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The Independent Critic

 2012 Heartland Film Festival: A-Z Reviews, Vol. 3 
The Assignment (96 Mins., Narrative Feature)
The Assignment (96 Mins., Narrative Feature)

Starring: Lindsey Godfrey, French Stewart, Adam Baldwin; Written and Directed by: Timothy J. Nelson

The narrative features in the 2012 Heartland Film Festival have, thus far, been disappointing for the most part. This film, written and directed by Timothy J. Nelson and languishing around the festival circuit for a couple years now, certainly fits thematically within Heartland's purpose but seems a notch below the usual Heartland quality.

The film centers around Lindsey Godfrey (Eliza Baird), a talented and well-adjusted high school student whose comfortable world is rocked when a new history professor, Mr. Clements (Adam Baldwin), enters her life and innocently assigns a project that unearths a disturbing mystery about her own origins and the lengths to which others have gone to hide the truth.

The Assignment is a light coming-of-age story that is likely too timid to be bothered by, but neither does it possess that extra "mmmph" that one would expect to see within a Heartland Film Festival official selection. The film has quite the all-star cast in supporting roles, including George Newbern. Newbern also appears in Heartland's Family Movie Event in 2012, 3-Day Test. This film also features Robert Culp in his last role, M. Emmet Walsh, and French Stewart (mostly known to audiences for his work in television's 3rd Rock From the Sun).

There isn't anything particularly wrong with The Assignment, but given the festival received upwards of 1,000 submissions this year it's just difficult to fathom that this was one of the festival's best options among the narrative features.

Kudos should go, however, to Nelson for his script. For the authentic dialogue alone, it's hard not to offer The Assignment at least a modest recommendation.

Asternauts (16 Mins., Narrative Short)
Asternauts (16 Mins., Narrative Short)

Starring: Zenon Zeleniuch, Wray Crawford, Melissa D. Brown, Tina Balthazar; Directed by: Marta Masferrer; Written by: Raven Burnett; OFFICIAL FACEBOOK 

While it seems like fantasy shorts hardly never win the big awards in festivals, except for maybe at the sci-fi/fantasy festivals, rest assured that Asternauts is quite the gem as an official selection of the 2012 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis.

Life is pretty dull for farmer Earl McNutt (Zenon Zeleniuch) and his childlike brother, Joel (Wray Crawford). However, when a mysterious object from outer-space crash lands into their pasture and kills their best bull and milking cow, suddenly there's nothing dull for Earl and Joel anymore.

Directed by Marta Masferrer and written by Raven Burnett, Asternauts has deservedly proven to be wildly popular on the film festival circuit with awards at HollyShorts (Best Cinematography for Xiaosu Han and Andreas Thalhammer), Columbia University Film Festival (Best Film) and several others.

The film is a wonder to look at, not just because of its award-winning cinematography but also due to the outstanding production design by Marcus La Porte and Adrian Sieber's marvelous original music, which was recently nominated for the 2012 Jerry Goldsmith Awards in the category of Best Music in a Live-Action Short Film.

The film also benefits from two absolutely terrific performances from both Zenon Zeleniuch as Earl and Wray Crawford, as Earl's more childlike brother. The two have a relaxed but believable chemistry, while they also manage to convince in their own individual performances.

This is one short film that kids and adults alike at the Heartland Film Festival will enjoy, and with four opportunities to see it you don't want to miss out.

The Atomic States of America (92 Mins., Doc Feature)
The Atomic States of America (92 Mins., Doc Feature)

Directed by: Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott

Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year, The Atomic States of America strives to be a balanced and fair feature doc about nuclear power.

For the most part, it succeeds.

The film is directed by Don Argott (School of Rock) and Sheena M. Joyce (Two Days in April), who do a nice job of a humanizing a subject that can be weighty and cumbersome. The Atomic States of America is an official selection of the 2012 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, a community itself with the familiar sight of half-finished nuclear cooling towers on the near Southside of Indianapolis. The 2011 earthquake in Japan put the concept of nuclear power into a new framework, a framework that has brought to the forefront the risks that accompany the benefits of utilizing nuclear power.

The film focuses much of its time on the area of Shirley in Long Island, New York, and while the subject isn't likely to be resolved by this film it's a valuable tool in the discussion. Argott and Joyce do manage to make the film both entertaining and informative, the entertaining part boosted considerably by West Thordson's terrific original music.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic