The documentary Hidden Letters, the narrative Our Father, the Devil and the doc Wildcat earned the top prizes at the 31st Heartland International Film Festival, which wrapped this past weekend in Indianapolis after an 11-day run of more than 120 films, capped by a closing-night showing of Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale.
The festival is known for an open-hearted mix of movies by up-and-coming filmmakers and likely awards contenders, like Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues and Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light. MovieMaker was honored to attend the festival, a regular on of our annual list of the 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee. We enjoyed such films as the documentaries Juneteenth: Faith & Freedom (see video above) and Objects, as well as the Indianapolis-made rom-com It Happened One Weekend.
The festival handed out $60,000 in awards in all: Hidden Letters, from director Violet Du Feng and co-director Qing Zhao, earned the $20,000 Documentary Feature Grand Prize; Our Father, the Devil from director Ellie Foumbi earned the $20,000 Narrative Feature Grand Prize; and Wildcat, from directors Melissa Lesh and Trevor Frost, earned the $5,000 Jimmy Stewart Legacy Award, which recognizes a film in the Heartland lineup that “best demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit through determination and the defiance of odds, humble vulnerability, and courage in the face of adversity.”
The theme of the festival was “Get Lost in Film,” and guests did just that with 120 films to choose from, presented in 259 in-person screenings. They also virtually streamed more than 263,000 minutes of films at home.
The Whale, starring Brendan Fraser and Sadie Sink, had special resonance as the final film because Heartland hosted the Indianapolis-born Fraser in 2019 for a 20th-anniversary screening of The Mummy. “I have not seen a crowd reaction that passionate in my 10+ year span with HIFF,” Heartland Film Artistic Director Greg Sorvig said. “When our team saw The Whale we knew that we had just seen Fraser’s most powerful performance yet and that this film was meant to close our 31st edition.”
Main image: Hidden Letters director Violet Du Feng and her daughter with executive producer James Costa. Photo courtesy of Heartland International Film Festival.