Award-winning filmmakers both local and national will descend upon Lawrence to be a part of a brand-new event that hopes to bring a sense of community and open dialogue to the area’s music and visual arts scene.
The first Free State Film Festival is a weekend-long event to be held Friday through Sunday at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.
The festival will feature some of the best new short and feature-length films from prominent local filmmakers, as well as new movies coming off recent success at the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW. In addition, there will be a number of receptions, Q&A sessions with directors following the screenings, and Saturday afternoon coffee talks centered on filmmaking, theater and art in general that are meant to open up a dialogue between those who make art and those who enjoy it.
If Marlo Angell, the Arts Center’s digital media specialist, has her way, the Free State Film Festival will be just one component of a far-reaching arts festival that will grow organically over the years.
“Truly I would love to see the whole city take ownership of this festival as other venues downtown step up to host additional film screenings, live music concerts and art events,” she says. “Having a first-rate university at our fingertips is a great resource that could really help push this fest to the next level.”
To expand that reach this year, Angell is teaming up with the eight-hour, 10-act Spring Into Summer Music Festival at the Replay Lounge on Saturday to offer discounts to people who attend both festivals. In addition, she has curated a Music Video Showcase and an Experimental Film Showcase, which will be running on a constant loop during the film festival in the Arts Center’s Middle Gallery space.
Don’t turn that dial
One person who understands the relationship between local music and communities is Kansas University graduate Kevin McKinney. His award-winning new documentary “Corporate FM” — screening at 8 p.m. Friday — mourns the death of community-oriented commercial radio at the hands of corporations.
“I think it is the sociology major in me that looks at corporate radio’s decline and asks ‘why?’ When commercial radio was locally owned, there was a connection with the community as well as with the advertisers,” McKinney says. “Locally owned radio functioned as a communal megaphone that used to help us unite our cities and cultures.”
“Corporate FM,” voted Best Documentary at the Kansas City FilmFest last month, uses the corporate buyout of Lawrence’s former modern rock station KLZR in 1998 as an example of what is wrong with the radio industry today, featuring interviews with former station owner Hank Booth and former assistant music director Jeff Peterson, among others. Even a Rolling Stone article declaring the Lazer one of the 10 “Stations That Didn’t Suck” in 1998 couldn’t save the much-loved station, which was purchased by The Zimmer Radio Group, which ran it until 2005. Earlier this year, KLZR changed its call letters to KKSW and rebranded itself 105.9 Kiss FM.
According to McKinney, local station owners in the late ’90s were under “enormous pressure” to sell their stations for “astronomical” prices. As commercial radio formats became more generic and more locally based DJs were fired, the stations stopped supporting local music scenes. For seven years, McKinney has worked on “Corporate FM,” learning more and refining his film’s thesis.
“Each interview I did gave me a clue to the next person that I needed to find to interview,” McKinney says. “It was not until kind of a Deep Throat character in the film told us to ‘follow the money’ that a surprising picture emerged as to why commercial radio has become so boring.”
Filmmaker Patrick Rea has been a part of the local arts community since before he graduated from KU in 2002, and he will be showing two films at the Free State Film Festival. The first, a 45-minute thriller-drama about a drug dealer and his potentially violent protégé, was shot in Lawrence and Overland Park, and features notable actors like Malcolm Goodwin (A&E’s “Breakout Kings”) and Keith Loneker (“Lakeview Terrace”). It’s called “Rhino” and will have its world premiere at 6 p.m. Friday as the festival’s opening film.
Rea’s new feature-length horror movie, “Nailbiter,” which received top narrative honors in the Kansas City FilmFest last month, will close the festival at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Some other highlights of the festival:
• “Compliance” is a psychological drama with a particularly thorny ethical dilemma at its heart. It caused quite a stir at Sundance, and director Craig Zobel will be on hand via Skype to talk about the movie after it shows at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
• Poul Brien, director of “Charles Bradley: Soul of America,” will be attending in person to talk about the unusual late-in-life career of Bradley, the 62-year-old soul singer that inspired his new documentary. Two music videos directed by Brien for Bradley will be in the music video loop.
• “Girl Walk // All Day” is a feature-length dance video that follows three dancers across New York City and is set to the music of Girl Talk. It was screened at SXSW and made waves for director Jacob Krupnick and producer Youngna Park, who will attend via Skype.
• Writer/director Diane Glancy’s film “The Dome of Heaven” stars Wes Studi and follows a father of Cherokee descent and a German mother as they struggle to keep their dysfunctional family together. Lawrence-based company Through a Glass did much of the production work on the movie, and members will be in attendance, along with Glancy.
“We chose a slate of films that encompass that artistic goal across a variety of spectrums. I think in order for the festival to be successful it has to ride that line between local and national films,” Angell says. “We knew it was important to show these films, involve their directors and provide a unique opportunity for Lawrence to experience new cinema. We can all sit down at home and find hidden treasures on Netflix, but that communal experience of sitting down in a theater, hearing what the director has to say about making a film ... that’s priceless.”