Kansas City International Film Festival 2019

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As the ground and trees return to their verdant hues, the warming of the weather is accompanied by a resumed vigor for outdoor activities – and for a few weeks at least, we renew our appreciation for the feeling of the sun’s rays on our faces.

That said, I decided to eschew that in the name of journalism, electing instead stay inside and watch movies.

This was no weekend Netflix-binge, however. In fact, I spent the past few days checking out the Kansas City International Film Festival. Held at the Cinemark on Country Club Plaza from April 10-14, the festival is a gathering place for film enthusiasts as well as both acclaimed and aspiring filmmakers.

Documentaries, narratives and short films covering a wide range of genre and subject were on display this time around, as well as seminars and press conferences by some of the presenters. The feature-length entries stood on their own, where as the shorts came in blocks, grouped together seemingly at random. In this case, some of them were actually produced by students from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The hot-ticket item at the fest this year – one I was unfortunately unable to get into – was the screening of the locally-set drama, “All Creatures Here Below.” Led by Karen Gillian, best known for sci-fi work like “Doctor Who,” and Kansas native and screenwriter David Dastmalchian, an actor whose highest profile role thus far was in the Ant-Man sequel – part of an amorphous blob of cinema which he shares with his costar Gillian. The reception, from what I could gather, was stellar. Dastmalchian, for his part, gave a press conference which may be found for now on the Facebook page for the event.

Though I was unable to attend that, I resolved to see at least one documentary while I was there to make up for my loss. To that end, I was pleased to be able to attend a screening of “The Buffalo Hunt,” a feature by Philip Difiore which follows the intersection of tradition and bleak modernity on the which is described on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota.

The film, I must say, was both visceral and and beautiful – it follows the ritual killing and preparation of a buffalo by the Lakota people, who reflect candidly on a host of topics including Standing Rock, the meth epidemic and the mysterious disappearances of indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada. I highlight this piece in particular because I feel it is a good example of the sorts of things good documentary cinema should provide: a serious examination of a subject that balances a sense of artistry with one of honesty. Moreover, I believe the greater impetus for the purpose of film is revealed here: it is an opportunity for both celebration and critique of the subject, as is all great art.

It’s unfortunate that I was as constrained in my budget for this excursion as I was because, in truth, the Kansas City Film Festival is a wonderful, culturally-enriching event. Film, as an art form, is not merely a mode of escapism – it is a visual art which at its best suspends all other conditions around us, not to divert us away from them, but to allow the viewer to reflect on them and their representations.

In our era, which has seen Hollywood’s output become near-universally forgettable flops and franchise programming, the art form and the public are more in need of this sort of event than ever before.

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