The Heartland Film Festival

Where “Truly Moving Pictures” Reign

If you’ve ever considered going to a film festival, but have been worried you may find material that stretches the envelope beyond your comfort zone, - Heartland may be a great one to check out.

Held every October in Indianapolis Indiana, Heartland aspirers to "recognize and honor filmmakers whose work explores the human journey by artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of life."

While not all of the films honored are “family” movies, my experience has proved the festival directors really do understand what positive values in media are all about. Their selections all have exceptional messages, although some do contain content that isn’t suitable for children and teens.

However, the vast majority of movies are family-friendly, and those titles that are not appropriate for younger audiences are clearly indicated. These unique traits and features make this one of the few film festivals where you can confidently explore independent cinema without nasty content surprises.

Started in 1991, The Heartland Film Festival was inspired from the professional experience of Jeff Sparks.

"For ten years I ran a treatment center for emotionally disturbed kids,” he explains. “It was halfway through that time that I saw the media’s impact on our kids was very, very strong." Sparks also observed an alarming similarity in their entertainment tastes. "These kids with deep wounds were pulled more to the exploitive, dark, depressing, and degrading films and media."

This first hand experience with media’s powerful influence on young people led Sparks in a new direction. Drawing on his past academic studies (a degree in directing live theater), he and a friend pioneered The Harmony Project - a lab aimed at developing new "life affirming" scripts for theater and film.

The project enjoyed remarkable success, especially on stage. More than a dozen scripts played in New York Off Broadway, with one making it to the bright Broadway lights, along with a few films being broadcast on Showtime.

Needing a place to promote and showcase these and similar efforts, a film festival was born. Heartland is one of the few of such venues to offer cash awards to independent filmmakers; Their "Crystal Heart Awards" dish out $100,000 each year, including a $50,000 grand prize for the Best Dramatic Feature.

Since Heartlands inception, many small but worthy productions have received its recognition. On the list of films earning a Crystal Heart this time is Knightscove Entertainment’s warm story about a father and son racing team entitled Kart Racer [].

Beginning in 2000, Heartland adopted an "Award of Excellence For Truly Moving Pictures" to honor mainstream theatrically released movies. Remember the Titans [] was the first recipient. In 2001, Hearts In Atlantis [], The Princess Diaries [] and Finding Forrester [] were also presented with this award. Other recipients include The Rookie [], Jonah: A VeggieTale Movie [], Tuck Everlasting [], and the Emperor’s Club [].
Secondhand Lions []

Aside from the many films that will be available for viewing throughout the week, Heartland will also host special galas and premieres to provide an inside look at the industry and give audiences a chance to interact with filmmakers.

The festivals’ crowning moment is the Crystal Heart Awards Program, where the filmmakers are honored.

So, if you’re hankering for a film festival experience, you’ll probably have a “truly moving” experience at Heartland.

If getting to Indianapolis isn’t a possibility, many of Heartland’s “Award of Excellence” titles are available at video stores. The independent titles may be a little harder to find, but Heartland is beginning to distribute some on DVD. Look for Best Man In Grass Creek [], Diary of a City Priest [], and The Basket [].

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…