The Reel Deal Heartland Picks

By Eli Ralston

Our coverage of the Heartland Film Festival has come to an end. The Reel Deal writers thought is was only right to take a look back at some of our favorite films from the festival. We have truly enjoyed covering this festival filled of powerful and thought-provoking films and we can’t wait to cover the festival next year.

If you are interested in learning more about the festival itself, you can check out our article on the History of Heartland. Or you can visit their website

Usumaza Limelight – Aidan Hall and Julia Ricci

     Uzumasa Limelight has to be by far the best film I’ve seen at Heartland and in recent memory. It tells the story of a stuntman that for years has played the villain in historical dramas. His samurai deaths are second to none, but in an age of new technology and CGI, his talents become useless. He is phased out of his studio’s main casting list. He meets a young actress that he pours his attention into. He treasures her success and works to improve her abilities so that she can climb the ranks. When she does reach the top, she doesn’t forget his kindness. 

In a world of flashy, selfish angry people, Uzumasa Limelight is a brilliant breath of fresh air. While based on the Charlie Chaplin film Limelight (1952), the film doesn’t feel like a word-for-word remake. The same elements are presented in Limelight, but beautifully so. Maybe I’m biased because I love all things Japanese, Samurai drama, and behind the scenes, but this movie had me crying harder than at my father’s funeral. Uzumasa is brilliant in it’s ability to make itself relatable to all walks of life. Whether it’s the girl or the old man, there’s a person in this film to relate to. The only real antagonist of this movie is time and it’s just so beautiful. The camera work is stunning and the actors take their roles seriously.

If I were to name a film that defined Heartland, it would be Uzumasa Limelight. The theme of this year’s festival was “Change Your Perspective,” and this film gave us a story of the rough and tumble of the weekly villain that’s constantly cut down, but takes pride in being the man at the end of the hero’s blade. You see the world through the stuntman’s eyes, and you feel his joy and his pain. You see the actors when the lights go off and after doing the job they love, you see the friendships they’ve housed for so many years. Anyone in the industry will tell you, that those friendships are real. There’s a sense of respect, of genuine camaraderie, and of familial love. Uzumasa Limelight is beautiful, and you need it in your life. – Aidan Hall

It was very difficult to choose just one favorite film from the abundance of wonderful pictures in this year’s Heartland lineup, but the one that stood out among the rest was festival award winner Uzumasa Limelight. In this beautiful re-imagining of Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight (1952), director Ken Ochiai reconfigures Chaplin’s fading music hall comedian who helps a despondent ballerina regain her confidence as a performer, into an aging swordsman extra (Seizo Fukumoto) who trains an emerging young actress (Chihiro Yamamoto) in his craft.

What I love about Uzumasa Limelight is that it keeps the themes of Chaplin’s original while still remaining contemporary, providing a fascinating look into the Japanese film and television industry in a soulful story that transcends cultural boundaries. Through the dignified performances of the two leads, we experience a range of universal themes–from self-doubt to fulfillment– inherent to all human beings. These concerns are presented with both spirit and poignancy and delve into the self-reflective nature of our ongoing search for purpose. Through his films, Chaplin captured the beauty of the small things in life that are often fleeting, and Uzumasa Limelight pays homage to that notion in this truly moving picture. – Julia Ricci

A Thousand Times Goodnight – Eli Ralston

     I was finally lucky enough to get into a sold out showing of the film after trying to go see A Thousand Times Goodnight on three separate occasions. It was well worth the wait. A Thousand Times Good Night follows the story of Rebecca (Juliette Binoche), a photographer who puts herself in dangerous situations in order to get powerful shots to show to the world. After recovering from an explosion, she tries to reconcile her dangerous work with her husband, Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and her two daughters as they live in constant fear of their mother being killed. Most other films wouldn’t be able to be interesting, balancing an adrenaline-filled beginning and to domestic life, but director Erik Poppe pulls it off to make a powerful and compelling film.

I enjoyed this film because it made me ask myself the same questions stated in the film. Is my work important to the world? This is made believable by the award-worthy performance by Juliette Binoche. It was a gripping performance that I truly enjoyed. This film showed what the Heartland Film Festival is all about. It is a passionate story that make you change your perspective. You can check out my entire review of A Thousand Times Goodnight here. – Eli Ralston

American Reel: The Forrest Lucas Story – Isaac Whatley

     I had a great time at the Heartland Film Festival this year and it was incredible to see directors bringing inspiring films back to the Midwest. Meeting several filmmakers, and learning the stories behind their work gave me a new appreciation for all that they do as professionals. The film that I enjoyed the most was American Reel: The Forrest Lucas StoryThis film focuses on the life of Lucas Oil Products founder Forrest Lucas, and his triumphant journey from childhood poverty to one of the greatest success stories of the Midwest.

​I enjoyed this film because it took place right in the backyard of the Hoosier state. To see Forrest Lucas begin his journey in Indiana, and to see him stay here after his success, shows that he is true to his roots. The film was enlightening on the genesis of Lucas Oil Products and how Lucas’s new-found wealth didn’t change his down-to-earth personality. Apart from the heartwarming story, another great aspect to this film was the cinematography. This film was shot in a way that was quite different from usual documentaries, utilizing the use of elaborate camera angles, and different production techniques. These aspects of the production tell Forrest Lucas’s story in a beautiful way. It was definitely a treat to see this film and to meet the star, Forrest Lucas, at the Festival.- Isaac Whatley

Rabbit and Deer – Nicole Koehn & Vivien Pong

      I was lucky enough to see a good amount of films throughout the entire festival. One of my personal favorites was Rabbit and Deer, this short directed by Peter Vacz, shows how friendship can conquer all. This story touched my heart with a relationship that endures separation, even in different dimensions. – Nicole Koehn

     Rabbit and Deer was one of the best short films I saw at The Heartland Film Festival. With a mix of Claymation and traditional pen-on-paper animation, this mixed media piece was quirky and imaginative. Although the film starts out fairly ordinary, it quickly takes an odd turn. Halfway through the short, Deer becomes three dimensional, leaving two dimensional friend, Rabbit, behind. The two attempt to be friends but find that it is far harder than it seems. ​The whole storyline of the short seems like something thought up in some sort of fantastical dream and brought to life with animation. Rabbit and Deer is one of the most creatively written and most interestingly made short films from The Heartland Film Festival. – Vivien Pong

Belle & Sebastian – Wendy Faunce

      Belle and Sebastian was Heartland Film Festival’s final film, but for me the most beautiful and sincere. The Alps’ flowering valleys and Sebastian’s adventures in them not only brought me into the film, but out of the movie theater and into the very freedom of the story’s world. This film seemed more like a history than fiction. I felt that if I went to the provincial French town in which the film was based, I would find an elderly Sebastian sitting on his front porch with Belle by his side. The story is classically told and the film is well crafted. –Wendy Faunce