TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
They may not have won the major awards, but the producers of the movie “23 Blast” did pick up one nugget in Indianapolis this past weekend.
That nugget was the Audience Choice Award for Narrative Feature.
The movie — filmed in Corbin during March and April of 2012 — was in competition along with 134 other independent films from 76 countries during the 22nd annual Heartland Film Festival.
The festival began Oct. 17 and wrapped up on Monday. The awards ceremony was held last Saturday, Oct. 26 at the Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis.
Producer Gary Donatelli said Tuesday he and the crew were “just totally blown away by the honor” given to them by the film festival’s audiences.
“The people really responded. They took out slips of paper and on a scale of one to five would rate our film. We won. It was just really great. People were really responding to the message of Travis after the third showing,” Donatelli said in during phone interview in Lexington, after leaving Indianapolis earlier this week.
“23 Blast” was loosely based on the true story of Travis Freeman, a Corbin resident who played football growing up until he was stricken with an severe sinus infection which resulted from bacterial meningitis.
The ailment destroyed his optic nerve and left him blind. He had to decide whether to live a safe life at home, or return to his former life and his love of football.
Freeman persevered through the perils, and returned to compete on the gridiron, coming back to the front line as a starter for Corbin High School from 1996 to 1999.
Donatelli pointed out a lot of people in Indy responded to Freeman, by both watching the movie and meeting him afterwards.
“The festival goers got to not only meet and watch Travis, they also got to meet his mom and dad, Mary and Larry. We also had some of the other people in the movie there like Dylan (Director Dylan Baker), Bram, Toni and Vin Hoover, and Mark Hapka, who played Travis in the movie. The combination of all of those involved in the film, and the Freemans being there as well, made a powerful statement up in Indianapolis. It showed the distributors that it wasn’t just the critics, but the audiences, that really supported the movie,” he said.
Like many filmmakers who participated in the festival, Donatelli attended numerous screenings of “23 Blast” and other special events, which were designed to allow interaction between them and their audiences.
At the Heartland Film Festival, the Audience Choice Awards are given to four films — one Narrative Feature, one Documentary Feature, one Narrative Short and one Documentary Short.
While “23 Blast” got the Audience Choice Award this year for Narrative Feature (feature movie), “Blood Brother and “Life According to Sam” tied for the audience award for Documentary Feature. Meanwhile “The Amber Amulet” was the audience choice for Narrative Short, and “Running Blind” received it for Documentary Short.
The film also made its World Premiere at the Indy film festival, and gave its first showings before paid customers.
The first showings of “23 Blast” came on Sept. 19, during a free “Sneak Peek” at Corbin’s Tri-County Cineplex on the Cumberland Falls Highway. All eight screens of the cineplex were used to seat the people to see the feature film.
In a Times-Tribune story on Sept. 20, Ron Meadors, a neighbor of the Freeman family and who works part-time at the cineplex, said the eight theaters there seated a total of 1,477 people.
He added every seat was filled up during the movie’s free showing that evening.
Another sneak preview was held on Sept. 22 in Knoxville, Tenn.
Donatelli noted the festival was a learning experience for himself and those who worked on the movie’s production.
“It was wonderful to see other films that were shown at the festival, and to talk to other producers, directors, cast and crew from some of the movies that were in contention with us. We had some serious competition this year,” he stated.
For the record, “23 Blast” lost out to “Hide Your Smiling Faces,” which won the Grand Prize for Narrative Feature this year.
That movie also picked up $50,000 for being the grand prize winner at the Heartland Film Festival.
Other winners included “The Amber Amulet,” which got the $5,000 Grand Prize for Narrative Short; “Wrinkles of the City - La Havana,” taking the $5,000 Grand Prize for Documentary Short; and “Uprooted,” which received the $2,500 Grand Prize for High School Film.
The festival’s Rising Star Award to actress Vanessa Hudgens, for her role in the independent film “Gimme Shelter,” which had its world premiere in Indy last Thursday.
According to the nonprofit arts organization Heartland Truly Moving Pictures — which puts on the festival — the awards are given each year to a selected group of independent filmmakers for demonstrating excellence in filmmaking and for best meeting Heartland’s mission. The group said that mission is to inspire filmmakers and audiences through the transformative power of film.
Starting in 1992, the festival has expanded over time to become one of the fastest growing film festivals in the nation.
This year, there were 275 screenings of independent movies during the festival. The films were seen at three locations in Indianapolis, or what the festival called “Screening Venues.”
Festival time was not only a satisfying one for the makers of “23 Blast.” Donatelli added the days spent in Indiana’s state capital and largest city gave the Chicagoland native a chance to reconnect with his college buddies.
“I went to Indiana University and played football for two years during my time down in Bloomington. The local chapter of the Indiana University Alumni Association threw a party for all of us with the movie while were in Indy for the film festival. It was a nice touch for us,” he said.
Donatelli also mentioned he was visiting friends in the Lexington area Tuesday, before returning to his home in New Jersey. A veteran director of television daytime dramas over the years, including the soap opera “One Life To Live,” he said the stop in the Bluegrass region was to look at producing another feature film in the future.
“I’d love to come back down and do another Kentucky movie,” answered Donatelli.