Hollywood Movies Seek Awards Season Buzz at Heartland Festival – Indianapolis Business Journal


Jalyn Hall, left, portrays Emmett Till and Danielle Deadwyler portrays Mamie Till Mobley in “Till,” a film premiering Oct. 10 at Glendale Landmark Theater 10. (Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures)

With a recent track record of showcasing movies that win trophies at the Oscars and other Hollywood ceremonies, organizers of the Indianapolis-based Heartland International Film Festival knew they had a chance to land “The Whale” for the first time. this year’s event.

Starring Indianapolis native Brendan Fraser as a father trying to mend a relationship with his 17-year-old daughter, “The Whale” premiered Sept. 4 at the Venice International Film Festival. The Darren Aronofsky-directed film (whose credits include “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler”) will be released on December 9 in the United States.

Greg Sorvig, Artistic Director of Heartland Film, said Fraser is a lock on receiving an Oscar nomination in the Best Actor category.

“A comeback role in a movie is one thing, but a starring role in an Aronofsky movie seemed extremely compelling,” Sorvig said. “We were able to see the film early and were deeply moved by the performance and the film, and knew that this film and its closing scene was meant to be the film and the closing scene of the 31st Heartland International Film Festival.”

Heartland managed to schedule a festival screening of “The Whale”. On October 16, more than 500 moviegoers will pack the Toby Theater in Newfields for a sold-out showing of the film.

Heartland Festival, slated for October 6-16, continues to build its screening-lockdown reputation with studios looking to generate buzz for high-profile titles ahead of official release dates and awards season heats up from November to march.

The 2021 edition of the festival included screenings of “King Richard,” with an Oscar-winning performance from Will Smith, and “Spencer,” featuring an Oscar-nominated performance from Kristen Stewart.

In addition to “The Whale,” this year’s festival will feature the documentary “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues” and the historical drama “Till.” Sally Hawkins stars in ‘The Lost King’, while Harry Styles stars in ‘My Policeman’.

If you’re interested in the evolution of Oscar nominations, the place to go for predictions is the entertainment website goldenby.com. Remarkably, four of the top 10 movies Gold Derby loves for Best Picture will be featured at Heartland: “The Whale,” “Women Talking,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” and “Empire of Light.”

For much of Heartland’s history, a wholesome image has been associated with the festival, no doubt forged when the inaugural 1992 event featured a restored version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. And Heartland continues to award Truly Moving Picture Awards to “impactful films that do more than entertain.”

Sorvig mentioned the opening night presentation of “Room” in 2015 as a turning point for Heartland as a festival where films are screened while gaining industry acclaim. A few months later, “Room” star Brie Larson won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

“It’s almost a snowball effect,” Sorvig said. “After you get one or two titles, you can use them as leverage to move forward.”

Sorvig said going to bigger festivals is a way to build relationships with studios.

“When you meet someone in person, it’s a little different, especially throughout the pandemic,” he said. “It’s almost like you’re meeting people again, and I relish the opportunity.”

Before the biggest movies come to Heartland, the films have usually premiered at top festivals such as Venice, Cannes or Toronto.

Sorvig said the Heartland team managed to secure titles at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado in 2021 and 2022. “Women Talking”, “Empire of Light”, “Broker”, Close” and “Good Night Oppy” have were featured in Telluride before being added to Heartland’s 2022 roster.

“Not many programmers go to Telluride, which is just before Toronto,” Sorvig said. “I feel like Telluride is much more intimate and almost has a Midwestern regional film festival vibe, but with big stars and studio reps walking around.”

Sorvig’s reputation in the industry also carries weight for Heartland. The Indiana University alum is Associate Senior Short Film Programmer at New York’s Tribeca Festival.

“Michael Ault, our chairman, has been supportive of this relationship,” Sorvig said. “It’s not unusual for programmers to dip their toes into a few different festivals or events.”

Meanwhile, Heartland has a formal tie to the Oscars. The organization’s Indy Shorts International Film Festival is an Academy Award-qualifying festival in the categories of live-action films, documentaries, and animated films that are no longer than 40 minutes.

Beyond the feature films slated for the Oscars, this year’s Heartland festival will feature dozens of independent films.

Heartland is also gaining momentum as a place where deals are made with the industry. In 2020 and 2021, MTV Documentary Films acquired the Heartland films “76 Days” and “Art & Crimes by Krimes” respectively.

“Indie filmmakers are very proud to have their stories featured alongside ‘The Whale’, ‘Empire of Light’ and other huge studio tentpoles with buzz,” Sorvig said. “We want to be a resource for filmmakers at all levels, and that also includes networking and a chance to find distribution for their titles.”

For more information about the festival, visit heartlandfilm.org.


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