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Franklin to host Heartland mini-festival

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The movies of the Heartland Film Festival don’t reel audiences in with computer- generated special effects.

Viewers won’t find bone-jarring explosions, stylized romantic comedies or far-out science fiction plots.

What they will come across are people telling stories about the good, the bad, the heartwarming and the soul-crushing aspects of our world.

And the best of those tales are coming to Johnson County.

For film lovers looking for thought-provoking human stories, Franklin will host a miniature version of the Heartland Film Festival this weekend. “The Best of the Fest” will showcase six of the top films featured during the 2013 Heartland festival.

From inspiring stories about a blind football player to a documentary about the struggles of Medora, the screenings will serve as a palate-cleansing alternative to big-budget blockbusters and cliché love stories.

“Every year, we show the best in independent film that you can’t really see anywhere else. You might have to wait a year or two to see them again,” said Tim Irwin, artistic director for Heartland Truly Moving Pictures. “This let’s us bring back what we think are some of the best films of the year and give people another chance to watch them.”

For once-a-year events such as the Heartland Film Festival, exposure is a major challenge, Irwin said.

For 10 days every October, moviegoers come out by the thousands to see the selections of the Heartland Film Festival.

Organizers have tried to become a year-round entity over the past three years. The first Friday of every month, the headquarters of Truly Moving Pictures opens up to the public to showcase short documentaries, narrative features and animated films.

Heartland has also hit the road, bringing select films to small independent theaters all over Indiana through its Road Show series, Irwin said.

But Best of the Fest is the first multiday event the film company has tried. Last year was the first time organizers conducted the mini-festival, stemming from a close-knit relationship between the Artcraft Theatre and Heartland Truly Moving Pictures.

Rob Shilts, executive director of Franklin Heritage, which operates the theater, had suggested doing a larger, weekend-long event. In addition to its regular slate of classic movies such as “E.T.” and “Gone with the Wind,” the Artcraft has approached more weekend-long events.

A Hitchcock fest and classic movie monsters series drew good crowds over the past two years, Shilts said. The success of more large-scale events convinced Heartland officials that Franklin could handle a film festival.

“Being at such a great venue broadens our reach a little bit,” Irwin said. “During the festival, we have the two venues on the northeast side of Indianapolis, and now we can show these movies again in Franklin.”

For this year’s slate of Heartland movies, Irwin chose a wide variety of documentaries and features, each with its own style of captivating human stories.

The films are set all over the world.

“The Forgotten Kingdom” follows a young man into the mountains of the African kingdom of Lesotho to find his true love. “Blood Brothers” documents the story of Rocky Braat, who moved to India to care for HIV-positive orphans.

Closer to home, “23 Blast” is based on the true story of Travis Freeman, a high school football player struck blind by a rare

eye infection.

“When we program the festival, we try to have a wide variety so there’s something for everybody,” Irwin said. “We have everything from the inspirational movies to hard-hitting documentaries all the way to the ‘Forgotten Kingdom,’ the first feature film shot in Lesotho.”

Of particular interest will be “Medora.” The documentary follows the decline and struggle of the small, rural Indiana town and connects it to its high school basketball team.

Viewers meet the players on the Medora Hornets team and hear how their losing streak during the 2011 season mirrored the difficulties their hometown faced.

“Living in Medora was a profound experience. It was amazing getting to know the players, the coaches and the parents for eight months. Even if there was no film to get out of it, the experience was amazing,” co-director Andrew Cohn said. “We wanted to tell the story through the kids’ eyes, of growing up in Medora.”

“Medora” has played at more than 40 film festivals and is slated to be shown in 75 cities in the coming months. The movie makes its television debut as part of PBS’ “Independent Lens” program on March 31.

Taking a film that has garnered such buzz throughout the country and bringing it to towns throughout Indiana is a boon for the Heartland Film Festival.

“We don’t want to be a group that just pops out in October, shows our head and then goes back into hiding for a year,” Irwin said. “These films let us get out there during the year and keep us on people’s minds.”

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