Columbia’s largest celebration of film might not feel particularly celebratory this year.
Many of the best films in this year’s version of Indie Grits are serious, bordering on melancholy. Film viewers at Nickelodeon Theatre or the other venues will be doing more thinking than laughing. Not that that is a bad reaction. After all, the Grits in the name is as much a reference to gritty Southern films as to Southern food.
“Every year, it’s a little different,” said Seth Gadsden, the festival’s co-director. “It just seemed the films we thought were strongest this year were serious.”
Several documentaries deal with struggles – from dealing with a family member on death row (“The Road to Livingston”) to stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline (“Above All Else”). The fictional drama “As it is in Heaven” follows a religious sect struggling with an end-of-days prophecy that doesn’t come. Even the S.C.-based “Lighter,” which deals with a comedian and pokes fun at Southern conventions, has a dark undertone and features two suicide attempts.
Gadsden sees the overall tenor of the more than 100 film submissions – up by 30 percent over last year – as indicative of “where the mood is among people of a certain age. Most (of the movie creators) are in their 20s and 30s, and it speaks a lot to what’s happening now.”
Economic and global political uncertainties are on the minds of young adults in the South, creating a contemplative round of films. The official Indie Grits flier uses the phrase “Terror and agony and confusion and yes, occasional happiness.”
If you like films that force the brain synapses to fire, you’ll have plenty of choices at the festival from April 11-20. And you can counter the film seriousness with the growing list of fun-oriented events.
• The popular Spork in Hand Puppet Slam dominates the first weekend, adding a third show of adult-themed hilarity this year.
• Indie Bits, the celebration of gaming and interactive media, expands from a satellite event to an all-day extravaganza on Tuesday, April 15.
• And because the festival lands on a week when most of the local schools are on spring break, the Kindie Grits youth-related programs feature two Saturday workshops and a weeklong Indie Camp Remixed for a select group of high school students.
• A new addition this year is The Weekly Review, a late-night variety show hosted by actor/comedian Toby David, who started the show in Philadelphia before moving it to New Orleans. Indie Grits will mark The Weekly Review’s first time out on the road.
The Athens, Ga.-based band of Montreal will brings its mix of experimental music and pop to the Columbia Museum of Art with opening act Mood Rings. Listen to of Montreal’s latest work, “Lousy With Sylvianbriar” – or just read song titles like “Sirens of Your Toxic Spirit” or “Imbecile Rages” – and you’ll understand how they fit this year’s unintentional theme.
Gadsden sees those events as a broadening of the festival’s appeal as well as an extension of the film-related theme. Many of the puppeteers also create films, so the Puppet Slam is an extension of their work. The gaming industry and the film industry have begun to intertwine, and Indie Bits gets out in front of that.
Showcasing the synchronicity of the festival, the North Carolina bluegrass band Mipso will perform during The Weekly Review and also is the subject of a short documentary “Mipso in Japan” showing at the Tapp’s Art Center on April 19.
Pulling all of the events together is a challenge for the organizers, “but it’s really fun to do something like this with all these people,” Gadsden said. “It’s a chance for us to turn Columbia for a week into what we hope it could be all the time.”