erasing clouds

Rablings from the Halfway to Hollywood Film Festival, Kansas City

by Jerry Salisbury

It began with some conversations, and ended with silence. In between, there were societal Americana commentaries on retail in suburbia and wedded bliss, along with tales of vengeance and loyalty filled by some of Hollywood's so-called visionaries. There were tales of happiness and sadness, love, in many forms and death and the battle of the Atomic Trinity versus Nunzilla. In all, it was 10 days of bliss for cinephiles in the heartland, better known as the 2nd annual Halfway to Hollywood film festival. When the dust had settled, nearly 50 films, both short and feature length, were screened, along with some very interesting, informative, and energetic interactions with the stars and makers of the projects. If you have a passion for movies, regardless of the size, starpower or universal appeal, then this was nothing less than 10 days of nirvana for you, as it was for me. What follows, will be my analysis of the films I did get a chance to see, along with some highlights, of discussions and interactions with the talent.

The People

I would like to thank the organizers of the festival, H2H president Ben Meade, his wife Dianna, coordinators Kathleen Krushaar, Dotty Hamilton and Jane Bartholomew, and all of my fellow film fans who volunteered their time and efforts into bringing a needed injection of art and culture into the heartland. I would also be remiss, if I didn't thank all of the guests who took time out of their schedule to indulge us, If I leave anyone out, I apologize, as it probably means I didn't get the chance to spend any time with you, but your presence was greatly appreciated nonetheless. Thanks to:

  • The down home, sociable appeal of Garage Sale's Mark Stock, and the rest of his family/cast/crew
  • Restless director (and blues fan) Jule Giliffan
  • The very personable and talented duo behind The Bread, My Sweet, director Melissa Martin and producer Adrienne Wehr
  • The energetic and impassioned pair of visionaries, Elena Carr (Gardens of Heaven) and Maggie Carey (Dance Club) whose collaboration gave us the female perspective on the porn industry with LadyPorn
  • My co-pilot for an evening, and executive director of Women Make Movies, Debra Zimmerman.

Also, thanks to the local talent given the chance to present their contributions:

  • Star Wars fan and compadre Dennis Ward
  • my new best friends and soldiers in the battle against fluff film making, John McGrath and Todd Norris
  • the very talented and self-confidant Jeff Rector, whose film deservedly will show on HBO later this year

Special thanks to director Jill Sprecher (Clockwatchers) whose Thirteen Conversations about One Thing won my individual prize for best and most memorable film, and who was pleasant, and even surprisingly flattered at times I think, to engage with myself and two other fellow critics in a wonderful discussion about the state of her films and perspective on movie making in general, and most of all to actor/soon-to-hopefully be director, Tony Todd, whom I got the pleasure of accompanying as we both discovered the history, attraction, and potential of this great city, for the purpose of film making. For anyone who wonders, he is much much more than just the intimidating force behind Candyman, he is an incredible, passionate artist, with a great love and respect for the art of presenting stories and messages through the medium of film, and also a very intelligent, articulate, talented individual, and all-round great human being. I do hope that he, along with all the others, do return to our fair city very soon.

The Moments

  • Discussing potential sequel options to Killing Michael Bay (Joel Schumacher, Jerry Bruckheimer maybe?) with John McGrath
  • Daveigh Chase's simplistic, yet sharp answer as to the origin of her first name
  • Being frozen in time, at the Musician's Guild, with Mr Todd, Ms Giliffan, and several other volunteers of the festival. This was a memory almost devoid of words to describe it, as people wandered in, like moths to a flame, watched, admired, appreciated and ultimately became a part of Kansas City's secret legend and link to the past.
  • Experiencing the Gangster Tour, and Negro League Baseball museum and learning an unknown, but important piece of my past with Mr Todd

The Films

In the short film category, there was a plethora of faire to choose from, appealing to the diversified palates of the audiences.

Short films -

Stuck on Star Wars

A playfully reminiscent romp (for us children of the Star Wars generation) about three Gen-X men whose lives have not progressed beyond the love, bordering on obsession, of the Lucas classic. When they find themselves thrust into their own real (or reel) life adventure, they call on what they know best, namely a lifesize Millenium Falcon and paintball lasers, in their battle to overcome the evil forces at work. The film is the brainchild of Dennis Ward ( and features a memorable performance from local actor James Kellogg (who can also be seen in quite a different light in the newest project Run (a collaboration between Ward and Doug English (who also appears in the film. Since Star Wars was the experience that made me fall in love with the magic of the cinema, this one holds a special place in my heart as it will in yours when you get the chance to see it.

Killing Michael Bay

( - I do so relish films that allow the audience to live out its fantasies vicariously through them. The films of Michael Bay have been universally lambasted as loud, fast-edited, short on story but dizzying disasters of senseless action and brainless characters. Pearl Harbor, The Rock, Armageddon, the list makes most who love movies cringe at the mere mention of his name. Well, Todd McGrath and John Norris turned their cringing anger (one over the sheer cinematic blasphemy of Pearl Harbor, the other because Bay stole his girlfriend) into this compact, action-packed tale of vengeance, kidnapping, car chases and quickly edited sequences. The irony is fully intended, but definitely packs more intelligence and creativity than all of Bay's efforts combined. McGrath and Norris (who were open to suggestions involving Killing Mr's Schumacher, Sena and Bruckheimer) have crafted sharp, entertaining, satirically funny look at what happens when two men stand up against the crimes of Hollywood. Come along for the ride, you won't be sorry. Especially if you shelled out 8 bucks for any of Bay's efforts.

