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This week, Kansas City FilmFest International welcomed moviegoers in person for the first time in two years. The festival opened at AMC Ward Parkway 14 inside Ward Parkway Center and featured more than 100 feature and short films.
In the wake of a pandemic that wreaked havoc on the exhibition industry, filmmakers were eager to share their sources of inspiration.
Kansas City filmmaking duo Lolo Loren and Patrick Poe shared the tumultuous production history behind their comedy feature film “Almost Sorta Maybe,” which screened at the festival on Thursday.
“We shot it from 2017 through 2019 pretty much, with the plan to start a festival run in 2020. We had some things lined up, but we hadn’t finished post (production) when everything shut down,” Poe said.
Five years after beginning work on the film, Loren and Poe say that they want their film to be remembered by audiences as unique and heartwarming, especially after the pandemic of the past two years.
“We set out trying to make it the kind of feel-good comedy that you like to watch when you need a pick-me-up,” Loren said.
Apart from trying to provide lighthearted fun and escapism, many filmmakers at the festival this year are using their films to highlight the voices of marginalized communities.
Frederick Taylor, director of the Emmy Award winning short “If Cities Could Dance: Taking J-Setting from Underground Clubs to the Main Stage,” offered a look at an emerging dance movement in Atlanta. The film centers on J-Setting, pioneered by black, queer dancers of all genders.
“J-Setting is a combination of Alvin Ailey, modern jazz dancing, breakdancing, urban street dancing, HBCU step show, and majorette marching dancing. The difference is that the style of dance is gender balanced. It’s equal parts male to female, so there are certain moves that we stereotype as feminine dance moves versus male dance moves, and everyone does both … It’s a gender fluid type of urban street dance,” Taylor explained.
Taylor described the culture of J-Setting as a critical response to the violent and homophobic culture of hip hop, driven by the groups that hip hop has marginalized. He hopes that his film will persuade audiences to see how gender is regarded in society from a different perspective.
“(The dance movement) is a bit of a culture war, but a healthy culture war,” Taylor said. “Great people come from all different walks of life, and we’re getting there as far as race and culture is concerned. Now, we’re slowly pushing this discourse into place and it’s the hardest one: men and women are equal. Men and women can do the same things.”
About 850 miles away in rural Bad Axe, Michigan, filmmaker David Siev is exploring community and marginalization in a different way.
His feature film, “Bad Axe,” screened Wednesday night at the festival and focused on the difficult experiences of his Cambodian American family in the first year of the pandemic. Filmed in vérité style, the narrative documentary is a vulnerable look into the anti-Asian racism faced by his family in their community and how they grow stronger because of it.
Siev states his intention behind showing in the film the racist and marginalizing actions taken by the community of Bad Axe toward his family.
“Even though our family has our frustrations with Bad Axe, we still wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t have the community of Bad Axe,” he states in the film. “It’s the people that have supported us that continue to support our business and allow us to achieve this American dream, and it’s the people who haven’t supported us that have forced us that much closer together as a family. And for that, I’m thankful.”
Attempting to move on and heal from the COVID-19 pandemic and finding justice for marginalized people seem to be the themes of this year’s festival. Along with the aforementioned films, the festival screened the 2014 Ukrainian film “The Guide” to support Red Cross Ukraine through box office proceeds.
“I mean, who’s more marginalized than Ukrainians right now?” said Kevin Mullin, the director and co-chair of the festival.
Kansas City FilmFest International 2022 wrapped its final screening Thursday evening. Information on where to view “Almost Sorta Maybe” and “Bad Axe” can be found at the filmmakers’ websites. “If Cities Could Dance” is available to view on PBS.org.
Park Zebley and Ji Stribling are students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and reporting interns at Kansas City PBS.