Staff Picks

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.

More of our Checkered Past

This past weekend we told you about our Checkered Past, official selections from past Indy Film Fests that you can watch right now!  But since we’re in Indianapolis we have more history with racing films than can fit in one post, so here are a few more we’ve presented over the years.

McLaren (2007)

The story of Bruce McLaren, the New Zealander who founded the McLaren Motor Racing team. A man who showed the world that a man of humble beginnings could take on the elite of motor racing and win.

While not a festival selection we worked with the filmmakers, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and McLaren to host the North American premiere of this amazing documentary. Amanda McLaren, Bruce’s daughter, participated in the Q&A following the screening at the Indiana State Museum’s IMAX theater. A private collector graciously brought Bruce McLaren’s personal road McLaren and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum provided Johnny Rutherford’s 1974 McLaren IndyCar.


WATCH NOW on Amazon Prime

(Photos by Stacy Kagiwada)


Winning (1969)

Frank Capua (Paul Newman) is a rising star on the race circuit who dreams of winning the big one–the Indianapolis 500. But to get there he runs the risk of losing his wife Elora to his rival, Luther Erding, and strains the relationship with his stepson.

Winning was presented at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of our Roving Cinema series in 2016 leading up to the 100th running of the Indy 500. IMS President Doug Boles moderated a pre-screening Q&A with three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 Bobby Unser who appears in the film, then rookie driver Matthew Brabham, technical director Bill Marvel, and Hoosiers director David Anspaugh who got his start in film working on Winning. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum brought several IndyCars for display during the event, including the one driven by Paul Newman’s character and the one Bobby Unser drove in the film.


WATCH NOW on Amazon Prime

(Photos by Stacy Kagiwada)


The Race of Gentlemen

Filmed over a three-year period, “The Race Of Gentlemen” is a documentary about the men who build hot rods in the “traditional style” and gather from around the world to race them for this annual event. While the world is marching forward in the pursuit of new technology these gentlemen are stepping backwards and embracing the old technology as it relates to there passion for the “traditional” style of hot rodding. This subculture has gained recognition and received much publicity in various forms of media throughout the world.

The Race of Gentlemen was an official selection in the 14th Indy Film Fest in 2017.  Like many films that we feature at the Indy Film Fest, it does not currently have distribution and so is not available to watch.


Racing Dreams

A feature documentary following three young racers as they compete in the World Karting Association’s National Pavement Series. Clocking speeds up to 70 mph, these kids chase the National Championship title and take one step closer toward their dream of someday racing in the big show… NASCAR.

Racing Dreams was an official selection to the 6th Indianapolis International Film Festival in 2009 and was the winner of that year’s Audience Award – Best Feature! In 2020, director Marhsall Curry won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short for his first fiction film, The Neighbors’ Window.


WATCH NOW on Amazon Prime

We included RACING DREAMS in our previous Our Checkered Past post about festival selections, but since we showed it a second time outside of the festival we thought it deserved a second mention.  Here’s a photo from our screening held in Indianapolis’s Highland Park back in 2013.

Photo by Stacy Kagiwada

(Thanks to former board member Joe Ball for helping with this post!)

Checkered Past

Indianapolis is a wonderful place to be in May. We love kicking off the month with our 10-day film festival just as much we love ending it with the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend. In honor of what we wish was another racing weekend here in Indianapolis, here is a collection of some of our favorite racing films we have had the honor of selecting for our festival over the past few years.

We’ve also screened a few great racing films outside of the festival which you can read about in More of our Checkered Past.



The Indianapolis 500 has long been hailed as “the only race” in motorsports, and in 1977, Janet Guthrie earned a prestigious place among 33 talented drivers, making her the first woman to compete in the race. After overcoming impossible odds, Guthrie had her own team and seemed destined for success. ‘Qualified’ tells her story and examines what caused her career to inexplicably stall before she was able to find the the fame and fortune she was headed for.

Qualified was an official selection in the 16th Indy Film Fest in 2019 and won best Hoosier Lens feature film.