(the following 4 short films were presented by the Kansas Connection from L.A. (

The Bus Stops Here

A quick, but effective tale about standing up for who you are, and showing the true spirit of friendship that can bond different people together. When a bus driver cannot control the bullies on his bus, he enlists the help of a quiet, but hesitant young boy. At first the boy resists, but as he observes the world around him and realizes his place, he stands up and grows up all in one short bus ride.

Fatal Kiss

The crown jewel of the Kansas Connection films, Jeff Rectors tongue-in-fangs look at revenge, love, betrayal and the undead features cameos from Ted Raimi, Victor Lundin and yes, even Kato Kaelin. Fans of Tales from The Crypt, The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits will revel in the entire experience. This is a quality effort from someone who has no just began to make his mark on Hollywood. Look for this one on HBO sometime this fall.

Pumpkin Man

What starts off as interesting premise regarding an local legend of a mysterious house, a possessed pumpkin and three children on Halloween, turns into a preachy morality tale that douses that whole effort in an unnecessarily syrupy afterglow. The conclusion taints a potentially interesting premise and left this viewer feeling teased, manipulated and cheated of a much better, darker story.

Self Storage

As if my frustration over Pumpkin Man wasn't bad enough, I was then subjected to this confusing tale set in a mental institution where figures who look like mutated sock dolls, reign over a stock collection of people with mental problems. If there was a deeper message, or social commentary at work here, I must have missed it, thankfully.

Gardens of Heaven

A touching documentary by LadyPorn co-director Elena Carr about a California woman who, out of necessity, started a cemetery and memorial for infants who were abandoned by their parents. The film is concise, yet heartfelt as it features interviews and shows a genuinely good soul who just wanted to give something back to those who never had a chance to have anything.

Dance Club

It was inevitable that David Fincher's machismo societal commentary Fight Club would become the victim of satire, and what a wonderful job Maggie Carey (the other co-director of LadyPorn) has done with it. By replacing fighting with dancing, Norton's insurance adjuster with an effeminate bakery employee and Pitt's rebellious Tyler Durden with a chain-smoking tough talking dance-obsessed rough girl, Carey has created both the antithesis and the compliment to the 1999 soon-to-be classic.

Feature films -

Garage Sale

Director Mark Stock tapped into a slice of Americana with his delightful film about the quirks and characters that populate this suburban capitalistic endeavor. Using his own family members, many of whom were present at the screening, the film has a feel of someone taking a camcorder and just recording the natural progression and digression of things through one day. The reactions seem normal, the dialogue is a bit like people pretending they are in a movie, but the film still captures a down home appeal and charm that made it stick in my mind throughout the festival.

13 Conversations About One Thing

This was the film that kicked off the festival for me, and after seeing it and spending an hour or so with the director, I was fairly convinced that I wouldn't see anything to top it. That opinion still rings true as it was not only the best film of the festival far and away, but easily the best thing I've seen on film this year. It is an intertwining social commentary that shows multiple characters perspectives on the search and definition of happiness. Sprecher has created a cerebral and philosophical masterpiece that must be seen and experienced numerous times to gain the full scope of its meaning and power.

Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Peter Care's coming-of-age tale, set with the concurrent storyline of 4 altar boys exploring and discovering their maturity, and their alter (or altar) egos, four comic book heroes known as the Atomic Trinity. The tales progress along as the story dives deeper into practical jokes, a persistent nun, and some dark secrets revealed. It will be unlike anything you will see this year, and was the most pleasant surprise of the festival.

Pants on Fire

This one resembled a more amateurish version of the Neil LaBute movie Your Friends and Neighbors. The movie is set around a young married couple, he is a successful, obsessed politician, she is a caring school teacher. When it is discovered that she has been having a fling with a fellow teacher, the movie ties itself in knots and the filmmakers are not quite adept or aware to untangle.


The adult film industry is probably the most male dominated monopoly in existence today. Since they are the target audience, its understandable why. It is a multi-billion dollar, testosterone infused industry. But what would happen if women not only infiltrated, but flew blatantly in the face of everything that the porn empire is built on. This was the undertaking of Carr and Carey in LadyPorn, a straightforward, no-holds barred look at the different stages and processes of the industry. The film is part documentary and part actual footage of the film, and it is put together with a deftly honest, at times frustrating, but definitely blunt touch. The film itself is aimed at the softer sides of eroticism and touches on all of those, along with the frustrations and processes of making amateur movies. It is definitely an ambitious, well-done effort that should be seen by everyone, just put aside your shyness and your inhibitions and enjoy the experience.


This is the film that closed out the festival, and unfortunately it closed things out with a weak-hearted whimper. This amateurish story of kidnappers, corrupt government officials, and a child who witnesses a murder was an example of how not to make a suspenseful political thriller. The acting, save youthful range of Lilo & Stitch's Daveigh Chase and the baritone intimidation of Tony Todd, was trying at best, as they attempted to overcome a screenplay that lacked originality, energy or insight. This one wouldn't even make a Cinemax 3am feature sadly, but was only slightly tainted the wonderful taste that the festival left in my mind.

Overall, I was impressed with the diverse lineup of films that the festival brought in only its second year of existence. From the deep, thought provoking power of Thirteen Conversations, to the childish escapism of Dangerous Lives and Stuck on Star Wars, to sheer vengeful glee of Fatal Kiss, the H2H film festival is just beginning to make its mark on the cinematic landscape. If you're in or near the Kansas City area, watch for next year and join me in the back row with popcorn, Raisinettes and notepad in hand.

Issue 10, July 2002 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds