens” offerings.

The Fest is structured with three, week-long blocks of film availability:
• April 29 – May 5
• May 6 – May 12
• May 13 – May 19

In-person screenings will be held for some linchpin films at Tibbs Drive In:

Thursday, April 29

Based on the global bestseller, a federal agent’s homecoming leads to a deeply personal murder investigation that reopens old wounds and threatens to unravel the tight-knit small town.


Thursday, May 6

An aging hairdresser (Udo Kier) escapes his nursing home and embarks on an odyssey across his small town to style a dead woman’s hair for her funeral, rediscovering his sparkle along the way.

By day, Ed Popil worked as a telemarketer in Rochester, New York for 18 years. By night, he transformed into drag queen Mrs. Kasha Davis, a 1960’s era housewife trying to liberate herself from domestic toil through performing at night in secret – an homage to Ed’s mother.


Thursday, May 13

Conned into buying a shady ’65 Chrysler, Mike’s first date with the girl-next-door, Kelsey, implodes as he finds himself targeted by criminals, cops, and a crazy cat lady. A night fueled by desire, bullets, and burning rubber makes any other first date seem like a walk in the park.


Following opening night on the 29th, movie lovers can enjoy more quality films from the comfort of their own homes by purchasing virtual tickets. The variety of films ensures that attendees can find movies for every part of their imagination. For more information on Indy Film Fest, visit www.indyfilmfest.org, like Indy Film Fest on Facebook and follow @IndyFilmFest on Twitter and Instagram.


About Indy Film Fest
A non-profit, all-volunteer organization, the Indy Film Fest has grown into one of the Midwest’s fastest-growing and most-watched film festivals. Now in its 18th year, the Indy Film Fest seeks to create a shared experience around film by championing movies that entertain, challenge and expand perspectives in Indianapolis and beyond. This exciting year of creativity and collaboration will culminate with a ten-day film festival. For more info, visit http://indyfilmfest.org.


Animation Station

As a lover of the arts and storytelling, animated shorts present a wonderful combination that is pleasing to both the eyes and the soul. I am so geeked about the variety and quality of animated works available in this year’s festival program. Just a few notes on a handful of our animated selections as I couldn’t bear to be a spoiler for the goodies that await our viewers!

We start in nature with Berry’s Voyage following cute little Berry entering the world, seeking out places to plant their seeds. Watch to see what obstacles present along the way and if they serve to help or hinder sweet Berry. Sad Beauty portrays an artist trying to capture nature as it appears to be deteriorating around her, and all the while, the unique animation style feels like we’re watching a drawing in motion. The Grave of Saint Oran is dark and creepy, wonderfully narrated by Neil Gaiman, and has the most beautifully captivating visuals created using hand-animated paper cutouts. Like me, you may find yourself wondering how they made the characters’ hair look like it was blowing it the wind. The Extinction of Up uses clay animation with a concept so clever I found myself giggling the whole way through. For another spot of humor, check out Macy’s Goes to War; this short has minimal animation, however, what is included is so perfectly placed punctuating this previously untold “almost” true story.

These animated selections run the gamut from comedy to drama, hope to tragedy, and can be found thoughtfully placed throughout our blocks of programming. If you are already a lover of animated storytelling or interested in checking out something new – there’s plenty to enjoy!

Home, Home On The Range

Ohhhh give me a home where the buffalo bison roam…and I’m not talking about some far off mysterious wild west land. We are talking about Indiana! This beautiful documentary short is full of everything I love about film. You will not want to miss Wild Winds: Spirit of the Bison during the festival this year.

This film has heart and soul. Be prepared to care more about the majestic bison than you thought possible. From seeing baby bison to the crazy amount of personality the adult bison exhibit, these resilient animals will graze their way into your hearts and won’t let go. We go on a journey of the history of the bison intertwined with its place in Indiana’s past and future.

This documentary is brilliantly paced and showcases a story that can only be matched by the wonderful preservation work being done by the people at Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve in northeastern Indiana. This film obviously had an impact on me. I learned about our local Indiana past and how we can shape the future of our state and the spirit of the bison. Find this film in our shorts blocks and enjoy everything it has to offer. You’ll thank me later.

