Heartland Film Festival Grand Prize & Finalist Juries

Selection Process

Submitted films are initially viewed by one of four screening committees – one each for Narrative Features, Documentary Features, Short Films and High School Film Competition submissions. These committees are comprised of 10-20 volunteer screeners, each of whom has taken a critical examination and been hand-selected by Heartland Film staff. Three different screeners watch each submitted film in its entirety and complete a detailed online review. A combination of these reviews and in-person discussions about the films helps Heartland Film’s programming staff determine the strongest submissions each year. The 10-15 films in each category that best match Heartland Film’s mission are sent on to the category’s respective Finalist jury. Consisting of film professionals, academics and critics, these juries select the five best films within each category. These five films, or Finalists, are all in contention for the Grand Prize within their respective category. The third and final jury tier is the Grand Prize jury, comprised of past filmmakers, critics, and industry professionals.

Programming Criteria

Heartland believes that film is a transformative art form because the artistic and technical quality draws a viewer in and allows him or her to fully experience the story the filmmakers are trying to tell. The story of every selected film has the power to impact the audience. A film that aligns with Heartland Film’s mission will create some kind of perspective-shift in the viewer, and can change the way he or she sees the world. It could be the kind of change that inspires a viewer, or perhaps educates them.

The transformative power of a film is evidenced in the way its combination of image, sound and music engages, enthralls and entertains audiences. Transformative power is inherent in each film and lies in elements such as the acting, directing and cinematography. A film with transformative power is creative, beautiful, original, artistic and truthful. A film with these technical and artistic elements, combined with an ability to impact its viewers and change their perspectives, is one that aligns with Heartland’s mission.

Jill D’Agnenica – Grand Prize Jury

Jill D’Agnenica is a visual artist and filmmaker. Her directorial debut, the feature film Life Inside Out, won Best Premiere at the Heartland Film Festival in 2013 and went on to be screened at 21 festivals throughout the US and Canada, receiving 16 awards, including 5 Best Feature and 4 Audience Awards. After a limited theatrical run, Life Inside Out was released on DVD and VOD in 2015. D’Agnenica has edited television episodic dramas including The Division (Lifetime), Dirt (FX), Undercovers (NBC), Hollywood Heights (Nickelodeon) and Switched at Birth (Freeform.) She is currently an editor on Pretty Little Liars (Freeform.) D’Agnenica recently directed her first episode of television on Switched at Birth. In addition to her television work, she works on music videos, indie shorts and features and enjoys opportunities to contribute as a guest lecturer, panelist, and mentor to fellow filmmakers and artists. She holds an MFA in Visual Art from Claremont Graduate University and a BA, Magna Cum Laude, in History from UCLA.

Richard Propes – Grand Prize Jury & Finalist Juries
(Documentary Shorts, Narrative Shorts, Animated Shorts)

Richard Propes is the founder/publisher of TheIndependentCritic.com and a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. A longtime child rights activist in Indiana, Propes has traveled nearly 5,000 miles by wheelchair over the past 25 years on his annual Tenderness Tour events and is the recipient of numerous honors for his advocacy work including the Sagamore of the Wabash, the Order of Kentucky Colonels and Prevent Child Abuse America’s highest honor, the Donna J. Stone Award. Propes is the author of The Hallelujah Life.

Alissa Simon – Grand Prize Jury

Currently Senior Programmer for the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Alissa Simon has been a film curator for more than 25 years. She was named a 1999 “Chicagoan of the Year” for her innovative work as Associate Director/Programming at the Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Alissa began her programming career at the Film Department of Walker Art Center and the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House. She has served on international film festival juries in Pusan, Montreal, Karlovy Vary, Ljubljana, San Francisco, Sarajevo, Sochi, Cluj, Torino, and Vancouver. She also writes about films and film festivals for the trade paper Variety. Alissa did her undergraduate work at Yale and has a M.A. in Film History and Criticism from the University of Iowa, and a M.A. in Arts Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business.

Jon Vickers – Grand Prize Jury &
Finalist Juries (Documentary Shorts, Animated Shorts)

Jon Vickers is the founding director of the Indiana University Cinema which opened in January of 2011. The Cinema curates an ambitious, unique program that screens hundreds of films each year and has hosted renowned filmmakers including Meryl Streep, Peter Weir, Werner Herzog, Ava DuVernay, Kevin Kline, Claire Denis, Abbas Kiarostami, Glenn Close, John Sayles, Nicolas Winding Refn, John Waters, Christine Vachon, and Edward James Olmos to name a few. Vickers previously served as managing director of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame and programmer of Indiana’s first THX® Certified cinema, Browning Cinema. He also founded and operated the Vickers Theatre in the early 1990s, an independent arthouse cinema in Three Oaks, Michigan, with his wife Jennifer.

Alexandria Bombach – Finalist Jury / Documentary Features

Alexandria Bombach is an award-winning documentary filmmaker from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Focusing on character-driven stories, Alexandria’s work challenges perceptions of cultures, issues, and ideas that usually have limited or sensationalized coverage in mainstream media. Her feature-length documentary Frame by Frame had it’s world premiere at SXSW in 2015 and has since won 21 film festival awards. The film follows the lives of four Afghan photojournalists who are facing the realities of building Afghanistan’s first free press. In 2012, she directed and produced the Emmy-Award winning series Moveshake that gave an honest look into the complicated lives of people who have set out to make a positive environmental or social impact. Founding her production company RED REEL in 2009, Alexandria has spent the last seven years living “on the road” as a filmmaker and freelance documentary director and cinematographer.

River Finlay – Finalist Jury / Documentary Shorts

Before becoming a filmmaker, River spent many years living and working in Latin America as a public health expert. With a deep appreciation for good storytelling, a fascination with strong women characters, and a love of Lucha Libre, River left her day job and set out to Mexico to film Luchadora, a 2015 Heartland Film Festival Award Winner. She is a producer with Think Out Loud Productions where she melds her worlds of international health and development with film by working with clients like International Planned Parenthood Federation, The World Bank, and Discovery Chanel. River has a BA from Hampshire College, an MPH from Columbia University and an MA in Film and Video from American University.

Lou Harry – Finalist Jury / Narrative Features

Lou Harry’s eclectic output includes books on creativity, gadgets, guilty pleasures, excuses, crop circles, Santa Claus (and Martians), curse words, parenting, trivia and, this year, squirrels. The Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal (www.ibj.com/arts), Lou is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and an executive committee member of the American Theatre Critics Association. A produced playwright, he has written for more than 50 publications including Variety, The Sondheim Review, Howlround, Mental_Floss, and TheatreWeek. Find him online at www.louharry.com and www.ibj.com/arts

Tannaz Hazemi – Finalist Jury / Narrative Shorts

Tannaz Hazemi was born in Teheran during the Iranian Revolution ­— and via Sweden, Chicago, Milan and Paris she made it to Brooklyn in one piece. At 19 she published a book on contemporary music with MTV Italy, then worked as a freelance journalist and later as on-camera talent for Tele+ and VH1, before she began directing shorts. Hazemi’s short Before the Bomb was awarded “Best Short Film” at TIFF Kids / Toronto International Film Festival in 2015. It took her to Heartland, the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at Cannes Film Festival and has won 25 awards, including Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actress. For the movie she produced an original cover song with singer SoKo. She is currently a fellow at the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women where she is completing her new short film, Hail Mary Country.

Steve Hoover – Finalist Jury / Documentary Features

Steve Hoover made his feature film directorial debut in 2013 with the documentary Blood Brother, (2013 Heartland Film Festival Award Winner) which won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Also that year, he had co-directed an award-winning documentary short film entitled Seven Days. Steve’s second feature length documentary film, Almost Holy, (2015 Heartland Film Festival Award Winner) premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival where it was acquired for distribution. Almost Holy went on to win awards around the world. Prior to directing documentary films, Hoover has had a successful career directing commercial campaigns. Currently, he is a commercial director at Animal.

Riddhi Jha – Finalist Jury / Documentary Features

Riddhi Jha is a UK Producer/Writer, educated at Royal Holloway, University of London. She started her career working in post-production and later began developing programs for major UK television channels. Her debut in production was on a Channel 4 documentary Why Don’t You Speak English? which followed the lives of those who had settled in the UK for the first time. Riddhi has since worked on the popular BBC television series The Great British Bake Off, has cast contributors and worked as Researcher for several productions for the BBC and Discovery and has scripted several commercials. She has a feature film in development as writer/producer ­— the story of a child bride.

Sam Kretchmar – Finalist Jury / Narrative Features

Sam Kretchmar is a writer and a filmmaker. He grew up in Chicago before moving to New York and graduating from NYU’s Film and Television program. Sam’s experiences in the film industry have taken him to all seven continents and both poles as both a camera operator and director. 2015 Heartland Film Festival Award Winner Keep in Touch was his first feature film.

Sam Morgan – Finalist Jury / Narrative Shorts

Sam Morgan is a Hoosier-turned-international filmmaker whose last short A Proud Woman competed in the 2015 Heartland Film Festival. He currently lives in Los Angeles where he will be shooting his next project.

Andrew Nackman – Finalist Jury / Narrative Features

Andrew Nackman is a film director from Sleepy Hollow, New York. He received his MFA in Film Production from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. His first feature film, 4th Man Out, (2015 Heartland Film Festival Award Winner) won 13 Best Feature awards at film festivals and sold to Netflix and Gravitas Ventures. The New York Times named the film a critics pick and it was released in theaters in February 2016, globally on Netflix in May 2016. Prior to 4th Man Out, Andrew directed the award-winning short film Paulie, which played at more than 75 film festivals around the world, won LACMA’s Art of Film Award and was distributed through Tribeca Film on United Airlines.

Tim Reckart – Finalist Jury / Animated Shorts

Timothy Reckart is a writer and director of animated and live action films. His animated short Head Over Heels was nominated for the Academy Award in 2013, after winning the Oscar-qualifying “Best Short” prize at the 2012 Heartland Film Festival. As an animator, he has worked on Amazon’s preschool series Tumble Leaf and Charlie Kaufman’s independent feature Anomalisa. He is currently at Sony Pictures Animation directing his feature film debut, The Star, for theatrical release in November 2017.