With Local Shorts, Area Filmmakers Have A Moment At The Kansas International Film Festival

Nov 1, 2017

Kansas Citians who know Bev Chapman from her days as a reporter at KMBC TV are likely to be impressed with her 14-minute documentary film "Soaring Back: Message to the Future." With spectacular footage, it chronicles Kansans’ successful efforts to revitalize the area’s population of bald eagles.

Chapman’s is one of 20 short pieces produced by local filmmakers (out of 190 total films from 31 countries) in this year’s Kansas International Film Festival. Having watched almost all of them, I found many to be quite powerful.

Jill Gevargizian’s "The Stylist" is a delightfully creepy horror entry so graphically gory that I canceled an upcoming haircut. Gevargizian builds tension and apprehension for most of the film’s 15-minute running time before delivering a clever, "Silence of the Lambs"-inspired finish.

Catherine Dudley-Rose’s "Parallel Chords" is a dreamy, experimental-influenced story of a young violinist struggling to assert her independence over an overbearing father. This music-driven, refreshingly ethereal 14-minute narrative features particularly strong acting and cinematography.

And Newbury Award-winning children’s author Matt de la Peña appears in "KCKPL’s Stories on the Bus." In Eric J. Smith’s 12-minute film, de la Peña reads his best-known children’s book, Last Stop on Market Street, to students from Kansas City, Kansas’s Quindaro Elementary School while they ride a public bus (as the protagonist in Last Stop does). When actors begin performing sequences from the book as they happen in real time, the result is a charming metanarrative on community interaction and the social possibilities of childhood reading.

The KIFF Local Shorts screen in two sessions, with half the films showing on Saturday, November 4, and the other half on Thursday, November 9. Because the films aren’t forced into conceptual categories, the tone and content of the work varies widely, from, for example, Meagan Flynn’s "Tipping Point," a glossy four-minute narrative piece on human trafficking, to Megan Ross’s "Est. 1946," which spends five minutes celebrating a couple’s 70th wedding anniversary in 16-mm home-movie style.

In one case that unevenness comes from the same filmmaker, Kyle Kelly, who offers a depressing 11-minute melodrama titled "Happy Birthday" during the Saturday screenings. That film isn’t nearly as strong as his 7-minute "Deadtectives," which took home first place in September’s 48-Hour Film Festival and opens the second set of KIFF’s local shorts the following Thursday.

Davis DeRock’s slapstick ghost story "Mean Spirited" (14 minutes) is an entertaining, tightly written entry with clever special effects and some nostalgic nods to Tim Burton’s "Beetlejuice." There's also Kendal Sinn’s odd religious reflection "Pop Tarts" (11 minutes) and Andrew Pritzker’s existential science fiction "EPG" (20 minutes).

KIFF organizers collected this year’s shorts by putting out feelers in the local filmmaking community and asking a screening board to select the best ones, says Brian Mossman, the festival’s director of programming.

Audiences have a chance to respond beyond the Q&A that follows each screening.

“Patrons will get a ballot of the films in that program and will vote for the best one,” Mossman says. “We will then list the top three films within each shorts program.”

All of which presents more opportunities for metanarratives, especially considering the nature of Denise Pikes-King’s "Moments on Canvas." In six minutes, Pikes-King examines the wide-ranging career of John C. Tibbetts, an associate professor of film and media studies at the University of Kansas.

Tibbetts’ previous life as a broadcaster led him to interview hundreds of actors, filmmakers, musicians and other public entertainment figures, who he then drew or sketched for the celebrity to autograph. The archive of his drawings and interviews, as well as a collection of old movie stills, are held in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, also highlighted in the film.

The Kansas International Film Festival, November 3-9 at Glenwood Arts in Overland Park, 3707 West 95th St. Overland Park, Kansas, 66206.

Melissa Lenos is an Assistant Professor of English at Donnelly College, where she teaches film studies, composition, literature and popular culture.  She can be reached at melissalenos@gmail.com