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For the first time in my nascent web-journalistic career, I was able to cover a film festival as MEDIA. I must say it felt pretty damn good. The Heartland Film Festival, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, was the lucky winner of that lottery. It was the first time that I have attended this particular festival and I was impressed. The staff of Heartland were welcoming. Their President & CEO Jeff Sparks personally welcomed me at their office when I went to get my press credential and gave me a tour of their facility. Artistic Director Tim Irwin was kind enough to introduce himself to me while I waited to go into a film and discuss one that I had just watched. Director or Marketing Greg Sorvig also met with me after a screening to ask about my experience. It was much fun. I will attend again next year, not only because of their hospitality, but also because I saw some very nice films.

Heartland has a great mission (per their website):

Heartland Truly Moving Pictures promotes positive change in people’s lives through the transformative power of film. Heartland is a cultural institution, but it’s also an ideal. The organization was formed around the belief that great films can inspire people to accomplish amazing things. They can increase our understanding of the world around us. They can motivate us to treat one another with compassion and respect.

The films chosen for this fest have an uplifting message, be they documentary, shorts or feature-length narratives. You won’t see depressing (my usual bread and butter) or violent fare here and I have to admit, it was a nice change of pace.

Adam Donyes (left) and Dave (right)

One of the first film’s I was able to catch was Eric Geadelmann‘s documentary Dave. Mr. Geadelmann turns his cameras on two people in the documentary: a high school student in Hollister, Missouri, named Dave Sterling (whom the film is named after) and a basketball coach and inspirational advisor named Adam Donyes.

Dave was raised by his mother and grandmother, his estranged father living in Mississippi. He also had educational challenges having to take special education classes. He was a kid that likely had no hope of a future besides bagging groceries at the local food mart, someone who was bullied or ignored despite his size (6’5″ 250+ pounds). That was until he met Adam Donyes at Kanakuk Kamp over one summer. Then his life changed. Seeing Dave‘s potential, Adam took him under his wing. Adam, despite having a job to coach Division I basketball elsewhere, moved to Hollister to help Dave. Under his tutorship, Dave tried out for and made the varsity basketball team, got his driver’s license, went from a student who was invisible to one that was revered in the community, one who got into college and perhaps best of all, one who reunited with his mostly absent father. It is a truly incredible story.

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention that this film is about Adam as much as it’s about Dave. Adam also came from a broken home, had a father who also was absent. Adam had worked hard to get where he was in life – despite his size (5′ 8″ tall), he played Division I basketball for Boise State University. It was his drive to play basketball that taught him how to overcome his circumstances and help him achieve his goals. It was this drive that was transferred to his work with Dave. In mentoring Dave, Adam took stock of his own life and especially of his relationship with his dad and began to repair it.

This tale of two men coming into their own was such an enjoyable watch and proves that no one should be forgotten or left behind because of perceived faults. It shows that each of us has the power to change not only our own lives, but those of others. I wish more people would dedicate themselves to endeavors such as this. Dave was a wise choice for The Heartland Film Festival as it is a truly moving picture.

Here’s the trailer: