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indy film festLast year was the first time that I went to the then Indianapolis International Film Festival, now the Indy Film Fest, and I was incredibly impressed with the great number of films they had represented there, including  Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s Don Jon being the closing film. It really whetted my appetite for this this year’s fest.

All Access...the only way to do it.

All Access…the only way to do it.

Since the commute from where I like in Bloomington to Indianapolis is over an hour each way, I only went up to the festival twice – I caught three films one day and went back to see Lance Edmands‘s Bluebird, which took home both the Grand Jury Prize as the top film at the festival as well as the American Spectrum Prize for the best American film submitted to the festival. Needless to say, both trips were well worth my time. Here are the synopses of those that I saw with links to full reviews:

Last Days in Vietnam directed by Rory Kennedy

last days in vietnam posterThis was the first film I saw and the only documentary I caught at the fest and boy was it fantastic. Detailing the evacuation of Saigon as the Viet Cong pushed in, Last Days in Vietnam is a heroic tale of the American soldiers who were responsible for getting thousands of South Vietnamese nationals who were at risk of death had they remained behind. That the bulk of the operation was done under the radar as US Ambassador Graham Martin refused to believe that the city and the South would fall is all the more amazing. This film gets the adrenaline up and plays like a thriller in parts, which is hard to do since most everyone knows the outcome of the war and the evacuation. Kennedy‘s structure, interweaving historical footage of the evacuation with testimony from actual participants, creates the framework for a really strong film. I couldn’t have been happier that I was able to see this one on the big screen. It was really amazing.

Click here for the full review.

Here is the trailer:

Hard Drive directed by William MacGillivray

hard drive postgerHard Drive was the next film I took is and also was the film I liked least.  The film is about a slacker named Ditch (Douglas Smith) who, like many post-high school teens and twenty-somethings, sit adrift unable to look for and find their niche. When Ditch meets the mysterious Debs (Laura Wiggins), his fortunes seem to have changed. She’s attractive, funny, impulsive – all the things that Ditch really isn’t. But she has secrets and she is elusive when pressed about them. When Ditch finds out what they are, he and Debs try to confront them head on. Overwrought and flush with ridiculous plot points, it didn’t get my engines fired on any level. The characters were stale and incomplete, the situations silly and the acting, outside of Wiggins, was also suspect.

Click here for the full review.

Here’s the trailer:

Fort Tilden directed  by Sarah Violet-Bliss and Charles Rogers

FortTildenPoster Fort Tilden is incredible. No ifs, ands or buts about it. An incredibly funny film about two friends, Allie (Clare McNulty) and Harper (Bridey Elliott), who are caricatures of many middle-twenties kids holed up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Bridey is a pampered daddy’s girl who also is an aspiring artist who is more talk than artist. Allie is a girl who never completes anything she starts. She is the perfect embodiment of the post-baccalaureate youth – started Teach for America, now going into the Peace Corps. She clearly has a heart but can’t bring herself to actually follow through with the giving back she feels is necessary. After meeting two boys at a rooftop concert and agreeing to meet them the next day at the beach at Fort Tilden, the ladies embark on a trip that is more comedy of errors than anything else as they try to rendezvous with these possible paramours. Fort Tilden has garnered some serious buzz, especially after taking home the Grand Jury Prize at the SXSW Film Festival in March and all of it earned and well deserved. This is a fantastically funny and extremely spot-on film from the first scene to the last.

Click here for the full review.

While there is no trailer yet for this movie, check out this teaser that is very representative of the film:

Bluebird directed by Lance Edmands

bluebird posterWithout a doubt, Lance Edmands‘s Bluebird was my favorite film of the festival. Brooding and melancholy, which means right up my alley, Bluebird takes place in the northern part of Maine where logging and paper mills are king and small towns entire economy depend on them for support. The film chronicles the struggles of one family as a mistake made my the mother, Lesley (Amy Morton in a career performance), plays out, the repercussions reverberating in every sphere of their lives. Flush with terrific performance from John Slattery, Louisa Krause and Margo Martindale among others, Bluebird is as fantastic a debut feature as I’ve seen in quite some time and deserving of both the Grand Jury Prize and American Spectrum, both of which it took home. Stay tuned for my interview with director Lance Edmands in the coming days. With echoes of Atom Egoyan‘s The Sweet Hereafter, this film, to me, is a can’t miss.

Click here for the full review.

Here’s the trailer:

So another year in the books. I hope that the Indy Film Fest is able to build on their triumphs of the last couple of years and grow this festival. It has all the makings of something great. Next year will be the 12th year (I believe) of the festival and I look forward to another slate of great films.

Be sure to follow me over at Reel News Daily for more film-centric chatter from me and my great cohorts there.