Free State Festival returns this week with candy pairings, standup comedy, a squirrel hunting movie and more

photo by: Contributed

left to right, a movie poster for "Another Body," a screenshot from the film "Chasing Chasing Amy," Comedian Jana Schmieding, A screenshot from the film "Blood of a Poet, director Kevin Wilmott, a screenshot from the film "The Underneath: Children of the Sun," musician Makaya McCraven, a poster for the film "Community Squirrel Hunt, and a poster for the film "Bring Them Home."

If you ask Marlo Angell, the director of Lawrence’s Free State Festival, what it takes to get viewers off of their couch and into a movie theater, the answer is simple: community experiences you can’t get at home.

And this coming week’s festival has plenty of unique experiences — both on the screen, like a feature about hunting squirrels, and off the screen, like movie and candy pairings, live performance art alongside a film and panel discussions with filmmakers.

“We are trying something new to get audiences back to the cinema,” Angell said of this year’s approach to the festival, which begins Tuesday and runs through June 30. “I think post-pandemic, audience film-going has changed, and people need more motivation to get out to the theater to experience films with their neighbors and friends.”

That’s where the candy might come in handy. On Thursday night, Liberty Hall will be screening six short films starting at 8 p.m., each accompanied by a candy from the Squishington’s candy shop next door that complements the film’s story.

The event’s title? “Short and Sweet,” of course.

Another film listed on the schedule — “Blood of a Poet,” at 6 p.m. June 29 at the Lawrence Arts Center — was actually made in 1930 by Jean Cocteau. But don’t think you’ll just be watching the avant-garde film on the screen. Instead, Angell said, this is a performance piece. The film itself will be projected at different times across six different screens, all while a live performance involving multiple artforms, including dance, music and sculpture, is taking place.

Not all of the films in the lineup have such creative accompaniments. But just like in past years, the festival’s films are quite diverse — some very local, others more widely seen, and many tackling issues of broad societal importance.

The latter is the case for “Another Body,” a documentary that’s gotten wide recognition, including at South by Southwest, about a college student who discovers deep-fake pornography of herself online. Angell said the film tells how the woman found out who made the pornographic video — and eventually learned that there would be no punishment for the perpetrator, who had done this with many other women’s likenesses as well. “Another Body” screens at 5 p.m. June 27 at Liberty Hall.

The next day, June 28, look for two Native American-related films at the Lawrence Arts Center. First is “The Daughter of Dawn Remix” at 5 p.m. It takes an obscure silent film from the 1920s whose cast consists entirely of members of the Comanche and Kiowa tribes, and adds “original footage with new imagery and soundscapes to invite viewers to experience the work through a modern lens,” according to the festival website. Then, at 7 p.m., is “Bring Them Home,” which documents efforts by the Blackfoot tribe to return bison to their native lands. Before “Bring Them Home,” there will be food samples by Jason The Native Chef.

There’s a film from Oscar-winning filmmaker Kevin Willmott in the mix, too — “The Heroic True-life Adventures of Alvin Brooks,” about one of Kansas City’s first Black police officers and the city’s first Black department director. It’s screening at 6 p.m. June 30 at the Lawrence Arts Center.

And if science fiction is more your taste, there’s “The Underneath: Children of the Sun” at 2 p.m. June 29 at the Lawrence Arts Center, in which a slave in 1850s Missouri goes on a “journey of galactic politics, heritage, and destiny” after helping an alien from a crashed spaceship, according to the festival’s website.

The premise of this “time and dimension spanning Afrofuturist epic” sounds eclectic, but it isn’t the film that Angell called “maybe the most unique film in the program.”

That would be “Community Squirrel Hunt.”

It screens at 4 p.m. June 30 at the Lawrence Arts Center, and it’s about an annual squirrel hunt in Kansas and its “history, charm and uncomfortable truth.” So uncomfortable, in fact, that the festival has a content warning on its website about “Depictions of animal hunting.”

“I shy away from putting trigger warnings on films because I don’t want to marginalize them, but I felt this one needed a warning that it might offend sensitive souls to the (killing of) innocent squirrels,” Angell said.

Live music and other performances are also part of the festival, including the kickoff event on Tuesday night — a stand-up performance from Lakota writer and actor Jana Schmieding, who has appeared in “Reservation Dogs” and “Rutherford Falls.” When the audience walks into the Lawrence Arts Center for Schmieding’s performance at 7 p.m., Angell said, they’ll be asked to write a letter or a question to Schmieding — she’ll read and answer letters during the show in a bit called “Letters to Auntie.”

“We love to start off with live comedy because some of the issues that we tackle in the films are somewhat serious and socially engaged, so we love to kick off with some levity,” Angell said.

There will also be two panels discussing the music industry in and around Lawrence in addition to the festival’s live musical events. That ties into one of the other big themes of the festival — interaction and collaboration.

Part of that is from the discussions and Q&As with filmmakers, which are listed with the films on the festival’s website, freestatefestival.org. But it’s also about connecting local filmmakers with the larger independent film circuit.

Angell said that was what happened years ago for one of the directors featured in this year’s festival, Sav Rodgers. Over a decade ago, Angell said, Rodgers was attending the festival as a student at KU. It gave him the chance to engage with visiting filmmakers, and now he’s coming back to inspire local audiences with a film of his own — “Chasing Chasing Amy,” screening 8 p.m. June 29 at the Lawrence Arts Center, which examines the impact of Kevin’s Smith’s 1997 movie “Chasing Amy” on the LGBTQ+ community.

“A heroic return for him to go off and do this incredible film and then bring it back to Lawrence for a homecoming,” Angell said.

For a full schedule of events and ticket prices, visit freestatefestival.org.

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