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Indie Grits Festival reimagines the way we look at the South

 By Hunter Heilman

April 7, 2018

The Carolinas might not be home to the biggest film festivals in the world, but we are home to some of the most unique ones. The difference being that rather than shooting for prestige and notoriety, these Southern bred festivals elicit a much more down-home vibe that gives the festivals a far more authentic feel than that of the glitz of Cannes and Sundance. The Indie Grits Festival, based in Columbia, South Carolina, is the complete antithesis to the mainstream idea of what a film festival should be. It’s laid back, effortlessly cool and entirely new, and entering its 12th year, Indie Grits still has major cards up its sleeve.

Opening Party 2017. Photo: Jonathan Sharpe

One could simply describe Indie Grits as a film festival, but that would be vastly misrepresenting the wide array of art that Indie Grits showcases in its four-day festival. Not only does the festival showcase film, but also music, visual art, performance and interactive media in a way that you just don’t get in many festivals, let alone one in the South, and Indie Grits knows it.

“The grits are like a double entendre, with grits the food being such a Southern thing,” Festival Director Seth Gadsden says, “but we’re also gritty in nature, which is something that also identifies Southerners, but also identifies the art, music, and performance that we’re looking for: stuff with grit that’s unapologetic.”

The Indie Grits Festival runs April 12-15 in Columbia, South Carolina.

Here are just a few of the unique things you can do at the festival:

Photo: Sean Rayford

Indie Bits

The interactive media branch of Indie Grits, the Indie Bits portion of the festival champions and showcases the best that indie gaming of all types have to offer. Indie Bits not only showcases video games but starting this year, also includes that of tabletop board games as well. With locally sourced side scroller games like Bugs ‘N Boo Hags, peaceful meditative explorations like Infinite Horizon, and rhythm-based strategy games like Harmony & Dissonance just being the small sampling of the gaming selection, Indie Bits brings forth gaming like none other.

Music

Indie Grits celebrates local and regional music of several genres during the festival. Situated across three venues over three nights with over 30 artists performing in countless styles, Indie Grits has something for everyone. On Thursday night, the festival starts with the Love, Grits & Hip Hop segment, featuring a headlining performance from Charlotte native Deniro Farrar.

Other regional bands performing at the festival include Zack Mexico, a classically pure punk group based out of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Described as “more stoned than wired,” the sound of which provides a surprisingly laid back freneticism that simply has to be heard to be understood.

Other performances include 2 Slices, an eclectic blend of psychedelic rock and modern pop music with a funky edge. Also performing is ET Anderson, a Columbia-based indie rock group that’s one part Weezer, one part Radiohead, and all parts uniquely its own thing. A special addition to Indie Grits is Carrboro-based Spider Bags, a refreshingly odd, yet hypnotic rock ‘n’ roll band, bring their psychedelic, campy, macabre, yet oddly charming vibes.

Films

For all that Indie Grits does, its films are its bread and butter, the driving creative force behind the festival, and this year’s lineup greatly delivers. With 53% of its films being directed by women and 10% by Latinx filmmakers, this festival is one of inclusion and daring filmmaking style. This year, Indie Grits has chosen 15 Features, 16 Narrative Shorts, 21 Documentary Shorts, 5 Animated Shorts, 12 Experimental Shorts, 8 Student Shorts and 8 Music Videos to screen across four days. Here are just a few that we’re excited about:

The Gospel of Eureka

In the town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, there is an unlikely drag scene that doesn’t seem to fit into the primarily Evangelical Christian surroundings of the community. Known for its popular passion play, the town is also complemented with a gospel-themed drag show that places much of the community at odds. In this dreamy, southern fable documentary, directors Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher explore the complexities of radical queerness through the gaze of conservative evangelicalism and vice versa, and the unlikely ways it can overlap.

America is Waiting

On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017, tensions ran high across the country, but none higher than in Washington D.C. Unfolding in reverse chronology starting from the end of inauguration day to the morning of, this documentary feature explores the various vignettes of Americans in D.C. on the day, and the futures that they feel a Trump presidency holds for the country and the people in it.

Witch

Not to be confused with the similarly titled A24 horror film from two years prior, this Southern charmed fantasy explores the power of your inner child. Focusing on a little girl, Aima, and her adult nanny, begins to experience strange sensations when the wildly imaginative fantasy they find themselves acting out becomes more real as the film progresses. Witch looks eclectic and resonant to the modern 20-something experience in all the most unique ways.

Man on Fire

In East Texas, it’s not out of the ordinary for rural towns such as Grand Saline to be nearly, if not completely, all white. In towns such as this, issues relating to the current proliferation of racism in America often go under the radar and unchecked, until the day elderly preacher Charles Moore killed himself. After driving himself to a shopping center in the town, he doused himself in gasoline and lit himself ablaze to bring attention to the rampant racism present in Grand Saline. Joel Fendelman’s documentary feature on the event looks at the events leading up to the event, and the effect it left on this small town of just over 3,000.

Short Film Blocks

Most of the films screening at Indie Grits are short films, as opposed to the more “traditional” feature films championed at other film festivals. Gadsden described the festival’s proclivity for short form film, “You really want to be able to tell the widest range of stories possible,” he continued, “Anyone can make a short film, you can make a short film with construction paper and a phone. With short films come this total range of filmmaking experiences that’s hard to find in feature filmmaking.”

Courtesy of Indie Grits

Blocked by tone, more than format, Indie Grits’ lineup of short films range from blocks on politics, global identities, religion, vulnerable subjects, distinctly Southern stories, among many unique others. All feature films will also have short films playing before them throughout the festival outside of blocks.

When discussing what he hopes for those who attend Indie Grits, Gadsden ended saying, “If you give Indie Grits your full attention for four days, there is no way you’re walking away from the festival seeing the world the same way as when you went in. It’s impossible,” and frankly, if that idea alone doesn’t sell you on the Indie Grits Festival, I’m not sure what would.

Check out more on Indie Grits Festival April 12-15 in Columbia, SC.

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