Cultural firsts in Indiana have a knack for cropping up often and quietly. Such is the uniting topic for several new films, which feature famous Hoosiers or famous people from elsewhere who were influenced by the state.
The Heartland International Film Festival is showing a bunch of these — stories about the first Black woman to play in the USGA Women’s Amateur Championship, which took place in Indianapolis, and about the first Black player drafted by the NFL, who played at Indiana University. The festival also highlights major icons in a new light, like baseball great Carl Erskine's off-the-field accomplishments.
Of course, one of the festival's crown jewels this year is a screening of "The Whale," an early Oscar favorite that stars native Hoosier Brendan Fraser.
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Here are seven films with big Indiana connections that you can see this month. Visit heartlandfilm.org/festival to buy tickets.
'Louis Armstrong's Black and Blues'
Richmond has the coveted distinction of being the first place to record horn titan Louis Armstrong. It happened at the Gennett Records studio, where he performed with King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. As the stories go, the engineer in April 1923 placed Armstrong — the man who would become known for his pioneering jazz solos — farther behind his bandmates to balance his powerful sound.
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Director and producer Sacha Jenkins put together archival footage, home recordings and personal conversations to show complexities and angles of Armstrong that aren't as well known.
"I know the music, but the person you hear on the tapes is not what I expected, and I think that in and of itself is the attraction," Jenkins told Geeks of Color in an interview.
The documentary shows the musician's life across New Orleans, Chicago and other locales as the country changed and moved toward the Civil Rights Movement. The Heartland viewing comes before the documentary's Oct. 28 release on Apple TV+.
When to see it: 7 p.m. Thursday at The Toby Theater at Newfields
In 1956, Meridian Hills Country Club was the site of a milestone in golf history. There, Ann Gregory became the first Black woman to play in the USGA Women’s Amateur Championship. At the time, she was living in Gary — home of the South Gleason Golf Club that hadn't been integrated but where Gregory simply payed and played anyway, her daughter JoAnn Gregory Overstreet told IndyStar's Dana Hunsinger Benbow.
"Playing Through" is a fictional account inspired by Gregory's story, including her difficult childhood after her parents' deaths. Her marriage and subsequent introduction to golf offers Gregory the chance to enjoy her newfound talent.
In the movie, Gregory's life runs parallel to opponent Babs Whatling, a white woman from an old New England family who finds independence in the game in the midst of her challenging marriage. As time goes on, the two leave an indelible imprint on each other.
When to see it: The film will be shown at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Kan Kan Cinema, 2:30 p.m. Oct 14 at Living Room Theaters and 5 p.m. Oct 15 at Glendale Landmark Theater 10. Online streaming via heartlandfilm.org through Oct. 16.
'The Best We've Got: The Carl Erskine Story'
Carl Erskine left his birthplace of Anderson, Indiana, to live out the boyhood dream of many as a pitcher for the Brooklyn, and eventually Los Angeles, Dodgers. He pitched two no-hitters and won the 1955 World Series before returning home to Anderson 11 years later.
But local filmmaker Ted Green’s documentary, "The Best We've Got: The Carl Erskine Story," aims to shed light on Erskine’s even more impressive off-the-field accomplishments.
"Carl Erskine has helped to affect such massive change through humility, through grace, through human leadership," Green told IndyStar’s Dana Hunsinger Benbow ahead of the film’s August premier in Anderson. "He has spent his lifetime propping up others. It's time to put a spotlight on him."
Erskine, now 95, long stood against segregation, first as a child in Anderson then a little more famously as a teammate of Jackie Robinson. He then served as an advocate for the Special Olympics in Indiana and beyond.
And yes, he was a pretty good baseball player, too. The film covers all of it.
Bonus Indiana trivia: The film’s title was inspired by former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who called Erskine “the best we’ve got” when presenting him with the Sachem Award, state’s top honor, in 2010.
When to see it: The film is available online through Oct. 16. It will screen 3 p.m. Saturday at The Toby Theater in Newfields, 7 p.m. Monday at Living Room Theaters and 7:15 p.m. Oct. 15 at Glendale Landmark Theater 10.
