I’ll Have What She’s Having:
The Women of Tallgrass Film Festival
Words – Sheila Krehbiel
Photos – Jacque Waite
Watch it, Wichita: The 10th Annual Tallgrass Film Festival (TFF) is gearing up for its curtain-up Oct. 18–21. Among the more than 120 films from around the world being showcased are several cinematic jewels written, produced and directed by women — all stubbornly independent. And the wonderful, also stubbornly independent women of Tallgrass are hoofing it behind the scenes to ensure a most memorable audience experience. These are the characters who make sure that the show goes on, and they deserve our applause. Break a leg, ladies.
Lela Meadow-Conner — Executive Director
Day job: Full-time staff member.
TFF involved for: Ten years, ever since founder Timothy Gruver called and asked me to come to Wichita to produce the city’s first-ever film festival.
Most important job duty: Assembling an amazing team of people to put on the festival — staff, board members, volunteers and sponsors.
Memorable moment: When visiting filmmakers tell us how much they’ve enjoyed the festival and their time in Wichita. It’s cool that Tallgrass can change people’s perceptions of what they thought Wichita was all about.
Most looking forward to: Celebrating founder Timothy Gruver’s vision and foresight.
All-time favorite movie: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
“Stubbornly independent”: To me, it’s all about individuality — taking risks, celebrating uniqueness and following the old adage, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Jessy Clonts — Marketing/Press Director
Day job: Producer/Director at FOX Kansas/myTVWichita.
TFF involved for: This is my first year! I started with Tallgrass in January.
Most important job duty: Being especially attuned to timing. Our plan has been to promote the festival and its events and films about 4–6 weeks out, but the Tallgrass Film Association (TFA) also puts on year-round events, which have their own promotion plans.
Memorable moment: Seeing the turnout of filmmakers at our first-ever 24-hour film race in August. The final total, after walk-in registrations, was 34 teams. And we had 500+ people show up at the Top 10 screening two days later.
Most looking forward to: We’ve made a couple of programming changes this year that really play up our stubbornly independent roots, so I’m looking forward to seeing the spotlight put on these lower budget labors of love that these indie filmmakers work so hard to produce. And of course, the galas!
All-time favorite movie: “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” — the original 1971 version.
“Stubbornly independent”: Having the character and gumption to stand behind what you believe in, whether the consequences are great or, especially, terrible. This applies to any facet of life, in work, love or art.
Gretchen Mitchell — Director of Programming
Day job: Technical writer/Marketing coordinator at Professional Engineering Consultants, P.A.
TFF involved for: Eight years.
Most important job duty: Organizing film submissions and coordinating the programming committee. The prescreening and programming committees are made up of about 40 Wichitans of different ages and backgrounds but with a common interest in film. They review the nearly 700 films submitted to the festival to narrow down which films will show in the fest.
Memorable moment: My first year with Tallgrass, I helped with hospitality and drove the filmmakers around Wichita. The filmmakers were all piled in my car and I was taking them to their next event. They had such a fun time talking about their swag bags and one item in particular, the turtle logs (chocolate-covered pretzel sticks). I remember laughing so hard, I was crying.
Most looking forward to: The U.S. premiere of “Pablo” and a really great year for domestic narratives and Kansas filmmakers.
All-time favorite movie: For past festival movies, “Mommy Is at the Hairdresser’s” (“Maman est chez le coiffeur”) and “Edge of Heaven.” For non-festival films, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“Stubbornly independent”: Succeeding against the odds. Like the Kansas motto: To the stars through difficulty.
Shan Jabara — Director of Acquisitions
Day job: Study abroad and programming adviser at the Office of International Education at Wichita State University.
TFF involved for: All X years!
Most important job duty: Researching titles, watching and reviewing films and helping decide which films should be invited. I’m fondly known as “the closer” since I will fight — I mean negotiate — with distributors for the films that we want, which have been acquired by companies. I coordinate the programming and prescreening committee’s efforts to get community partners involved with the festival, especially for our documentaries, and schedule each film’s introductions and Q & As.
Memorable moment: When we gave our Ad Astra Award posthumously to our founder and my close friend, Timothy Gruver, just a few months after his sudden death and just a few months before our third annual film festival in 2005. I didn’t know how the Board and the then-tiny staff could go on without Tim, but when we pulled off an abbreviated version of the festival that year — called Shortgrass — we knew we had it in us to continue.
