For me the Heartland Film Festival is all about Connection – connection to our work, to cinema, to the world around us and to each other. I have a strong connection to the Festival and I have made many strong connections because of the Festival. My film 140, an Official Selection this year, is about being connected – physically, spiritually and electronically. And without my connection to the Heartland Film Festival, it may never have happened.
I discovered Heartland five years ago, when researching festivals for my first film, a short called Emily’s Song. After entering the Festival I didn’t think much more about it, until I got a call from the film programmer at the time, Maryann Koopman, reminding me that I hadn’t sent my screener in! I apologised and immidiately sent the film. I was glad she called, because some months later I got a call from Heartland’s President & CEO Jeff Sparks, who told me I had won a Crystal Heart Award. Not only that but a cash prize and an all expensies paid trip to the Festival.
All that was fantastic, but it became very much secondary to the real rewards I would gain from the Festival: Vision, inspiration, contacts, colleagues, friendship and of course, love – but more on that in a second.
I attended the festival in October 2006 and got to experience an Indiana fall. Balmy when I arrived, blistering cold when I left and the most beautiful display of changing leaves I had ever seen. It was the year Shooting Dogs won the grand prize, what a great film. I had a chance to hang out with David Wolstencroft, the writer, who was in attendence. We became fast friends and have stayed in touch to this day. As a writer with much more experience than I, he is always on hand for advice.
Among the other filmmakers that year were Ryan Little and Adam Abel with Outlaw Trail, Varda Hardy with Window, Anna Christopher with Queen of Cactus Cove and Elliot Kotek, a visiting journalist for Moving Pictures Magazine. I stayed in touch with everyone. In particular Elliot. We have since become good friends and colleagues, producing several projects together, including 140, with many more in development.
The films I saw that year and the people I met were a huge inspiration to me. I can honestly say it changed my life. I mean really changed my life. I mentioned love… Well, I also hung out with Maryann Koopman during the festival. I mentioned her already, the film programer who reminded me to send my film? Well, I found her to be a bright, funny, charming and talented young woman, who I connected with instantly. We quickly became friends and after the Festival we stayed in touch. To cut a long story short, we fell in love, got married and now live in Ireland with our nine-month old daughter Evelyn. So yeah, you could say Heartland changed my life!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The following year I returned to the Festival as a guest. I met several talented filmmakers including Spanish brothers Gustavo and Alvaro Ron and LA producer Robert Zappia.
The reason I mention all these seemingly random connections is for two reasons. First, the importance of going to festivals, not just to represent your film, but also to meet like-minded people who share your passion. The second, because all these filmmakers took part in my project, 140. They were the first people I went to when I started looking for filmmakers and they all said yes, and even helped recruit more filmmakers.
Among the Heartland Alumni in 140 are Anna Christopher (Award Winner – Queen of Cactus Cove), Varda Hardy (Award Winner – Window), Gustavo Ron (Award Winner – Mia Sarah and Ways to Live Forever), Alvaro Ron (Award Winner – Mia Sarah), Ryan Little & Adam Abel (Award Winner – Saints & Soldiers, Truly Moving Picture Award – Forever Strong), Marc Havener (Official Selection – And What Remains), Robert Zappia (Official Selection – Christmas is Here Again), Zach Helm (Truly Moving Picture Award – Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium), Myself (Award Winner – Emily’s Song, Official Selection – Bill, For Short and 140) and Elliot Kotek.
This is a Festival that seeks out the best of cinema around the world. Not only that, it gives a stage and a voice to cinema that inspires, reaches new heights, explores the human journey and represents the best of the human spirit. For me 140 is all about this. The theme of 140 is connection. I asked the filmmakers to look inside themselves and then at the world around them and figure out what it was that connected them to where they were in the world. And I think they understood what I was trying to do because, in part, of their past experience with Heartland. They instantly knew what I meant and understood what I was asking them to capture.
I’m glad I made it to Heartland in 2006 because of the life changing connections I made. And I’m thrilled, 4 years on, to be able to return and show what grew from the seeds that were planted back then.