Tallgrass Film Festival goes live, will feature HBO’s Gordon Parks documentary

Tallgrass Film Festival graphic

Whether you can travel to Wichita, Kansas or not, the 2021 Tallgrass Film Festival offers films created by filmmakers from all over the world available to you in person or virtually.

Tallgrass believes in showcasing the best filmmaking experience possible, according to Melanie Addington, the new Tallgrass Film Association’s executive director, who relocated from Mississippi to join her new filming team. Addington says the film festival offers something for all ages.

With these uncertain times, film festival organizers must think outside the box and be super creative. There’s an international problem: They have no documented plans of how to run a film festival in the middle of a worldwide health pandemic like COVID.

The festival is planned for Oct. 20 to 24 in person and Oct. 24 to 29 virtually. That means you’ll go to Tallgrassfilmfest.org to find out how to view films virtually. Then, you can enjoy films of your choice sitting on the couch or your favorite lounging chair, reaching for your favorite drink and buttered popcorn.

Inaugural Gordon Parks Outstanding Black Filmmaker Award

A Fort Scott, Kansas native, Gordon Parks died in 2006 leaving a worldwide legacy that earned him countless honorary university degrees and awards. The “Learning Tree,” a novel and film written by Parks, delivered a powerful message about black manhood. The book, published in 1963, depicts the life of Newt Winger growing up in rural Kansas in the 1920s. In 1969, the novel was turned into a film written, directed, and scored by Gordon Parks. The film was the first to be directed by an African American person for a major American film studio. 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of that film. This year, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of another movie, “Shaft,” produced and directed by Parks. That movie, along with two other movies directed by Parks, “The Learning Tree” and “Leadbelly,” will be shown at the Tallgrass Film Festival.

The winner of the Gordon Parks filmmaker award will be announced Oct. 23. David Michael Parks and two other national filmmaker professionals — Brandon Wilson and Kate Gondwe — will be judging the five finalists. Wilson was born and raised in Los Angeles, where he attended UCLA, earning a bachelors of arts degree in African American Studies and an M.F.A. from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television.

Kate Gondwe is a Malawian American pursuing her under-graduate degree at Emerson College. She is the founder of the short’s distribution initiative Dedza Films, supported by Kino Lorber. She began her film career as an emerging programmer apprentice at the Tallgrass Film Festival, a program sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and was a Film Watch grant recipient.

“To have an award in my father’s name is a tremendous honor,” said David Michael Parks who resides in Austin, Texas, and is the son of Gordon Parks. David is a seasoned filmmaker, photographer, author and two-time Purple Heart recipient for his service during the Vietnam War. He has taught classes with worldwide MGM photographer Eli Reed at the University of Texas at Austin and is working on a documentary for western Texas clients.

“Dad was so dedicated and motivated to produce the best films. He worked tirelessly in all his creations and expected the most from those who worked with him. I have truly enjoyed working with the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita, Kansas to select and honor the first recipient of the Gordon Parks Outstanding Black Filmmaker Award.”

HBO comes to Wichita, Kansas, to share new documentary about Gordon Parks being released in November

Pre-screening of the HBO documentary “Gordon Parks: A Choice of Weapons,” will be shown during the Tallgrass Film Festival. HBO will release the documentary publicly in November. “This is not your typical documentary or autobiography,” one HBO producer explained. “We took a different approach than the traditional autobiography.”

Charles McAfee, a Wichita architect, and close friend who played tennis with Gordon Parks, has for years said that “next to the Bible, Gordon Parks’ “A Choice of Weapons” is a must-read book.” McAfee was instrumental in get-ting Parks to return to his home-town of Fort Scott, Kansas as his burial place in 2006.

Partnerships make it work The Tallgrass Film Festival created a Gordon Parks Advisory Committee. David Park, in partnership with others supporting this committee, has met for months via Zoom detailing plans to present the award. Go to Tallgrassfilmfest.org for more details about the actual Gordon Parks award and other previews of films that will be shown during the festival.

Tallgrass festival association organizers knew they couldn’t do it alone. So, they reached out to community leaders, area businesses and longtime festival supporters. The committee includes Wilma Moore-Black,Mark Quayle (chief legal counsel, Cargill Protein), Holly Dyer (partner at Foulston Siefkin, LLP), Emily Bonavia (Bonavia Properties), Larry Burks, Sr. (president, Wichita Branch NAACP), Darryl Kelly (director of project management for Credit Union of America and Friends of the Historic Dunbar Theatre), Denise Sherman (executive director, The Kansas African American Muse-um), Justin Rorabough (director, Wichita State University School of Digital Arts), Lavonta Williams (first vice chair, Wichita Branch NAACP and community leader), Ann Keefer (interim CEO/President, Wichita Festivals), and Alicia Sanchez (director, WSU Office of Diversity & Inclusion), Gray Rodriguez (Tallgrass director of marketing), and Andre Seward (Tallgrass programming director).

Partnering with the film festival has been a new adventure and “a positive experience,” according to Denise Sherman, executive director for The Kansas African American Museum (TKAAM) housed in the national historic Old Calvary Church, downtown Wichita. TKAAM, Michael Roach, a Wichita lawyer and friend of Gordon Parks, in conjunction with Tallgrass Film Festival will open a new exhibit, “Reflections of a Friend,” Sept. 13 until Oct. 31. As a contributor, Wilma Moore-Black is proud to have worked on her first museum exhibit.

“The Tallgrass Film Association fosters an appreciation of the cinematic arts by creating shared experiences around the international medium of film,” as stated on the festival’s website. “. . . stubbornly independent since 2003.”

Wilma Moore-Black

Editor’s Note: Wilma Moore-Black is a seasoned journalist born in Wichita, Kansas. A graduate of East High School, Kansas State University, and Newman University, she is a lifelong educator. She is retired from KAKE-TV, an ABC affiliate, and the TRIO Communication Upward Bound program at Wichita State University. She has been manuscript editor for three published books, and continues to write, edit, market, do career assessments and promote youth to enter the communications field. She’s the CEO of WMB Creative Productions and publicist for David Michael Parks, son of Gordon Parks.

Inspired and motivated by Gordon Parks, she works non-stop to keep Gordon’s accomplishments alive. Moore-Black wants his name to become a household word and for youngsters to be exposed to, have access to and to develop their critical thinking skills in align with Gordon’s legacy. Gordon Parks’ fearless efforts to try and master many arts and skills developed the Fort Scott, Kansas native into one of the most influential individuals in the world. With all that Gordon endured during his lifetime, he remained humble, courageous, and determined to use his cam-era as a non-violent weapon against hatred, discrimination, poverty, racism and inequality.

Moore-Black is an active member of NFPW, Kansas Professional Communicators (KPC) and the Wichita Professional Communicators (WPC). She served as the 2020 WPC president and is currently co-chair of the WPC scholarship committee along with Judy Conkling. For many years, Moore-Black was director of the KPC Communicator of Achievement award. She also has served as the NFPW COA director.

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