Films step into the Middle of the Map spotlight

04/16/2014 8:00 AM

04/16/2014 11:50 PM

What once was envisioned primarily as a music festival has become equally formidable as a cinematic showcase.

This year, Ink’s Middle of the Map Film Festival boasts a lineup of 28 features (and a collection of shorts). The entries exhibit a strong anchor in musical themes. But there is comedy, action, mystery and fantasy to be found as well.

Here are some of the highlights:

• “Every Everything: The Music, Life and Times of Grant Hart”:

Filmmaker Gorman Bechard hoped to replicate the approach used by Errol Morris in “Fog of War,” a controversial documentary about former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.

But he visualized doing this with a rock star.

“I wanted to make a documentary with only one voice, one person being interviewed. No other rock stars saying how important he was, no other bandmates, no fans, no critics,” Bechard says.

Enter Grant Hart. The former drummer/vocalist of Hüsker Dü helped his Minnesota trio bridge hard-core punk with alternative rock during their 1979-1988 run. “Every Everything: The Music, Life and Times of Grant Hart” presents what Bechard describes as “an uncensored look at a life in rock and roll.”

“When I approached Grant, I told him I could only do the film if no subjects were off the table. He had to be an open book. And at times he shocked us with his candid answers. It’s a film not only for fans of Hüsker Dü and Grant Hart, but one every rock fan should see. It’ll make them understand what really goes on as fame takes hold,” he says.

The New Haven, Conn., filmmaker is proud that, despite the “Fog of War” limitations, his project always remains compelling.

“Just as you think Grant is going to (tick) you off, he says something so damn smart that it increases your respect for the man tenfold. You will come away a fan, even if you weren’t before,” he says.

Bechard will also present two of his previous music docs at the fest: “Color Me Obsessed: A Film About the Replacements” and “What Did You Expect? The Archers of Loaf Live at Cat’s Cradle.”

“Manhattan”:

Manhattan, Kan., is affectionately known as the Little Apple to area residents. The team behind “Manhattan” sought to cinematically capitalize on the city’s connection to its big brother in New York. The result is a playful homage to Woody Allen’s Oscar-nominated drama of the same name from 1979.

“As his film was a cinematic love letter to

his Manhattan, so too is ours a love letter to, well ours

,” says actor and co-writer George Stavropoulos. “While the basic plot structure may be loosely borrowed from Allen, it’s by no means an adaptation or a remake. It’s a fresh new story that’s uniquely our own.”

KC-based production company Element 35 self-financed the effort, with Bret Palmer and Ryan Bruce sharing directing duties on the black-and-white feature. New York-based actor and frequent collaborator Stavropoulos co-wrote the movie with Bruce. The three met in 2003 while attending Kansas State University.

This represents the debut feature for the team.

“We feel like we were able to make a film free from some of the trappings that other long-form indie debut efforts oftentimes fall victim to. While ‘Manhattan’ is admittedly far from perfect — some of its charm, in fact, is its distinctively homebrewed, indie/experimental feel — we think that people will be wowed with some of the things we were able to accomplish from a cinematography standpoint,” he says.

Stavropoulos portrays a New York writer hoping to find inspiration for a novel by returning to the Midwest. While in the small college town he stumbles onto romance.

He adds, “We’re also incredibly proud of the consistently even quality of the performances from our talented cast.”

• “Arlo Julie”:

Relationships are forever puzzling. That’s the theory behind “Arlo Julie,” a comedy about a young couple (Alex Dobrenko and Ashley Spillers) who start anonymously receiving pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in the mail.

“Their gradual obsession with the mystery brings their personal issues to the surface, and they have to face the reality of their situation,” says writer/director Steve Mims.

“People have told me that they ‘feel good’ after watching the film. That’s a high compliment for a little film like this that started out as a random idea and evolved into a tight little film with a very good cast.”

Mims, who teaches film at the University of Texas in Austin, says pacing was the trickiest aspect involved with crafting his 76-minute project.

“It’s a fast-moving film, and it requires an energy that’s easy to lose when the shoot day is 12 hours long,” he says. “Shooting on a low budget requires that you shoot many script pages per day. That’s a challenge.”

The filmmaker premiered “Arlo Julie” at his hometown’s prestigious South by Southwest Film Festival. He returns to Kansas City for the first time since being awarded the 2011 Innocence Network Journalism Award for his documentary “Incendiary: The Willingham Case.”

Other highlights

• “Before I Disappear”:

The 2013 Oscar-winning short “Curfew” is expanded to a feature film about a suicidal man (writer/director Shawn Christensen) who is asked by his estranged sister to watch his young niece (Fatima Ptacek) for a few hours.

• “Breadcrumb Trail”:

The elusive indie rock act Slint disappeared after releasing the hailed 1991 album “Spiderland.” This documentary tracks down the reasons contributing to the band’s influence and departure.

• “Enemy”:

A history professor (Jake Gyllenhaal) spots his exact double onscreen while watching a movie and decides to track the actor down in this mystery thriller by Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”).

• “Mistaken for Strangers”:

Slacker Tom Berninger is invited to be a roadie for the National, a successful indie band fronted by his brother, Matt. Tom uses the opportunity to make a documentary about the experience as his own stab at fame.

•  “Mood Indigo”:

Filmmaker Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) teams with waifish actress Audrey Tautou (“Amelie”) for a fantasy about a woman whose idyllic marriage is jeopardized by the sickness caused when a water lily starts growing in her lung.

Ink’s Middle of the Map Film Festival

The fest runs through Sunday at the Alamo Drafthouse, 1400 Main St. Admission is $30 for a multiday pass, $10 for single screenings. For a schedule and showtimes, go to

MiddleOfTheMapFest.com.

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