For three decades, Heartland Film Festival has shared international hits and local, independent films alike. For its 30th year — last year confined to virtual screenings and a few socially-distanced showings at Tibbs Drive-In — the festival is returning to select theaters for an 11-day run Oct. 7-17.
Artistic director Greg Sorvig said the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice uprisings of 2020 impacted the programming for this year’s festival. The lineup includes CJ Hunt’s documentary “The Neutral Ground,” which explores the removal of Confederate monuments throughout the country, a movement heightened in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. “Ferguson Rises,” a documentary exploring the town of Ferguson, Missouri, six years after the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer, will also screen at the festival. The documentary was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year.
Sorvig said he’s looking forward to watch “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America” with others at Living Room Theaters. The film explores the history of racism in the country and how discussions surrounding race has changed over time.
“I’m excited to see the crowd’s reaction,” Sorvig said. “And I think the film will provide opportunities for dialogue afterward, too.”
One film surely to make an impact at the festival is Tarabu Kirkland’s “100 Years from Mississippi.” Detailing the life of his mother, Mamie Kirkland, the film chronicles America’s horrific history of lynching and racial violence and the grace of forgiveness.
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“She went through some really harsh realities as a young child, all before the age of 16,” Kirkland said of his mother, who died in 2020 at the age of 111. “All of it could have made a lot of people very bitter and harsh, but she didn’t have an ounce of hatred in her body.”
Mamie Kirkland was just 7 when she and her family, along with family friend John Hartfield, fled a lynch mob in her hometown of Ellisville, Mississippi, in 1915. When Hartfield returned to the town in 1919, he was publicly lynched, his body riddled with bullets before being burned. This tragedy — along with surviving the Illinois race riots of 1917 and threats against her family from the Ku Klux Klan after relocating to Ohio — left Mamie traumatized. For years, she told her children she would never return to Mississippi; she didn’t even want to see it on a map. However, not wanting her son to travel to the state alone, she went with him to film in 2015. Through “100 Years from Mississippi,” which will make its Heartland debut on the big screen Oct. 15 at Kan Kan Cinema, Kirkland hopes audiences are inspired to continue the fight toward racial justice.
“[Mamie] was just so full of compassion, and that is part of the spiritual work that is required of all of us,” Kirkland said. “To transcend to see the humanity in all situations, I think that’s the lesson. … Her story and her faith give you hope there’s an opportunity for people to change, but there are so many other events that have happened that make you question how much the needles have actually changed. But the only way to look at it is for us to be hopeful, she remained absolutely hopeful, and I think that’s something to carry on.”
During in-person screenings, audiences are required to wear their masks unless they are eating or drinking. With precautions in place, Sorvig said the 30th Heartland Film Festival provides audiences an opportunity to come together after 18 months apart.
“Movies, especially ones with a social impact element, are so much more impactful and inspiring with an audience,” Sorvig said. “We were intended to experience the arts — music and film — together. I don’t think anything else can bring people from so many different backgrounds together and experience something profound together. … We’re really excited to be back in theaters to show this really great slate of films.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.