The Eight

Follow three late-model car drivers as they run ‘The Eight’ a fast paced daredevil competition that pits drivers and machines against the treacherous figure eight.

The Eight was an official selection in the 15th Indy Film Fest in 2018.


WATCH NOW on Amazon Prime


A Sicilian Dream

The Targa Florio was a Sicilian mountain road race that, in 1906, gave birth to an era of motorsport still going today. Dreamt up by the younger son of a Sicilian Dynasty, Vincenzo Florio, it ran until 1977 and was considered both totally insane and an absolute must by drivers and manufacturers alike. Pistons Passions Pleasures – A Sicilian Dream is a film that journeys into the heart of this story – exploring its intrigue and revelations. We’re taken on this journey with one of Italy’s preeminent dreamers ‘Francesco da Mosto’ accompanied by racing driver Alain de Cadenet with his 1931 Alfa Romeo 8c supercharged racing car reputedly driven by Nuvolari in the Targa event.

A Sicilian Dream was an official selection in the 13th Indy Film Fest in 2016.


WATCH NOW on Amazon Prime


Hella Shitty Racing Team

This documentary short follows A group of hackers turn their attention to motor racing and form Hella Shitty Racing Team to participate at 24 Hours of Lemons at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California.

Hella Shitty Racing Team was an official selection in the 15th Indy Film Fest in 2018.


WATCH NOW on Vimeo


Boys Of Bonneville

Examining the life of Ab Jenkins, who set out to break every existing land speed record and establish endurance records of his own, this film brings its racing heroes back to life through vintage newsreels, photos, interviews and letters.

Boys of Bonneville was an official selection to the 8th Indianapolis International Film Festival (our original name!) in 2011.


WATCH NOW on Amazon Prime


Racing Dreams

A feature documentary following three young racers as they compete in the World Karting Association’s National Pavement Series. Clocking speeds up to 70 mph, these kids chase the National Championship title and take one step closer toward their dream of someday racing in the big show… NASCAR.

Racing Dreams was an official selection to the 6th Indianapolis International Film Festival in 2009 and was the winner of that year’s Audience Award – Best Feature! In 2020, director Marhsall Curry won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short for his first fiction film, The Neighbors’ Window.


WATCH NOW on Amazon Prime


Looking for more racing films?  Check out our other post on More of our Checkered Past.

Road Trippin’ with Rebecca

For anyone looking to get a little bit of an escape without leaving home, here are three picks and IFF alums for this week. All three are available for up to $3.99 on various streaming services.



Plagues and Pleasures of the Salton Sea (2004)

As far as documentaries go, this film by Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer has everything: Eccentric characters, dreamy desert wastelands, the Golden Age of Hollywood, Sonny Bono (RIP), and narrator John Waters. This hauntingly beautiful, off-the-grid region is about an hour’s drive from Palm Springs, Calif. Because I discovered this place thanks to this movie, I made a point to experience it in person with my sister and brother-in-law. We braved the late summer heat to check out Salvation Mountain and to drive around part of the sea. I just looked it up, for funsies, and I found property for only about $11,000 for a plot of land, or $120,000 for a tiny home.






Jingle Bell Rocks! (2013)

When Mitchell Kezin’s documentary about the search for off-beat Christmas records was at the festival in 2014, there seemed to be an abundance of films featuring Santas, so I was already Mistletoe’d out. What I didn’t expect was that this film would kick me right in the feels. As someone who often gets the holiday blues, I appreciated Kezin’s journey across North America to countless record stores, even into the homes and studios of musicians who’ve recorded off-beat holiday albums: The Flaming Lips, Run-DMC, The Free Design, Low, Bob Dorough (who recorded a Christmas song with Miles Davis), Clarence Carter, Akim & The Teddy Vann Prod. Co., The Mighty Sparrow, A Girl Called Eddy, El Vez, and more. Plus, maybe not surprisingly, John Waters, known for Christmas cards and Christmasy music mixes, makes an appearance. The DVD is in my Christmas movie rotation along with “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas.”




The Long Dumb Road (2018)

Shortly after I discovered my favorite podcast, “How Did This Get Made,” the gateway to most of the other podcasts I listen to, co-host Jason Mantzoukas graced the screen at the Toby as the lead in this film by Hannah Fidell. While Mantzoukas and Tony Revolori’s characters seem to have a wilder road trip experience than I think either of them expected, I might have to rewatch and pretend I’m on a tour of the American Southwest, but without their drama. Instead, I’ll settle for slowly eating my way through this jar of Hatch Chiles I bought online and maybe start a list of podcasts to listen to when it’s time to hit the road.





Rebecca has been attending the Indy Film Fest every year since 2005, first as a reporter for a Boston-based webzine, then as a reporter for Indiana Lawyer and Indianapolis Business Journal, where she would write film reviews for the arts section. She joined the IFF screening committee in early 2012 as a law student, joined the Board of Directors in January 2019, and is currently the secretary for the IFF Board of Directors. She has contributed articles about films and film festivals for publications in Central Indiana, including NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, South Magazine, Columbus Magazine, and Directed By Women’s blog. She also regularly attended The Walter Paisley Movie House in Indianapolis and tries to support multiple film festivals.

Neale has Something for Every Mood

Hello, friends. My name is Neale and I’m the Assistant Director here at Indy Film Fest. My main role is programming our year-round events but I’ve been doing my best to fill some time with these staff recommendations. I hope you have enjoyed them! This week, it’s my turn to post my own! My taste in movies is pretty broad and I think my recommendations here reflect that. I hope there is something here for everyone and every mood!



Short Term 12 (Amazon Prime)

My all time favorite movie. It’s a heartfelt, funny, and heavy look into the lives of those who live in and run a short term group home for troubled teenagers. It was my introduction to the wonderful Brie Larson and it’s still her best performance in my opinion.

You might recognize other familiar faces in the rest of the cast as well – John Gallagher, Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Lakeith Stanfield, and Stephanie Beatriz are all in this! It’s everything I look for in a movie. And don’t take my word for it – it won best Narrative Feature and the Audience Award for Narrative Features at SXSW in 2013.




Meru (Amazon Prime)

A documentary following Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, and Renan Ozturk’s ascent of the Shark’s Fin route on Meru Peak in the Indian Himalayas. The Shark’s Fin route is considered one of the most difficult challenges in the rock climbing world. If you feel trapped inside right now, this movie might help you feel like you can breathe a little more with it’s wide open spaces. The footage is absolutely incredible and their achievement is a testament to perseverance and the human spirit. Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi co-directed this. Their next film was Free Solo, which is another great rock climbing documentary if you haven’t seen it!






Train to Busan (Netflix, Amazon Prime)

A Korean zombie movie primarily set on a train. I think that sells this movie enough. If you watched Parasite and enjoyed your introduction to Korean movies, this is one of the next movies I’d put on your list. There’s a full range of humanity on display here – jerks, helpers, and a high school baseball team? It’s so much fun!




Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Hulu)

Sam Neill is a grumpy farmer in New Zealand and Julian Dennison is a foster child in his care, mostly because of his wife being a lovely, caring person. Together, they end up on the run from the police, hiding out in the bush. It’s a classic adventure comedy from director Taika Waititi.




All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records (Kanopy)

A marvelous documentary following, of course, the rise and fall of Tower Records. Music lovers nostalgic for trips to the record store will love this one. Featuring lengthy interviews from founder Russ Solomon, this movie just makes me smile. It also makes me quite sad that I never made it to a Tower Records in their heyday. But the films final shot of Russ in Japan gives me hope!



Music Movies From Ben’s Collection to Yours

Hi everyone, I’m Ben and I serve on the board of Indy Film Fest. If you’re missing live music right now as much as I am, music documentaries and live concert films are a great way to satisfy your urge to rock out a little bit while socially distancing. Or, in most cases with rocumentaries, you get to rock out some of the time, be disgusted some of the time and shake your head often that behind all the great music we love is some really weird stuff. Here’s three music movies from my collection to yours.


Gimme Shelter (1970)

The Rolling Stones 1969 concert at the Altamont Speedway has been called a symbol for a lot of things – the death knell of the 60s and, the end of flower power, and maybe the worst concert to ever have front row seats. It was directed by David and Albert Maysles, whose hand-held camera style and ability to capture the weirdness in every moment was also made famous in their Grey Gardens.

Gimme Shelter is amazing because it captures the perfect arc of the calamity that was Altamont. Beginning with the press conference announcing the concert, viewers feel a mounting pressure, a sense of eminent implosion. By the time Mick Jagger’s helicopter lands at the speedway, the event is already off the rails. In this film, the Maysles captured not only the in-the-moment shock of a massively mismanaged concert security process, but the aftermath, including a segment that captures Mick Jagger watching the murder of one of his fans right in front of the stage as he sang the line “I pray that it’s all right” from “Under My Thumb.” By the time the credits roll as the streams of people who endured the night head off into the morning sunrise.

Longtime Indy Film Fest friends may remember Gimme Shelter from the 2007 festival. It was screened alongside Grey Gardens, and attended by filmmaker Albert Maysles, a few years before his death.


The Flaming Lips: The Fearless Freaks (2005)

Fearless Freaks, dubbed “the wondrously improbable story of The Flaming Lips,” traces the history of the band, beginning as an obscure late-80s psychedelic punks and becoming one of the most respected bands and performers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Beyond the music itself, the Flaming Lips have always been a spectacle. From their early days having lo-fi car concerts in parking garages to their hugely visual and aural-overloaded concerts of today, the group has used their bizarre performances to invite fans into the weirdness, if only for a little while.

Their music and concerts have always felt like a celebration of life combined with an existential reminder of the impending, often technological, doom facing all of us. And Fearless Freaks shows that the band members themselves – as people, as family members, and as friends – live their lives in a way that compliments the life affirming aspects as well as the dark side of the spectacle that is the Flaming Lips.


WATCH NOW  Rahsaan Roland Kirk – The Case of the Three Sided Dream (2014)

Describing Rahsaan Roland Kirk and his music to someone who has never heard of him feels like a fable, or a superhero origin story. He was born blind, suffered illness throughout his childhood, had a dream about music and set off on a life of recreating the music of that dream. Along the way he learned to play dozens of instruments on his own with no training. Actually, he could play several instruments at once and regularly performed with brass, woodwind and percussion instruments hung all over his body, switching back and forth effortlessly to create the layers of sound and melody born in his mind. He could play two instruments with his mouth and a flute with his nose. Again, all at the same time. He used horns to blow beautiful melodies, while using the keys of another as percussion.

It sounds absurd, but Roland Kirk was no gimmick. He released over 25 albums while he was alive and appeared as a side-man on albums from Charles Mingus, Les McCann and Quincy Jones. He performed all over the world during his almost 25-year career. His last concert before suffering a stroke was at the IU Student Union in 1977. He died in the car on the way to the Indianapolis airport.

The Case of the Three Sided Dream gives viewers a glimpse of Kirk’s life work capturing the music of his childhood dreams while also showing off the physical and mental talent he embodied. The film is full of amazing concert footage that really demonstrates the uniqueness of Kirk as a musician and performer. The interviews with fellow musicians, producers and family help fill in some of the gaps of Kirk the man, while also giving insight into what made him a Jazz superhero.

Our President’s Current Watchlist

Hi everyone, I’m Chris, President of Indy Film Fest. Here are some of my favorite films available right now.


The Squid and the Whale
(Netflix, Amazon Prime)

Noah Baumbach isn’t quite a household name, but he got a little closer with Marriage Story. Abuzz with nominations and awards, his latest film is indeed beautiful and deserving of praise, but it just compelled me to re-watch my favorite Baumbach film, The Squid and the Whale (2005).

Set in mid-1980s Brooklyn, this is a profound character study in (poor) parenting and children coming to terms with their parents’ divorce. Replete with lashing out, adolescent experimentation and exploration, this story ultimately settles of love and some version of acceptance.