Virtual Filmmaker Q&As

Last year as we held our first virtual fest, l was worried that it would be missing my favorite part of the the Indy Film Fest—getting to watch a movie with the actual filmmaker in the audience and then meet and talk with them afterwards in a fun, intimate setting. I was afraid the virtual part would take the human part out of the mix.

I was totally wrong. Last year’s virtual fest gave more filmmakers the chance to be a part of our festival. Let’s be honest, not every filmmaker can fly in and spend ten days in Indy with us each year. We’re fortunate to get so many in the normal years. But, as we all got used to Zoom meetings and virtual hangouts last year, we found that more filmmakers could join the conversation.

One of my favorite conversations last year really sticks out. It was a Q&A after a set of shorts, so there were multiple filmmakers in the discussion. There were filmmakers from all across the US and also from Italy and Lebanon. All set up in their living rooms and bedrooms, not in nice chairs on a stage, like we’re used to for these chats. We were a few months into the pandemic. The US and Italy had been hit pretty hard. Beirut had a devastating explosion just a week before. It was a dark time in the world, and for many people in the conversation.

All the filmmakers had on their public faces, though, and gave their prepared answers about how happy they were to be a part of the festival. They all got to talk a little bit about “the process” of making films. Then, at one point, they all stopped talking about film and started talking about what was going on around them. I heard from a filmmaker in Beirut who had been working in post-explosion recovery. I heard from an Italian filmmaker experiencing the aftermath of too few hospital beds for too many patients and the toll that took on his community.

I came to love the Indy Film Fest over the last 12 years not just because of the movies. The Film Fest has allowed me to connect with fun, creative people to forge relationships and connect through great film experiences. For those of us who ventured into a virtual experience of the fest, we were mostly focused on pulling it off. But, instead of just making it happen, we had the chance to come together as people, across oceans and with the shared experience of a global pandemic, to connect and to explore the stories of humanity—which, when it comes down to it, is what filmmaking is all about. I’m looking forward to making that happen again this year, even if it is over Zoom.

Breaking Down the Blocks

This past year has been anything but normal, so we thought, why not have some fun and tinker with the format of this year’s virtual fest, too?!?! The team came up with a unique way to maximize the virtual experience to create a more manageable way for our film fans to discover ALL of this year’s feature films and shorts programs by dividing them up into three weekly blocks (April 29 thru May 19).


Each block will include 8-9 feature films and 5-6 shorts blocks setting the pace for you to be able to easily gobble up the films our screeners have been so busy curating for the past six months (you may want to consider a ticket bundle or All Access Pass). Bonus: each block will be kicked off with a Thursday night drive-in double feature at Tibbs where we’ll be showing some cinematic gems in a safe, alfresco environment. We’re calling it Night Mov(i)es.


Tell all your friends. Mark your calendars. And we’ll “see you” at the 2021 Indy Film Fest.


Ebert’s ‘Empathy Machine’

When I first started as a programmer at Indy Film Fest, at some point I got an email from Wayne (documentary programmer) who has this amazing quote from Roger Ebert as his email signature. “Empathy is the most essential quality of civilization…And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy…It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”


That’s exactly how I have always felt about movies, and I try to keep that in mind when picking selections for World Cinema. I want them to be of different genres, different styles, be from different continents. There should be a whole range of emotions that they elicit from the audience. This year we have feature films from Africa, Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. A lot of them seem to be about belonging and identity; some are comedies, some are tragedies, some are just slice-of-life type films.


I hope people watch them and feel like they are entering new worlds which the characters inhabit and getting an inkling of what it’s like to be someone else. That’s what movies do for me.

Neale Gets Real (about the Fest)

The more movies I watch, the more I crave something different. I want new perspectives, eccentric characters, and blurred genres. That’s what I came to love about Indy Film Fest and why I’m still here each year – I love to help find the films that stretch your idea of what movies can be.


We have documentaries that cover fascinating subjects you may never hear of otherwise – some truly stranger than fiction. We have international films that bring to light unique views in their homelands – just imagine what they can do here! We show films made by people who live down the street from you and also by those who live half a world away. We have tear jerkers, jaw droppers, and the just plain weird. Many are a little bit of everything.


Look, I love movies. But sometimes I just get bored and need something new. And at Indy Film Fest, it’s always new.