Review: Heartland Shorts Program 1 (Indiana Spotlight)

By Brandon Kratkoczki

Hoosier pride! Hoo boy! I love the big corn state! I love the triangle vroom vrooms that go in 500 circles a year and no more! I have fond memories of going to our booming, candy-coated state capital! Have you ever sat down and thought of all of the famous people from Indiana, like California Joe and Colorado Susan? In all seriousness, we were lucky enough to catch a shorts program dedicated to spotlighting Indiana stories and creators. Here are the reviews!

“Just One Story” dir. Seeing Rimpakone and Melissa Taylor

This short tells the touching story of a South East Asian family moving to Portland in the mid-1980s. They were, very fortunately, welcomed into the city, and became very much a part of the neighborhood’s identity. While the story is very much worth telling, I unfortunately cannot really speak to the film itself having much merit. On a purely technical level, the piece is extremely flawed. The sound design, recording, and mixing were all over the place. I know that the film was literally made by amateurs, but I can’t sit here and say that these excuses are acceptable in a festival setting.

In addition to the lacking technical aspects, I felt as if the story they are trying to tell is extremely unfocused and repetitive. There are only so many ways one can say that the town of Portland, Indiana was accepting and wonderful, or how it was challenging yet rewarding to immigrate over to America. Ultimately, what this film does have going for it is its story.  And to be fair, it is an excellent story that should be told. But the execution and construction is just flawed on a fundamental basis. As sad as I am to say this, I cannot recommend this short to the general public. I wish the best for the family featured, though. They seem lovely.  

Rating: 2/5

“Chatterbox” dir. Daniel Arthur Jacobson  

Now this is more my speed. This documentary details the history and happenings of the Chatterbox, a jazz bar in downtown Indy. This short is a fun, jazz-flavored tribute to an Indy institution. One of the aspects of the film that I really enjoyed is the fact that they focus so much on the musicians that perform at the bar every night. Being a musician, I greatly enjoyed hearing these wonderful, talented musicians talk shop and about how important the Chatterbox is to them as performers. Essentially, groups are encouraged to try really out-there stuff when they’re on stage, and find the full support of the audience and crowd. The film does a really excellent job of portraying the community angle of the bar. Regulars and bartenders are interviewed, and they really make it seem as if the bar means a whole ton to everyone who frequents it.

Also, although this is something a little more specific that I normally wouldn’t point out in a review of this nature: I really enjoyed the sound mixing here. It blends the frantic nature of the music really well with the compelling interviews. I only have a couple complaints. I wish we could get more insight into the history of the bar and the musicians that have come through. In addition, though I do realize that it is literally a student film, I think that the production could have been a bit slicker, the editing a bit tighter. Still, this is a very good, interesting documentary that I was very happy to see. I’ll probably grab a whiskey there sometime.  

Rating: 4/5

“Little Warriors” dir. Sam Miro    

Unfortunately, this is another one with which my problems with the film overshadow its good message. Essentially, this film is about a man who runs a youth organization out of Indy about getting children involved with environmental concerns. This film is genuinely inspiring. It’s wonderful to see these younger children getting involved and actually being able to enact policy change. Unfortunately, this short doesn’t really have much to really grab onto in terms of message. Like, yes, there is a call to action, and a very worthy cause is represented. But there isn’t much else to the documentary apart from “this thing exists.” I didn’t find myself all that invested in any of the people onscreen or any of the events that they were putting on.

If there had been more of a rallying or conflict point around the actual narrative of the film, that would’ve made this thing a lot more compelling and provided some sort of arc. You can’t force an arc in a documentary, but if there’s not much in terms of stakes or driving interest, what do you have to offer me in terms of documentary filmmaking? It is at least competently produced (although even that aspect is sort of student film-ish). More power to the warriors, more power to you to not actively seek this thing out.  

Rating: 2.5/5

“Everlasting Light” dir. Sammy Hunter

Full disclosure: as a journalist, I cannot fairly assess “Everlasting Light.” Vivien Pong, our former executive producer and a very good friend of mine, was the producer on this film, and I know various other people who worked on its crew. If it were up to me, they would all receive a million stars and be happy forever and ever, but I still have a job to do. Regardless of my personal feelings towards the film’s crew, I found “Everlasting Light” to be exceptionally well done. The film chronicles the development and execution of the Indiana’s bicentennial torch relay. The film goes extremely in-depth into the development of the relay, which I greatly appreciated.

“Everlasting Light” is a wonderful portrait of so many passionate people coming together to accomplish something worthwhile. The interview subjects that the film brings together were excellent across the board. Every single talking head in the film is clearly passionate about the state of Indiana and about bringing its people together for this massive undertaking. The cinematography on this thing is some of the best I’ve seen all festival. Drone shots, still photography, and more standard cinematography capture our state incredibly well and frame the action of the festivities in a way that kept me engaged throughout. It is clear that a lot of time and effort at the hands of the students went into this, and it absolutely paid off. I would have thought that PBS or something produced this, not people I have classes with. Although the pacing is a little slow at times, I imagine this is something of a necessity to wrangle together everything that the story needed to work. While I cannot fairly give this film a score, I can still give my recommendation. It is a passionate, loving tribute to the state of Indiana and the best film of this shorts set by a country mile.