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The Independent Critic

  • Narrative Winner
    "Gifted (Thanksgiving Post Mortem)"
    Directed by
    Freddy Macdonald
    Written by
     Freddy and Fred Macdonald
    Dagna Litzenberger Vinet, David Morell, Cir Boersma, and Ryan Pace

  • Documentary Winner
    "Two of Five Million"
    Directed by
    Socs Zavitsanos, DZ Zavitsanos
    DZ Zavitsanos, Socs Zavitsanos, Jim Gianakopoulos, and Taqi Ha

  • Indiana Narrative Winner
    "Family Tradition"
    Directed by
    Khyler Runnels, Matt Jacobs
    Khyler Runnels
    Khyler Runnels, Cora Slyverson

  • Indiana Documentary Winner
    "Kara Deady: The Pole Vaulter" 
    Directed by
    Justin Park
    Kara Deady

  • Narrative Short - Honorable Mention
    Written and Directed by
    Caleb Wild
    Isaac Hollingsworth, Jeremy Marr Williams
 2017 Heartland Film Fest High School Competition Winners  

The 2017 Heartland Film Festival High School Competition's finalists are competing for the Summer White Lynch Memorial Award, an award underwritten by Gary D. & Marlene Cohen honoring the memory of Lynch,  a loving wife, mother of two young boys, daughter, sister, friend to many. Lynch was an Indianapolis native, Carmel Graduate living in Bloomingdale, Illinois, who lost her battle to triple negative breast cancer in June 2014. She was diagnosed in the fall of 2011 and during her fight to live inspired all who followed her story with humor and strength. Summer as a person was selfless, personable, courageous and always took the time to make someone feel good about themselves especially children. A friend eulogized her by saying “There are only two kinds of people – those who are friends of Summer and those she has not met yet.”

Each of the four finalists has already picked up a $500 prize along with travel expenses for the director and a guardian to attend the festival. The recipient of the Summer White Lynch Memorial Award, the grand prize winner, will receive an additional $2,000 prize along with two All-Access Fest passes for the festival. 

Launched in 2010, the High School Film Competition encourages tomorrow’s filmmakers to create films that inspire filmmakers and audiences through the transformative power of the artform. Basic eligibility requirements:

  • Short films under 12 minutes in length
  • Documentary or narrative; live-action or animated
  • The director must have been in high school when the film was completed
  • The director must not have graduated from high school any earlier than Summer 2017

As a disclaimer, The Independent Critic will note that The Independent Critic founder/publisher Richard Propes served on the jury for the 2017 High School Competition. Reviews are solely a reflection of my own opinions and do not in any way indicate an early indication of the grand prize winner to be announced during Heartland's GLOW: Awards Party on Saturday, Oct. 21 - The Hi-Fi/Pure Eatery in Fountain Square from 7 - 10:30 p.m. 

One didn't know quite what to expect as director Freddy Macdonald's Gifted (Thanksgiving Post-Mortem) began, a film received with the barest of descriptions indicating a sort of journey into the realm of augmented reality butting heads with the harsh realities of real, everyday relationships. "Living in the age of virtual and augmented reality, humans may find it difficult to build meaningful relationships. Perhaps even increasingly difficult as technology continues to evolve..." is the guide we're given, though that really doesn't begin to accurately describe the unusually satisfying experience of watching Gifted, the 2017 Narrative winner in the Heartland Film Festival's High School Film Competition and one of the film's vying for the Summer White Lynch Memorial Award during this year's festival from October 12-22, 2017 in Indianapolis. 

Gifted is a mature work, emotionally honest yet technologically driven and guided by the charismatic performances of Dagna Litzenberger Vinet and David Morell along with Cor Boersma and Ryan Pace. The director, Switzerland-based Freddy Macdonald, frames the film beautifully and nicely balances the underlying human tensions springing forth within the augmented reality playground. It's a difficult balance, even a disturbing one, but it's one that Macdonald captures in such a way that Gifted (Thanksgiving Post-Mortem) becomes a film you'd likely not expect in a high school film competition yet, perhaps, it's precisely the kind of film we should expect from a high school film competition. 

In addition to its status as one of the competition's finalist for the $2,000 top prize, Gifted (Thanksgiving Post-Mortem) will be screening amongst both finalists and official selections in the High School Film Competition block of films and, you can trust me on this one, this is a block of films you definitely want to take time to see this year. 


At first glance, the six-minute Two of Five Million struck me as a rather straightforward documentary, admittedly a quality one for a high school film competition, yet not one that particularly drew me in. 

Hey, I'm just being honest. 

