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Kansas City Film Fest

A picture of the Kansas City, MO skyline at night with the Kauffman Center featured..
Kansas City MO skyline!
Kansas City is generally known for two things:  barbecue and jazz; okay, baseball too, sometimes mobsters, cattle trading and trainstops…  Two of the major film presentations this year deal with both barbecue and jazz and how they shaped the history of our great city.  iActing Studios’ film critic, Jason Turner attended the Kansas City Film Festival and found some food for thought, some weirdness, and some wonderful.

The Kansas City Film Fest

It’s happening.  Kansas City is a happening place. While some people who visit the city will talk about the recent World Series win by the Kansas City Royals, or the fantastic barbecue places such as Kansas City Joes, Jack Stack and Gates, or even the reason that gas is always cheaper over the state line, one thing that people in certain groups are talking about is the film scene.
And what a scene is has become.  Many of our local talents and directors have been showcasing their work.  Patrick Rea, Michelle Bratcher, Kyle Kelley, Nicholaus James, Jeffrey Staab, Davis Derock, Jessi Burkette, Jasmine Abou-Kassem, Krystal Heib, Tosin Morohunfola,  Caleb Hermann, Brian Paulette, Megan Flynn, Chris Bylsma.   Some of these people you have heard about.  Some may be new to your ears.  But all are local. Or some have started here and moved into the big leagues.
Like OH MY GOD WAR MACHINE!  I mean…Don Cheadle.  Yes, he’s from around here too.  And it was a delight to see him and his film “Miles Ahead” .   He is doing very well, indeed.  From tent pole Marvel films to independent films.
That’s not to say the international films are not shown here. There are several that really put a pleasant contrast.
I have only two complaints about the film festival. One is the scheduling.  It is hard to cram so much content one would want to see in a small block of time, but this is a complaint from other film festivals I have attended in the past. The good news is, that several of the films are now or will be available in theatrical screenings or online.  So if any of you filmmakers are reading this, keep the public informed where your next screenings will be and word of mouth is always going to be your best friend, or worst enemy, depending on your efforts.
The other is the attendance, which ties into some of the scheduling issues.  After watching a block of films, some people fall asleep in the later blocks. This is somewhat balanced by the Monster Energy drinks that are readily available before attending screenings.
And of course, the staged readings, which are with some rising talent and experienced talent.  Writers get to hear their words that they have labored over breathed to life.  If you’ve ever written something, this can be very tense but also very exciting.
The KC Film Fest is growing and I encourage everyone to attend every year.  There is plenty of networking, local charm and most importantly stories.  Working on films is some of the hardest and most challenging thing you could do.  But as a community, we can make it better by building alliances and working with people you may not have heard of.
I am saying this in earnest, because I feel some people tend to work with the same groups.  Naturally, you want people you trust. And if you wrong someone in the community, the word of mouth comes into play again.  But overall, life it short. See some films.  And pay attention to this city.  We have diverse locations, great food and a recent tax incentive that will bring an economic kick in the pants to our city.  If films can do this well, in a very passion based momentum, imagine what our local actors and crew could do with a serious budget film coming here?   It’s sad that we have to watch many films go to other cities, but its comes down to the money.
That is not to say the film community wouldn’t survive, but it certainly could grow so much more.  And it starts with you.  The citizens of Kansas City!

Some Short Films

“The Boots”
When we feel abandoned and have no hope, that’s just a new beginning.  This children’s tale with an adult message is the story of some boots that are having bad days.  No dialogue, all visual. There are a few seams showing, but it was very well staged and the sound mix and voices that do flitter throughout got appropriate “awws” from the audience.  Hiroko Kobayashi has a short film in which the moral tale is uplifting and worth a look.
“Discerning Days”
Emily Herold’s short film is about a young man’s day to day struggle that revolves around his inability to wake up every morning.  While the premise leans a bit toward a science fiction element of a man who picks up women so easily, blah blah bla- BOOM!  Kidding!  Actually its a stumbling through life tale that has a solid performance from Kyle Dyck. His blue eyes are honest, and his desperation is strange, but interesting from the male gaze.  Each time he wakes up, there is a sense of panic. The film has some great visuals from Emily Herold, who was also director of photography. Check it out when it plays again.
Krystal Heib’s suspenseful dark comedy about a mysterious woman and her online dating experiences is simple and elegant.  A current trend that recently pops up about current dating is that what you see (online) is not what you get (in person).  There is a sultry mystery by the enigmatic Jasmine Abou-Kassem.  Her smile is trance inducing, with a clever slow but tantalizing slow burn of her reveal. Her true intentions are revealed with restraint. And it is sexy.  The other performances, including a fun turn by Kristin Rea, are set up and paid off in supernatural ways. The cinematography by Christopher Commons is haunting and humorous at the same time.  This is the tip of the iceberg for Krystal Heib, showing much more growth as a director. It works as a concept to a larger story that could have a “True Blood” type of following if the right investors with deep enough pockets came to gaze at the alluring eyes of Jasmine.  Just wait….
A slice of life tale about a girl who is hit on by another woman’s husband at a party.  Eddie Shieh’s short film tells a narrative with good pacing, and has the events happen at a party trope embedded.  While this could be seen as a fault, it actually lends some validity to the events that unfold.  Good visuals and performances, with personal conversations taking place through text and phone calls.
In a hotel room in Brussels, Mikelis is waiting for what he knows will be his last visitor.  Marc Bethke’s dark tale has a foreign film charm, and looks amazing.  The story takes a turn that the audience sees coming, but it still is masterfully played with great actors.
“The Light Thief”
When the essence of love is snatched from people and locked away in a vessel, what happens to them and how do they change?  Eva Daoud’s visually arresting film shares a similar tone with Krystal Heib’s “Jasmine”, in that a supernatural element is at play.  One of the longer films, this one has almost a Twilight Zone feel, in the best way possible.  The woman who turns into a husk of her former self due to the loss of love is a very direct metaphor for sexual promiscuity.  One of the better films overall.
“The End of Blessings”
Unfortunately, for most of us, we often don’t know we’re being blessed until the blessings stop. John Rice’s film poses some theological questions in a cyclical form.  Very much a bicycle film about faith, this one puzzled me at first.  But after time to reflect, it was a solid short with repeated imagery that has a psychological effect in a conventionally narrative conundrum.
A man and a woman at the crossroads of their relationship must decide whether they have a future together or if its time to end it.  Jon Davis gives a thematically interesting piece, as the sun is about to set in real time, with the one long shot.  There is a lot at stake.  Jessi Burkette has grown a lot as an actor and is doing more and more niche pieces. Usually these types of relationship shorts are tiresome, but this one tries something a little more interesting as the sun is about to set on their romance. The only thing that would make that title seem more appropriate is if the actors did their dialogue in French.  Worth a look.
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Melody Stewart is the founder of act.land and President of iactingstudioskc.com. She is a filmmaker in Kansas City.