If you show them, they will come.
“We have a lot of people show up. They keep showing up, so we must be doing something right,” says Will Valet, director of the Hardacre Film Festival in Tipton.
The popular indie film fest — the oldest in the state — is marking its 15th anniversary Friday and Saturday by doing what it’s always done.
“Our credo is to show films that Iowans haven’t seen,” Valet says.
That mission is getting harder and harder to accomplish, with all the film festivals that have cropped up around the state in the past five years or so.
“Now, every time you turn around a new one is popping up — in Burlington, the Wild Rose in Des Moines, the Iowa Independent in Mason City, Landlocked (in Iowa City) and the one in Cedar Rapids,” Valet says. “There’s a lot more competition for us to show films that have not been shown in Iowa before.”
“It’s kinda strange, in that it’s kinda stayed the same,” says Valet, 37, who lives a block from the historic Hardacre Theater, where the films are shown.
- 15th annual Hardacre Film Festival is 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday at the Hardacre Theater, 112 E. Fifth St. in Tipton
- Admission: $8 Friday night; $8 Saturday’s daytime session; $8 Saturday’s closing session, including wrap party at A Place to Land; $20 all-festival pass
- Information and schedule: Hardacrefilmfestival.com
He attended his first Hardacre festival in 2002, became involved with all-volunteer effort the following year and climbed into the director’s chair four years ago.
“They found a recipe for success in the beginning, and when I took over, we stayed with it,” says Valet, who works for ACT by day and devotes his springs and summers to the film festival. His wife, Callie, is on board as co-director, helping him screen all the films before narrowing the field for the 10 jurors who decide which entries will be accepted.
Size doesn’t matter for this festival.
“I’m surprised at how much farther its reach really is,” he says, noting that 150 films from around the world were submitted for consideration this year. “They don’t mind that it’s a small festival in the Midwest. The filmmakers really want to have their work shown in our area, to be seen by a group of people who love independent film. We’re recognized now as a vessel for that.”
What’s grown over the years are the number of filmmakers who attend the festival from as far as New Zealand and Israel, as well as the scope of the wrap party, which has become increasingly popular.
But the festival, itself, remains a Goldilocks kind of affair — “not too long, not too short,” he says. “People like coming to Tipton for the weekend.”
The Cedar County town rolls out the red carpet, too, staging its annual Celebrate Tipton! festival and the Ridiculous Days sidewalk sales, featuring live music, crafts, races, a street dance, chalk art, an art fair, an outdoor movie and more that weekend.
“Other (film) festivals run over several days in several locations and show hundreds of films,” Valet says. “If nobody’s ever tried a film festival, they should try us first. We pack a lot of different kinds of films into a day and a half. It’s not a big commitment, and you’ll get to meet people who made the films and other people who enjoy the films.”
He says audiences will see “a lot of documentary works, a lot of animation this year and new works by people whose films we’ve shown in the past,” as well as the return of “Peep Show,” a Hardacre favorite, he says. “We’re asked about that one every year. Back in 1999, it won ‘Best short Film.’ We’re going to bring it back. People loved it.”
The digital world has changed the face of film making, as well, bringing about one of the biggest changes in the Hardacre Film Festival over the years.
“All of our films used to be shown on film stock,” Valet says. “Now, 95 percent of films shown are shot and projected digitally. Technology has made it easier to make and market a film to a worldwide audience. That said, filmmaking ain’t easy, and the films we show every year prove that.
“The Internet has made the reach of indie film so much wider, easier — and more of a challenge for filmmakers to make their films visible to people. The reach can be so much wider, but the market is so crowded. The number of film we receive every year keeps going up and up and up,” Valet says.
“The switch to digital has changed everything for the independent film community. It’s changed everything for us, too. We don’t project on film anymore, so we have to rent equipment to digitally project,” he says.
That’s a blessing and a curse for a festival that runs on a “minuscule” budget. Digital projecting also is threatening the future of the Art Deco theater that opened as an opera house in 1916 but switched to showing motion pictures just three years later.
Valet is part of a community committee exploring ways to keep the first-run theater viable. According to a survey circulated in the past year, installing digital equipment would cost at least $75,000. More would be needed for initial electrical upgrades and to purchase the venue.
“The changeover from 35 mm to digital happened faster than any theater owner predicted,” he says.
“The Hardacre Theater Preservation Association’s mission is to keep the theater running,” Valet says. “We’re in preliminary talks on how to do this. Our mission isn’t to buy or lease the theater, but to keep it running.”
- Diana Nollen