The truth is that my initial response to the story of "Mohammed and Abhad, cousins from Deir Ez-Zor, Syria, fleeing from ISIS and leaving everything they have behind to seek opportunity and freedom" was, well, wrong. There are some films that so deeply immerse you in their experiences that you don't quite realize how deeply you've been immersed until you've been removed from their worlds and return to your own. Such was the case with this film co-directed by Socs and DZ Zavitsanos, the winner of Best Documentary in the High School Film Competition and a finalist for the Summer White Lynch Memorial Award and $2,000 top prize. The film, also screening among this year's finalists and official selections as part of the High School Film Competition block of films, is a steady, riveting six-minute doc that tells a story that seems tailor-made for Heartland Film Fest audiences and should prove to be quite the popular selection among this year's films. 

While Two of Five Million may lack the technical marvel of Gifted, Heartland audiences have always been drawn to the human element in film and this involving yet intelligently realized film should, if justice is served, give Gifted a run for its money as the two films likely serve as the frontrunners for this year's grand prize. 

Having previously juried the High School Film Competition, I was impressed with the vast improvement in this year's selections. This may very well be attributable to technological advances, though more likely it's a result of Heartland Film Festival's growing reputation globally as one of the best, most filmmaker friendly film fests in the country and that includes for high school filmmakers. 

I mean, seriously, how many film festivals do you know that even give $2,000 to its grand prize winners? Heartland gives over $100,000 in prizes and $2,000 to the winner of its High School Film Competition. Heartland loves filmmakers and it shows and the result is we all get the benefit of seeing low-budget gems like Two in Five Million.

Family Tradition picks up the prize for Indiana Narrative in the 2017 Heartland Film Festival this year and will be screening as part of the festival's High School Film Competition block of films. In the film, a young man (writer/co-director Khyler Runnels) is dealing with pressure from his family and the fallout of a failed relationship, resulting in his traveling to the country to bury his past. 

Family Tradition is the kind of short film that will have both its devoted fans and those who aren't quite drawn into its story, a fact experienced by this critic as I rehashed the film with others who'd seen it and were particularly taken by it while I found myself detached and not particularly moved by it all. Co-starring Cora Slyverson, Family Tradition is an ambitious film and yet another example of the 2017 filmmakers tackling weightier material than one might expect in a high school film competition. 

While Family Tradition may not have blown me away, it's a promising flick from co-directors Runnels and Matt Jacobs and it'll be exciting to see where they take their cinematic efforts after their prize-winning effort here. As Indiana filmmakers, it goes without saying that representatives from the film will also be present during this year's awards and screenings and you'll get a terrific chance to chat with up-and-coming filmmakers. 


Kara Deady: The Pole Vaulter picked up the prize for Indiana Documentary in this year's High School Film Competition and is a finalist for the fest's Summer White Lynch Memorial Award and $2,000 top prize after having already claimed a $500 prize. Directed by Justin Park, the film centers around Carmel High School's record-holding pole vaulter... you guessed it, her name is Kara Deady. 

Perhaps the most traditional of this year's finalists, Kara Deady: The Pole Vaulter is a nicely done and informative short doc that comes in at right around four minutes as Deady serves up insights into her pole vaulting world and award-winning process. Kudos to Park for crafting a film that makes you want to spend a little more time with the natural, disciplined Deady who seems to approach this film like she approaches her pole vaulting - slow and steady and with tremendous discipline. There's little hype to be found here, Deady's everyday insights and casual demeanor refreshingly humble and quietly compelling. 

Receiving an honorable mention in the narrative category at the Heartland Film Festival, the 10-minute Cycle tackles weighty material yet feels right at home within Heartland Film Fest's immensely satisfying 2017 High School Film Competition finalists and official selections. 

In the film, a teen aging out of the foster care system, scrambling to determine his future, is suddenly interrupted by the appearance of his biological father. Written and directed by Caleb Wild, Cycle is a tad uneven in dramatic tone and occasionally stretches farther than its 10-minute running time should allow, but Wild has crafted an involving and dramatically impactful film with fine performances from his ensemble cast and a story that will resonate with Heartland Film Festival audiences. There were a handful of entries this year that could have snagged that last spot as a finalist for the fest's top prize, but it's hard to argue with Wild's ambitious and involving effort here. 

The High School Film Competition Block of films will screen at:

AMC Castleton Square 14 Fri, Oct 13, 1:00 PM

AMC Traders Point 12 Fri, Oct 20, 5:45 PM

AMC Castleton Square 14 Sat, Oct 21,1:15 PM