Most looking forward to: Hosting our first-ever Jake Euker Stubbornly Independent film competition for American narrative films that have no current distribution and were made for under $750,000.
All-time favorite movie: The best movie I’ve seen in the past five years was directed by a painter: “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”
“Stubbornly independent”: In filmmaking and other endeavors, it means coming up with creative solutions and being resourceful with the few resources you have and most of all, it’s being authentic.
Francine Fairweather — Box Office Director
Day job: Operations supervisor at AirTran.
TFF involved for: Eight years.
Most important job duty: In planning the festival — the ticketing. I ensure that everything goes smoothly with the pricing and different levels of entry.
Memorable moment: Seeing the joy on everyone’s face and the satisfaction of knowing that we did it again — we brought something to Wichita that makes a difference.
Most looking forward to: The diversity and growth, and being able to look back and compare how far we have come and how much our attendance has grown.
All-time favorite movie: “The Color Purple.”
“Stubbornly independent”: We value what independent films are all about and how great they are. There is no need for billions of dollars to create a film that is fantastic, heartfelt, breathtaking and downright good, and we will not divert from it.
Anne Bowman — Director of Food and Beverage
Day job: Title Analyst/Accounting at Berexco.
TFF involved for: About one year.
Most important job duty: Knowing what’s coming/how many are needed/which venue is expecting it and getting it all there on time.
Memorable moment: The camaraderie and friendships I’ve made.
Most looking forward to: Working with old friends and making new ones.
All-time favorite movie: I’m eclectic; hence, it changes with my mood.
Arietta Austin — Hospitality Director
Day job: Administrative assistant/event coordinator at Twotrees Technologies.
TFF involved for: Nine years.
Most important job duty: Finding reasonable airfare and keeping track of each person’s itinerary for the entire festival.
Memorable moment: Watching Gary Busey remove a sword from the wall of Sumo Japanese Grill and swing it around like a crazed warrior!
Most looking forward to: Seeing alumni filmmakers once again.
All-time favorite movie: “Clara’s Heart.”
“Stubbornly independent”: Never compromising your ambitions or beliefs.
Danielle Werner — VIP Lounge Concierge
Day job: Patient relations admin at Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine at Cypress.
TFF involved for: Three years.
Most important job duty: I strive to create an oasis of exclusiveness that mimics the uniqueness that the TFF brings to Wichita. Establishing relationships with local restaurants, businesses and artists to bring the best of Wichita to our most valued guests is the greatest feature to coordinating the VIP space.
Memorable moment: Having a conversation with the entire cast of the Muppets (thanks to the puppeteer who attended last year) was probably the most entertaining! I couldn’t help but think, “My 5-year-old daughter is never going to believe this.”
Most looking forward to: Joining my colleagues in creating a festival to remember. I want our VIPs to leave the weekend saying, “Best VIP lounge experience yet!”
All-time favorite movie: It’s a toss-up between “Requiem for a Dream,” “Dazed and Confused” and “House of Yes.”
“Stubbornly independent”: Embracing my personal uniqueness and sharing the individuality of this cinematic experience with others is a stubbornly independent opportunity.
Gay Quisenberry — Volunteer Director
Day job: SE Area Service at Sedgwick County Dept. on Aging; local marketing and events at Outside a Dog.
TFF involved for: Seven years.
Most important job duty: Reaching out to potential volunteers and getting them on board. As with most nonprofit arts organizations, we could not exist without our volunteers! They make the festival happen.
Memorable moment: We showed a controversial film about a transgendered pastor. The subject of the film came to the festival and many people had the opportunity to ask questions and get involved in the discussion. Not sure if anyone’s opinions changed, but getting to see a film they may not have heard about any other way than through Tallgrass and having access to the people involved — that’s what it’s all about.
Most looking forward to: More great films, getting to see old volunteers, introducing the festival to new volunteers and having time to reflect on all the different types of movies that we have brought in, all the people who have worked so hard to make it happen, and all the people who have been impacted.
All-time favorite movie: “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“Stubbornly independent”: There absolutely needs to be an avenue to express thoughts and ideas that doesn’t go to the highest bidder!