Ninth Annual Tallgrass Film Festival promises a 'twist'

Story by Joe Stumpe

If last year's Tallgrass Film Festival seemed all too short, take heart: for the festival's ninth year, a four-day format stretching from Thursday, October. 20 to Sunday, October. 23 has been created.

"The festival just deserved an extra day because there was so much to showcase," executive director Lela Meadow-Conner said.

The schedule of parties, workshops and more than 120 films was still being finalized as this article was being prepared, but here's a preview of some highlights:

Thursday night's opening gala will have the same theme as the entire festival "Get Twisted." "It's sort of a play on words about our Kansas weather and independent films," Meadow-Conner said. "Not that all of our films are twisted, but we do have our fair share. It's more the idea that independent films can be more free than mainstream studio pictures. You might find more twisted elements or plot twists that you wouldn't expect."

"Never Make It Home," a documentary about the Wichita band Split Lip Rayfield, will have its Midwestern premiere Saturday night, with director G.J. Echternkamp in attendance and part of the proceeds going to the Kirk Rundstrom Cancer Foundation, named for the late Split Lip member Kirk Rundstrom. "We're really excited to have that film because there's such a local connection," Meadow-Conner said. "Wichita audiences love music films and, of course, it's Split Lip."

"Elevate," an award-winning documentary by Wichita native Anne Buford (see accompanying story) will be shown during the closing night gala.

Actor Elliott Gould and Wichita filmmaker Anne Buford are among the stars of this year's festival.

Elliott Gould, the star of such movies as :M A S H" and "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," will receive the festival's Ad Astra award. "We just thought he would be a perfect candidate," Meadow-Conner said. "He's done an amazing body of work. He really was a pioneer of independent filmmaking with some of those early films like M A S H that were groundbreaking back then."

The festival has grown steadily, drawing more than 60,000 visitors and 400 filmmakers since its inception. The festival awards cash prizes to films in several categories and, as in past years, offers several films focusing on environmental issues and music.

Tickets start at $8 for students, senior citizens and other groups. All-day passes and other ticket packages are also available, including a $175 all- access pass that Meadow-Conner calls the ultimate for serious film fans. It gets festival goers into every film and party and carries quite a few VIP perks as well. "Basically you pay $175 and you never have to go home to eat," Meadow Conner said. "Well feed you. We'll get you a drink. There will be a VIP lounge where you can unwind." For more about the festival, see

'Elevate' a high-flying success

For Wichita native Anne Buford, the subject of her first documentary film young African basketball players trying to make it to the NBA was both familiar and exotic.

Familiar because Buford comes from a sports family: Her father, Bob, played football at Oklahoma State, and her brother, R.C., happens to be general manager of the San Antonio Spurs.

Exotic because the stars of her film are four young men from Africa. "It was mostly shot in Africa," Buford said. "I don't speak another language. The filmmaking was new. There were teenage boys dealing with that. It was definitely a challenging project. I feel like that's what makes life interesting."

Critics have found the film interesting as well. It won prizes at film festivals in Dallas and Oklahoma City and has been picked up for national distribution, an unusual feat for a rookie documentary filmmaker.

Buford, 35, grew up in Wichita, graduated from Kaupan Mt. Carmel and the University of Kansas, then headed to New York to work as an assistant at Vogue magazine. She'd been looking for a story to tell in a documentary when, partly thanks to her brother, she found the subject of "Elevate" in 2005. It took six years to finish.

"I feel like I captured a world their world which is what I wanted to do," she said.

If there's a quality in her filmmaking which reflects her Kansas background, Buford said, it's probably her inclination to let people and events speak for themselves. Her own creative, optimistic nature creeps into the film as well, she said.

"Elevate is not a film that's dark. My projects are never going to be a dark independent documentary. It's really not my nature. I wanted to make something that was good for you, but not so good for you that you'd reject it."

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