Indie Spirit Meets Indy

Courtesy Fox Searchlight

Amid a cultural renaissance, a city mostly known for auto racing kicks off 10 days of feting film.

When one thinks  of a bustling arts scene, the city that hosts America’s most famous car race doesn’t immediately come to mind. But Indy Film Fest director Lisa Trifone says her “landlocked racing town” is slowly morphing into a cultural center of the heartland.

How surprising is it for people when they learn that Indianapolis has not one but two film festivals?

People are often shocked, actually. I used to work for the other festival, Heartland Truly Moving Pictures, which is in its 20th year; ours, the Indy Film Fest, is still relatively young in its eighth year. We have the benefit of being in a real sweet spot on the calendar in the sense that we land in between the only other festivals happening within driving distance: Chicago’s and Nashville’s. We’ve set a very high bar for our filmmakers. They are in the same bucket as Sundance and Toronto selections.

Is it difficult to program a film festival in a town best known for car racing?

Hey, even rabid sports fans need to see movies sometime. You may not immediately think of the arts here, but we’re proud to be part of the latest Indy cultural upswing -- this young generation of what folks are calling “cultural entrepreneurs,” creating a new environment for arts in this landlocked racing town. There is a real sense of, “There has to be more to offer here!” coming out of the coffeehouse collective and community theater. We’re excited to be another facet of that trend, a conduit for connecting audiences to the outside world.

How deep do showbiz ties run in Indiana?

Greg Kinnear is from here. Meryl Streep’s husband’s family as well, so she is in town now and then. Sydney Pollack had family ties here. And David Letterman went to Ball State. It’s a small community, but we’re proud of it.

You received 500 submissions this year for shorts and features and had to winnow the pool to 95 films. Any favorites come to mind?

The most powerful documentary I saw was The Green Wave, about the Iranian revolution of last year. It takes tweets and social media posts and places them against various animation. Very powerful. There’s also a great Chilean rom-com that, in Spanish, translates to F-- My Life. It’s a quirky look at answering: How the heck do we try and maintain modern relationships with social media? A globally relatable subject done in a fresh way.

What’s your biggest competition for locals’ attention during the festival’s run?

Well, we’re a summer festival in a city that has winter seven months a year, so our biggest competitor is simply summertime.  “Hmmm, do I see an indie movie or sit out by my pool and barbecue?” So we do really well attendance-wise either when it’s pouring down rain or sweltering hot.

Does it help or hurt that Indianapolis’ nickname is also the word most associated with film-festival programming?

It does help. But the “indie vs. Indy” thing does create confusion. I constantly have to remind people of the correct spelling for each one.

Indianapolis Film Festival
Indianapolis Museum of Art
July 14-24

5 CAN'T MISS MOVIES: 2011 Indy Film Fest

The City Dark
The implications of light pollution on the stars are profiled in this moody documentary that won best score/music at South by Southwest.

Natural Selection
A Texas woman (Rachael Harris) meets her dead husband’s illegitimate son in this South by Southwest Grand Jury Prize winner.

Small Town Murder Songs
A rural cop (Fargo’s Peter Stormare) investigates a murder in this Canadian thriller that premiered last year at Toronto.

Way of the Morris
The devoted followers of England’s enduring music tradition of Morris dancing are profiled in this official South by Southwest selection.

We’re Glad You’re Here
Director Hannah Fidell won the Honolulu Film Festival’s Silver Lei Award for her moody drama shot in Bloomington, Ind.