WACO, TX — A story you won't find anywhere else, but Waco is just now beginning to unfold with tickets and passes on sale today for the 2021 Deep in the Heart Film Festival. This year, Deep in the Heart is available to watch in-person or online, with screenings taking place at the historic Waco Hippodrome Theatre from Thursday, July 22 through Sunday, July 25. Following that, the festival will be available online from July 25-31.
Samuel Thomas is the Artistic Director and co-founder of Deep in the Heart Film Festival.
"It's been crazy," he explained. "We are gearing in for the first this weekend, and I think we've been just going ballistic for the last two months."
It's been a refreshing amount of work, as the excitement masks the stress, for Thomas and fellow co-founder and Creative Director Louis Hunter.
"I feel like there's a lot of excitement between us and the staff, even the folks at our venues and our sponsors," Hunter said. "Everyone's so excited to be able to reconnect with one another. So, yeah, maybe a little bit stressful to pull off an event like this, but it's knowing that there's a lot at the end of the tunnel and it's just regaining a sense of community."
For movie-goers and filmmakers, the re-emergence of crowds at movies theaters has been a welcome change. But it's also been proven, there's an audience out there that wants to take in films from the comfort of their homes.
That's one of the reasons, Deep in the Heart has made a substantial effort to ensure viewers can still enjoy the festival virtually. Thomas said to his surprise, the festival did well online last year when the in-person aspect of the festival was put on pause due to pandemic concerns.
"And so as much as we enjoyed the at-home experience, way more than we expected to, we actually got a great amount of feedback and a great amount of participation from the community," Thomas said. "Just having it be back online has been something, I think that is just intangible."
And for the growing art scene in Waco and its highly invested community in the Deep in the Heart, the return of the festival means a lot.
Aaron Konzelman is the Communications and Booking Director for the Waco Hippodrome Theatre. He said the impact of the pandemic had on the theatre and the community itself was widely apparent just a year ago.
"You know, 2020 was rough here for anybody in the arts industry, anybody who is in the event, industry, live shows, bookings, restaurants, all of that was dying everywhere," he said. "You know, the term starving artists were true. And so being able to come back and start being able to do concerts, live events, bring movies back, things like that is really what the goal was all along."
Konzelman said during the pandemic, the theatre decided to close down the restaurants and the new movie theaters but always continued to make music bookings in the hopes of bringing as many people who felt comfortable coming to come to enjoy the shows in person.
"I just think that they were committed to keeping because they love Waco. You know, Waco loves the Hippodrome and such a historic site."
Today, Konzelman explained the Hippodrome isn't just surviving. It's beginning to thrive.
"We're basically going to be having concerts almost every week and the rest of the year we're pretty much almost booked out all the way through December."
He said they're slowly getting back to opening all the movie theaters, and they're starting to show old, vintage, and new release films.
"And then just recently, the restaurant side of it was offered publicly," he said. "And so we've got a lot of interested parties looking in, at coming in and releasing the restaurants. Even opening it up, new restaurants, new rooftop bar, all of that."
Konzelman explained the feeling at the Hippodrome today, is like being at the precipice of a hill, just now starting to roll downhill, gaining momentum.
Perhaps as astonishing, if not more than the comeback itself, is this diversity and range of the projects Deep in the Heart is presenting.
"We received submissions from all over the world, and we get to be very picky with those selections," Thomas explained. We choose the ones that we like best, the ones that we that either speak to us or feel like speaks to our community."
The festival schedule gives you a glimpse of the entrance, and the festival film guide opens the door. The steps that follow give you a look down a rabbit hole, unique only to Central Texas, where you get a broad look at the vast array of stories presented in the form of feature films, documentaries, and what seems like a never-ending collection of short movies. Thomas and Hunter explained this year's Deep in the Heart will present 150 plus selections, representing 17 countries around the world.
"So this year particular, we have a block all about kind of sci-fi kind of alternate reality films. So that's in one block. We always have a great selection of films about relationships. So that's another block. This year we have a block about just living in the workspace and how sometimes it's funny to be at work, sometimes it's not."
The trailers and marked descriptions of each project highlight a feeling of originality which the gambit from stories on the blunt truth of the human experience to others taking us to foreign world's we'd only find in our imaginations. You can view the schedule of films and watch trailers for projects being showing at this link.
It's not just the revenue or films Deep in the Heart provides to the community. The educational impact and opportunity to connect with industry professionals in person is hard to put a price on.
"And I mean, one of the great things about having an in-person festival is that you do get to not only experience a film in a theater, which is wonderful, but you also get to experience it with a community where you're getting those laughs together, you're feeling those emotions together. And then at the end of it, you get to talk to the filmmaker."
Award-winning filmmaker and Baylor Professor Chris Hansen, is one of those filmmakers we were able to catch up with ahead of the festival. Hansen, writer and director of 7 Short Films About (Our) Marriage, saw his film take home the audience award last year when there was a lot of question about the future of the indie filmmaking scene.
"I'm happy that festivals did pivot and did the virtual screenings. But it's a rough thing for a filmmaker on the festival circuit," Hansen explained when asked about how the industry has changed from last year. And the impact the pandemic had during a time he was debuting his award-winning film.
"We basically had two in-person screenings one of which I was able to attend and then the world shut down, And so, yeah it was kind of devastating to think this film I literally just launched is going to die on the vine."
Earlier this month, The Nacelle Company announced they'd acquired Hansen's 7 Short Films About (Our Marriage). The award-winning film will release through their hybrid distribution system on cable and streaming platforms on July 27, 2021. For Hansen, the return of the in-person movie-going person and recovery of Deep in the Heart is a refreshing moment, especially for the growing filmmaking community in Waco.
"I've been making films in Waco for 16 to 17 years," Hansen said. "Making films the first few times you're having to educate people. Now, people are kind of familiar with it."
Hansen said the remarkable aspect of filming in Waco is how excited the community is to be a part of the projects taking shape.
"Whereas they're not, you know, in L.A., where the locations and people are pretty jaded by that. And here people are ready to open their door and have you be a part of their experience."
Today, Hansen explained it's apparent the pandemic has forced the film industry to evolve, impacting not only how we watch movies but the stories we see being crafted.
"If you look at a film that came out that was made before the pandemic but came out after the pandemic like Quiet Place II. Which is about a worldwide catastrophe. You look at that film differently because of what you've been through." So huge cultural events influence storytellers, and it absolutely will influence whether people realize they're doing it not."
How the industry will change in the next few years, specifically here in Waco, Hansen said to expect growth. In large part, thanks to supporting from the community.
"I think Waco has really shown the Deep in the Heart Film Festival great support," he explained. "And I think that community support is what makes filmmakers want to be a part of it."
Aside from festival organizers providing multiple avenues to see the festival, in-person and online, VIP passes are also available. Those provide in-person and online access to the entire lineup of unique films, plus access to the festival's educational panels. Both of the panels will provide an opportunity to go behind the scenes of the industry and learn from top professions.
"I mean, these are skills that are useful in general. And often, life is just how do you tell your story and get that out to the community?" Hunter explained. "So for filmmakers, so many of us are really good at writing a script, filming it, putting it together. But there is a challenge to get to that next step of how to get other people engaged and involved in your story. So that's something that we're going to explore here."
You can find more information on the lineup for the 2021 Deep in the Heart Film Festival. There, you can also find information on the panels and parties are available to attend and purchase tickets by visiting this link.