Feature presentation

Free State Film Festival to showcase movies that get community talking

When actress Ann Dowd won the Best Supporting Actress award from the National Board of Review last year for her riveting performance in the independent drama “Compliance,” it probably took all of Marlo Angell’s strength not to scream “I told you so!” at the top of her lungs.

As director of new media for the Lawrence Arts Center, Angell programmed the first Free State Film Festival last year. Well before Dowd started getting acclaim from the NBR, Independent Spirit Awards and film critics groups across the country, “Compliance” was the most talked-about movie in Lawrence.

“My absolute favorite part of last year’s fest was the conversations in the lobby after ‘Compliance,’ which literally lasted for hours. To me, that’s what a festival is all about,” Angell says. “To watch a movie like that at home and then go to bed, not discussing it with anyone or (hearing) what the filmmaker had to say about it, would not hold a candle to that experience. I’ve wanted to bring a festival to this town for several years that very reason alone.”

The experience of shared cinema — a sort of communal film watching where you engage with people you didn’t come to the theater with — is something you simply can’t find in any other outlet besides a film festival.”

Using that as a guide, Angell has put together a world-class lineup of independent movies, short films, discussions, workshops and live theater that should leave people talking for another year.


"A Band Called Death"


"Civil War on Wheels"


"This is Martin Bonner"


"The New Public"

If you go

What: Free State Film Festival

When: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. There’s also a free screening of “Sound City” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Replay Lounge

Where: The Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

Cost: Festival passes cost $30; admittance to individual film screenings and On Screen Offspring is $6 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.

More info: For a list of movies and schedule of events, visit freestatefilmfest.com

Smarter films

The second Free State Film Festival will be held this weekend, Friday through Sunday, at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St., following a one-off showing of Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl’s documentary “Sound City” at 7:30 p.m. today at the Replay Lounge, 946 Massachusetts St.

“The New Public” opens Friday night’s festivities, and director Jyllian Gunther says that even though 600 hours of raw footage was a lot to tackle, it was clear that the filmmakers needed to cover more ground in documenting year one of the Brooklyn Community Arts and Media High School. The school was created from the ground up by educators to give a population that lived one-third below the poverty line an alternative to failing public schools. In addition to Gunther’s footage, the kids were given cameras as well, and the crew ended up coming back four years later.

“What we all came away with was a sense of how complicated the issues are, and how much bigger so many of the problems are than a school alone can be expected to solve. There are no quick fixes,” Gunther says. “Ultimately, through the prism of one inner-city public school, we can all witness the complexities faced by urban public schools and communities everywhere.”

“This is Martin Bonner” was an Audience Award Winner in the NEXT Category from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. “Bonner” producer Jeffrey Ruggles also directed the short film “Emergency Contact,” showing on the same program. The most thrilling thing about independent cinema right now, Ruggles says, is the extremely high level of talent.

“The world of film is more cutthroat than it’s ever been, but with this influx of different types and styles of films, festivals and audiences are getting smarter — they’re wanting to be pushed and challenged in new and interesting ways,” Ruggles says. “It means you have to work harder and smarter. Because of this, the creativity being seen in indie film feels unlike any other time in film history.”

“This is Martin Bonner” is an observational drama about the unlikely friendship between an ex-con and a man who has truly left his old life behind. It screens Friday night at the festival, and actor Richmond Arquette will appear on a free acting panel at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The Acting for the Screen/Directing Actors Panel, moderated by Lawrence resident and actress/producer Laura Kirk, will also feature actor Tishuan Scott and director Chris Eska (from “The Retrieval”) discussing the crafts of directing and acting from their first-hand experiences.

Set on the outskirts of the Civil War and centered on a boy who goes on an eventful journey with a bounty hunter, “The Retrieval” was the SXSW Jury Award Winner for Acting this year.

Eska said there were challenges harder than getting naturalistic performances from his actors.

“The hardest part was making a believable period piece in the middle of the wilderness on such a limited budget,” he says.

Sneak previews

Last year, the festival started the Community Filmmaking Panel, which gives local filmmakers a chance to show sneak peeks of their unfinished work and talk about what it’s like to make films in the area. On hand to show clips of their works-in-progress will be Kansas University film professor Kevin Willmott, director of the Lawrence-set civil rights tale “Jayhawkers;” “The Outhouse the Film 1985-1987” director Brad Norman; and Judith Levy with “NV in KC,” a comedic satire set in the Kansas City arts scene.

The recently completed local documentary “Civil War on Wheels” will have its premiere Sunday at the Free State Film Festival.

It was fortuitous that Patrick Sumner, who studied the Kansas/Missouri Border War in graduate school in American Studies at KU, would end up directing this documentary because the deeper he and his crew got, the more it became obvious that their film was about modern-day Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers.

“We were in involved in the early Crossroads arts scene, and we met Mac McClanahan, a Kansas City Art Institute alum and working artist, who had a very vibrant demolition derby team,” Sumner says. “When we went to the Wyandotte County Fair to see demolition derbies, we met the promoter Greg Clemons who had this concept that the Kansas-Missouri border war feuds were still simmering. Hence, if Kansas and Missouri drivers would cross state lines to compete, the crowds would go wild.”

Other media

One theme the Free State Film Festival is exploring this year, Angell says, “is the relationship of film with other mediums, such as music, visual art and live theater.”

In addition to the music video and experimental film showcase in the gallery throughout the weekend, the space will include panels of “Dream Thief,” the new graphic novel by local artist/filmmaker Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood, self-portraits by local filmmaker Tony Ontiveros, and demolition derby photography by Ann Dean.

“On Screen Offspring,” a program of unique one-act plays by area filmmakers that use filmed elements infused with live performance, will close out the entertainment on Friday night in the Black Box Theater.

Lawrence is still known for its vibrant alternative-rock scene, so at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, area music fans should appreciate the opportunity to see the 2013 SXSW Audience Award winning documentary “A Band Called Death,” about the almost-all-but-forgotten proto-punk band Death.

Formed in Detroit in 1971 by three African-American brothers, the hard-rocking Death was the antithesis of the Motown sound. This crowd-pleasing doc traces their history as a band and an unlikely rediscovery in 2009 that has assured them their rightful spot in rock history.

This is the Kansas premiere of “A Band Called Death,” which is already picked up for distribution by Drafthouse Films and will see a wider release later this year. Band members Bobby and Dannis Hackney will be in attendance for a Q&A; directly following the movie Saturday night, while up-and coming St. Joseph., Mo.-based rockers Radkey — three teenage African-American brothers playing vintage-style punk — will take the stage afterward.


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