The Local Red Carpet: Film Festivals 1

A popcorn-filled celebration of the arts

It might not have been Sundance or Cannes, but when A-lister Don Cheadle walked the red carpet in Kansas City last spring, the cameras flashed, the microphones surged and the excitement literally crackled at the Cinemark Palace on the Plaza for the 20th annual Kansas City FilmFest.

Don Cheadle, who called Kansas City home as a child and still has family in the area, was in town to showcase his directorial debut “Miles Ahead” about jazz legend Miles Davis. Cheadle also wrote, produced and starred in the movie.

The bright lights and red carpet unfurl again at the Cinemark Palace on the Plaza April 5 – 9 with more than 40 films of various genres available for screening.

For those who have never been to one, a film festival is a popcorn-filled celebration of the arts. It’s an opportunity to move beyond the massive studio productions most of us think of when we think movies and experience the storytelling art from a different, more intimate perspective.

A highlight of this, the 21st KC FilmFest, is “Big Sonia”, a local story about one of Kansas City’s last Holocaust survivors. Hers is a remarkable story, but perhaps not one that would gain the attention of a major movie studio. Tickets for “Big Sonia” are already sold out, but it is an example of the attraction of a local film festival.

In addition to some great entertainment, through various conversations and presentations, you’ll learn a bit more about the challenges and demands of creating a good motion picture. The most interesting part for many is the Q &A session after each movie with the director, writer or another significant individual in the production. You’ll likely want to turn right around and see the movie again, just to watch it with your new found perspective.

At most film festivals, you’ll need to purchase a pass and register for the films and events you plan to attend in advance. But many festivals also allow opportunities to walk up and buy tickets.

Tickets are already on sale for the Kansas City FilmFest, so check in right away at If you have children, plan ahead for next year to engage them in Reel Spirit, a children’s film competition that includes workshops and other programs for aspiring filmmakers.

Children are also the focus of another, lesser-known film festival in Kansas City July 23-26. Held in a variety of locations in Missouri over the years, the National 4-H Film Fest is open to the public but emphasizes empowering youth as producers – and not just consumers – of digital media. Learn more at

Before that is the Kansas City LGBT Film Festival June 22-29 ( Held at the Tivoli in Westport, this event showcases work that honors the challenges and celebrates the lifestyle of the LGBT community.

October is time to head to Wichita for the weekend and experience the Tallgrass Film Festival. This Oct. 12-16 will be the 14th year that nearly 200 films from around the world. Some films are free, but otherwise, tickets are as low as $5 for some films. Like many festivals, attending the parties and other events associated with the movies is as enjoyable as the shows themselves. Tickets go on sale in September at

The wonderful vintage Glenwood Arts Theatre in the Ranchmart Shopping Center in Overland Park is the home of the Kansas International Film Festival each November. When it started back in the 90s, it was called the “Halfway to Hollywood” Festival. Get it?

Kansas native Ed Asner, better known as Lou Grant, is on the KIFF board and is usually available for conversation and autographs. This year, the dates are Nov. 3 – 9 and the line-up for more than 50 films is still be selected. Tickets go on sale in October at or at the Glenwood Theatre.

This past November was the first year for a new event in St. Joseph called the Outlaw Film Festival. It honors filmmakers within a 100-mile radius of St. Joseph while showcasing a variety of films from around the world. Organizers hope to do it again this next year, so look for details at

Another good one to keep on your radar for next January is the Kansas City Jewish Film Festival held at the White Theater on the Jewish Community Campus in Overland Park. Check out this year’s event at

If you’re into film festivals, there’s a good chance you were in Columbia in March for the incredible True/False Festival in Columbia. While the focus of this four-day event is on the documentary, there’s nothing boring or “documentarish” about the T/F experience. Character parades and individuals expressing themselves in colorful, public spaces make T/F a great opportunity for the best form of entertainment ever – people watching.

In addition to the 40 feature length and 20 short films screened, T/F taps into the creativity of the Show-Me State by providing live music prior to each screening. Each venue and the sidewalks leading to each feature more than 25 fresh art installations.

Those passes go on sale in mid-
February each year at

Plan another trip to Columbia in November for Citizen Jane, a film festival coordinated by Stephens College that highlights the work of female writers, directors, producers and actors. Women have directed fewer than two percent of the 700 or so major motion pictures created by Hollywood studios since 2009. Citizen Jane is an effort to increase the odds for women in this male-dominated business.

More than a film festival, these four days in Columbia serve as an artist’s retreat for women interested in expanding their interest in and understanding of filmmaking. Of course, both men and women are welcome to all events, many of which are free. Reserved tickets begin as low as $10 at

Think of attending a Kansas or Missouri film festival as shopping on Small Business Saturday after a Black Friday blow-out at the big retail chains. Both offer bargains and satisfy your needs, but Small Business Saturday supports your mom-and-pop, local businesses, the heart of your community. Although not exclusively, most film festivals showcase the independent, mom-and-pop film makers, the heart of the film making industry.