With the success of Marriage Story, we all know now how beautifully Baumbach can blend humor and melancholy, but check out The Squid and the Whale to see how he mastered this art in 2005.



Hell or High Water

Indy Film Fest alum will recognize this film from our 2016 festival. This is my favorite film that we’ve shown at our festival and ultimately received mountains of critical praise, culminating in four nominations at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Hell or High Water follows two brothers on a bank robbing spree in Texas. This modern-day western is the perfect cat and mouse story, which ultimately rebukes corporate greed.





Jiro Dreams of Sushi
(Netflix, Hulu)

Most of us have binge-watched Netflix’s Chef’s Table. This magnificent series introduces us to the most accomplished, most revolutionary chefs in the world. I love Chef’s Table. There are episodes I’ve watched countless times.

Now go watch the prequel. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the documentary that inspired Chef’s Table. It shows us the obsession, the relentless pursuit of gastronomical perfection, of Jiro Ono, owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, generally considered the best sushi restaurant in the world.

You don’t have to like sushi to appreciate this film. You don’t even have to know what sushi is to recognize the ambition and perfectionism in Ono. If you do like sushi, however, bring a napkin to sop up your drool.



Kylie’s Quintessential Queer Cinema

Hey everyone! I’m Kylie, the Membership Coordinator and Operations Staff Member here at Indy Film Fest! I wanted to take some time to share some films that are really special to me as an LGBTQ person. Each of these resonated with me in different ways, and I thought it would be fun to share them with you!



I chose this film because it tells a story that doesn’t often get told. It follows Chiron, a poor black kid from Miami who comes to terms with his sexuality over his life. It’s absolutely stunning and an important watch.



But I’m a Cheerleader

I remember watching this when I was really young. It would come on late at night on premium cable and I was so scared my parents would find out I watched it. Revisiting it more recently, it’s spectacular. It’s campy and fun, wholesome and sweet, with a biting commentary. The set design is absolutely perfect as well – it plays with colors like I’ve never seen before.



The Handmaiden

In the time of Bong Joon-Ho and Parasite, what better chance to explore more Korean cinema? Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden follows a con artist as she stands in as a handmaiden for a wealthy heiress. It’s gorgeous and full of twists. An absolutely stunning portrait of love and deceit.



Tangerine (IFF Alum!!)

Tangerine is one of my favorite films ever. This is another film I love because it captures a perspective rarely told. It follows 2 trans women of color as they adventure around LA over the course of an evening. Shot completely on an iPhone 5s, it showcases how one can tell stories that are beautiful and meaningful without a massive budget.



I hope you enjoy!

Three Gems from Ana

This is Ana, the World Cinema Programmer at Indy Film Fest.

A Fish Called Wanda

The first film I am suggesting for you is my favorite film of all time. I have seen it more times than I have fingers and toes, it is a comedy and it is endlessly quotable, ex: “I’ve worn dresses with higher IQ than you!” This one has it all, an Oscar winning best supporting actor win, scheming jewelry thieves, cheating lovers, British aristocracy and all back at the time when America had a sense of humor about itself.





Cinema Paradiso

My second pick is arguably the best movie ever made about loving movies. It’s a love story of a boy and the pictures. It’s about growing up and making it big, but losing touch with what made you who you are. If the recent viral videos of Italians singing from balconies during quarantine make you want to see any movie, it should be this gorgeously filmed Italian Oscar winner.



The Rage in Lake Placid

My final pick is another comedy, I think you can’t pick too many comedies at a time like this. Appropriately, I have only found this relatively obscure film streaming on an obscure streaming service which you can use for free with your public library card. It’s a story of a boy growing up in an unconventional family, just wanting to be “normal”. Placid’s big dream is getting a boring office job, but he knows his parents would be aghast, so he has to hide his suits and get dressed in the shed. It’s an offbeat comedy in the style Australians do so well, and a uniquely Australian take on the coming of age story.