I’ve sung the praises of the Tallgrass Film Festival on these pages before, with fully acknowledged bias: it’s my hometown film festival, which I’ve covered since its inception. (I even placed a short film in its inaugural edition.) The festival’s 16th edition, held last weekend in Wichita, Kansas, continued the traditions they’ve cultivated over the past century and half: appreciations of legends (Pam Grier, winner of this year’s Ad Astra Award) and up-and-comers (Martin Starr, this year’s “Soaring Talent Award” winner); indies from other festivals that probably wouldn’t make their way to this mid-sized, Midwest market otherwise; and premieres of titles with lower budgets and/or local interest. Here’s a rundown of what I saw in Wichita, including a few to keep an eye out for in your market.
This is Love
Rudy Love is a local legend in Wichita. He’s a wildly gifted musician and songwriter who turned his giant family into a soul/funk band, and kept brushing up against making it big without ever quite closing the deal. He became something of a Zelig figure in the history of soul music, popping up here and there with a songwriting credit or backup singing job, and when those ran out, he kept coming back to Wichita, doing local gigs and sessions in basements studios. Director John Alexander’s pacing is relentless and his cutting is hyper-kinetic, a choice that will alienate some viewers, but it fits; he replicates the energy of the music, and also has a lot of story to fit in, of Love’s many, many near-misses with fame, screwed by shady record execs and unfortunate timing, always going back to the music, because that’s all he could rely on. Love’s warmth and generosity made him an easy mark — but they also make him an ideal documentary subject.