'AAAMC Speaks, Teresa Hairston: The Unstoppable Game-Changer'
Major parts of gospel music history reside at Indiana University's Archives of African American Music and Culture. They're part of the Teresa Hairston Collection, so named for the pioneering publisher of Gospel Today and Gospel Industry Today.
The two landmark publications highlighted artists and behind-the-scenes church lifestyle stories. Hairston also created and hosted the Gospel Today TV show and founded the Gospel Heritage Foundation.
"If you think about what she did for the industry and how she raised the image in so many different innovative platforms that didn't even exist within the gospel music arena, that's somebody that's moving with purpose," Tyron Cooper, director of the Archives of African American Music and Culture, said in the documentary about her.
Hairston's connection to Indiana University goes even deeper. While working on her master's degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, she drove more than four hours to the university to prepare her thesis on gospel music's historical and musical trends. She found some materials that helped her but not a lot.
"It was more the absence of materials that related to gospel music and its history that really spurred me to do 'Gospel Today' and all the things that I did in gospel music because I loved it," Hairston said in the documentary. "But I wanted to see scholarly works and just even things for the general public done."
"The Unstoppable Game-Changer" chronicles Hairston's journey in media and how she made a difference in the lives of artists and the church community.
'The B1G Story: George Taliaferro'
George Taliaferro was the first Black player drafted in the NFL, he played seven positions, and he helped integrate Indiana University and Bloomington. Even still, his name and achievements haven't reached household recognition status like other barrier breakers Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens.
"The thing that always blew my mind is why isn’t there more, why don’t people know about George and his life,” Kevin Weaver, co-executive creative director of Blueline Productions, told IndyStar in 2021.
"The B1G Story" wants to change that, especially by telling people details they might not know about Taliaferro's life through archived footage of him as well as interviews with his children. He was the son of a steel worker in Gary and attended IU in the 1940s, where he was part of 1945's undefeated football team.
Even still, Black students weren't allowed to live in the dorms or eat in Bloomington restaurants. One story in the film chronicles how Taliaferro told IU President Herman B Wells how he was forced to eat at home. Wells called what was then the Gables to let them know they were coming — to the restaurant's initial resistance.
Taliaferro was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 1949 draft.
'More Than Corn'
As its name suggests, this documentary looks beyond Indiana’s favorite crop as it delves into the local food economy through the eyes of Genesis McKiernan-Allen and Eli Robb, the husband-and-wife team behind Full Hand Farm in Noblesville.
Director Rocky Walls and his team at 12 Stars Media, also based in Noblesville, began work on the film in 2013. It follows McKiernan-Allen, Robb, their young children and their small but mighty team as they work through the unique 2021 growing season. Minute detail is observed as the family grows, harvests and delivers salad greens and other vegetables to the Broad Ripple Farmers Market and Indianapolis-area restaurants at the tail-end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The film also discusses greater questions surrounding climate change and Indiana’s environment, probing the role of a small-scale farm in the sustainability of the world around it.
You won’t find a film at Heartland (or anywhere) with more local ties. These are Hoosiers filmed by Hoosiers in Indiana.
When to see it: “More Than Corn” is available online through Oct. 16. It will screen in person at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the The Toby Theater in Newfields and 3:15 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Glendale Landmark Theater 12.
Sure, Brendan Fraser lived in Indianapolis only briefly after his birth. But that makes him a Hoosier, and Hoosiers hold on to their own.
And this Hoosier happens to be an early favorite to win an Oscar, as is the film he anchors. Darren Aronofsky's “The Whale” swims to Indiana as the darling of larger international film festivals in Venice, Toronto and so on.
It centers around Charlie (Fraser), a 600-pound man whose life has spiraled downward following the death of his partner. As his health deteriorates, he seeks to mend bridges with his daughter, played by “Stranger Things” star Sadie Sink.
Fraser is no stranger to Heartland. In 2019, he attended the festival’s special 20th anniversary screening of “The Mummy.”
When to see it: “The Whale” will close out Heartland’s 31st film festival: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at The Toby Theater in Newfields.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: 'The Whale' and more: Heartland Film Festival movies with Hoosier ties