Skip to main content
The Independent Critic

  • Abstraction
    Directed by
    Jonathan Cipiti
    Written by
    John Priddy, Michael Cipiti
    Running Time
    16 Mins.

  • Edges
    Directed by
    Katie Stjernholm, Jonathan Hiller
    Running Time
    9 Mins.

  • The Good Fight
    Written and Directed by
    Ben Holman
    Running Time
    17 Mins.

  • Kachach, Above Zaatari
    Directed by
    Bruno Pieretti
    Running Time
    15 Mins.

  • Refugee
    Directed by
    Joyce Chen, Emily Moore
    Written by
    Ashley Billings, Joyce Chen, Emily Moore
    Running Time
    28 Mins.
 Doc Short Finalists for Heartland Film Fest are Diverse, Meaningful 
Add to favorites

These are the finalists for the Documentary Short Award at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. Each of the finalists already receives a $500 top prize with the top prize resulting in a total cash prize of $5,000. The finalists are:

The Heartland Film Festival is hosting the world premiere of Abstraction, a film written by John Priddy and Michael Cipiti and directed by Jonathan Cipity that tells the story of Dianne Collard's remarkable transformation of forgiveness and illustrates the power of love and beauty to overcome evil. 

While serving as missionaries in Vienna, the Collards received word of the brutal murder of their adult son. While some may resist the film's strong element of faith, such a faith serves its story well and is presented not as some instantaneous, miracle journey but as a hard fought, a true struggle from victim to victor. Collard herself speaks eloquently, her words and deeds backing up the film's wonderfully realized account of a forgiveness so grand it feels almost unbelievable. Cipiti chooses to focus on the healing journey rather than the actual deed to be forgiven, an approach that enhances the film's sense of a spiritual journey but, in some ways, lessens the film's emotional impact. 

Very minor quibble aside, Abstraction is one of my favorites from this year's doc shorts and a film that may, in some ways, remind Heartland moviegoers of Indiana's own Eva Kor, whose own story of forgiveness is stunningly dramatic in impact. 

Co-directed by Katie Stjernholm and Jonathan Hiller, Edges tells the story of Yvonne Dowlen, a former Ice Capades star who never officially retired from completing and who was still ice skating five days a week at the age of 90-years-old. A celebration of longevity and resilience, Edges focuses squarely on its charismatic, inspiring subject and weaves together historical documents to bring to life the encouraging tale of a woman whose zest for life clearly never ended. 

Edges picked up the prizes for Best Documentary Short at the Sedona International Film Festival and DOC LA, a sure sign that this 9-minute short delivers in telling its meaningful story in a major way. The real gem here is Yvonne Broders Dowlen herself, a delightful interview subject and charismatic presence whose story should inspire anyone who is tempted to say "Oh, but it's too late for that..."


Ben Holman's 17-minute documentary short The Good Fight tells the story of Alan, a young Brazilian who has lost 10 close family members to gun violence in his favela in Rio de Janeiro. Determined to not see that happen to anyone else, Alan begins using boxing to make a difference in his community and ti improve the lives of those around him. 

The Good Fight had its world premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and soars on the strength of its gritty, honest story and compelling central figure. A Brazil/UK production shot in Portuguese with English subtitles, The Good Fight is so involving that you practically forget you're watching subtitles as the power of hope is a universal language that needs no subtitles. 

Kachach, Above Zaatari is a French entry shot inside the Zaatari Refugee Camp and brings to life one of the 2017 Heartland Film Festival's most unique stories in telling the story of the Kachach, a community within the refugee camp devoted to raising birds. Culturally despised as a group, the Kachach bring this ancient hobby back to life and, in very real ways, restore a sense of freedom in this place that no one is ever supposed to leave. 

Kachach, Above Zaatari is powerfully directed by Bruno Pieretti, who infuses this Jordanian refugee camp with endless possibilities while never letting go of the harsh realities in which this people live their daily lives. Beautifully photographed, this is yet another low-budget gem in a category that is seemingly wide-open this year with five deserving winners of the festival's $5,000 top prize for Best Doc Short. 

While the doc short category is wide open at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival, my money's on this 28-minute short film from Joyce Chen and Emily Moore telling the story of a West African woman who left her five children in 2003 to come to the United States and provide them with a better future. 

Refugee is everything you want a doc short to be - deep, meaningful, inspiring and incredibly honest with a story that draws you in and never lets you go throughout its 28-minute running time. Refugee already has a winning pedigree having picked up top prizes at Nashville Film Festival (Best Doc Short), Rhode Island International Film Festival (International Humanitarian Award), and Short Film Competition Award (Best Short). With a story destined to resonate deeply with Heartland jurors and audience members alike, Refugee is the kind of film that lingers in your psyche' long after you've watched it. You should watch it'll be glad you did!

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic