Four-day ‘Deep in the Heart’ Film Festival returns to Waco for second year

Photo Courtesy of Louis Hunter

By JP Graham | Reporter

The name “Deep in the Heart Film Festival” alludes to two truthful concepts: it is located deep in the heart of Texas on Austin Avenue in downtown Waco, and the featured films during the four-day event are selected to be meaningful to their audiences, striking emotion “deep in the heart.”

The film festival begins March 22 and runs through March 25 and will screen more than 100 short and feature films at two locations, the Waco Hippodrome and Cultivate 7twelve.

Founded last year by co-directors Samuel Thomas and Louis Hunter, the festival is becoming a tradition in Waco’s growing art scene. Having both graduated in 2001 from the University of North Texas, Thomas and Hunter came up with the idea after making short films and traveling the country’s film festival circuit. They visited festivals in California and New York but were particularly drawn to smaller festivals like those in Oklahoma and Massachusetts.

Thomas and Hunter decided they wanted to host a film festival similar to these smaller festivals, which seemed to garner genuine support from the local community. Hunter said word-of-mouth for smaller festivals is what drives attendance, and he felt Waco provided the opportunities they were looking for to get a festival up and running.

“We went to [smaller festivals] and saw how they drew a community together … and we saw that it was a very fun event that was tapping into the arts of the area,” Hunter said. “We decided, ‘You know what, if we’ve been to these festivals, we can try to emulate what they do and bring them [to Waco].’”

A snapshot from one of last year's featured films at the Deep in the Heart Film Festival, "Amanda & Jack go Glamping," directed by Baylor graduate Brandon Dickerson. Photo Courtesy of Loius Hunter

Five feature films will be displayed throughout the weekend, one of which is “Amanda and Jack Go Glamping.” Amanda and Jack are a struggling married couple that hope “Glamping” or “glamour camping” will help them rekindle their relationship. It will be available for viewing 8 p.m. Friday at the Waco Hippodrome.

Another feature film scheduled to show is “An American in Texas,” the story of punk rockers in Texas in 1990 who hope music is their ticket out of the looming expectation of find a dead-end job. The film is rated R, and will be displayed at 6:30 p.m. Saturday evening at the Waco Hippodrome.

The Hippodrome will be used for feature films and other selections for the general audience, while shorts that are R-rated will be shown at Cultivate 7twelve. The films that the crowd enjoys the most will return for an “encore” showing at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon. There are also three panel discussions and workshops throughout the weekend and an afterparty at the end of each day of film.

Maverick Moore, professor of film and digital media at Baylor University and programmer for the Deep in the Heart Film Festival, said Waco’s location was one of the factors they considered in bringing a film festival to town.

“Not only are there some undiscovered talents locally, but it’s just a great hub that people might not expect for film, given that it’s smack in the center of Dallas and Austin,” Moore said. “We thought, ‘Hey, with downtown Waco growing, why not throw in a film festival; Great time, great place.”

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"Kill Off," directed by Genevieve Clay-Smith, was featured in last year's Deep in the Heart Film Festival. Photo Courtesy of Louis Hunter

Over 1,000 people attended The Deep in the Heart Film Festival last year. The nonprofit received over 400 submissions this year. Hunter, Thomas and Moore watched each of the submitted films, as did a pool of 20 judges who were both affiliated and unaffiliated with the film industry.

After deciding which movies would be the most impactful to their viewers, Hunter, Thomas and Moore looked for overlapping themes, ultimately deciding to group the films in 16 short-film categories and five feature film categories.

Moore said the purpose of selecting films this way is to provide a wide variety of interesting genres for the audience.

“We like to screen films of all kinds so that there is something for everyone,” Moore said. “That’s really our goal, to get something that moves you to laugh, or to feel deeper emotions or to be thrilled. We like to have something for everyone. We just want it to be a good time at the movies.”

Hunter said the festival attracts films from across the world and gives local aspiring filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their work.

“Independent film is how the next generation of filmmakers get their name made,” Hunter said. “We’re just hoping to find the next group of filmmakers, and be like, ‘Yeah, we played them when they were just starting out.’”

As a professor at Baylor, Moore said he sees the festival as a recruitment tool for Baylor and the city of Waco.

“It attracts other filmmakers to Waco,” Moore said. “It gives more evidence that we know what we’re talking about when it comes to film — that Waco knows what’s up.”

The first series of short films began Thursday at the Waco Hippodrome, and is dedicated to the theme “Art Meets World.” Tickets can be bought online or in-person at the Waco Hippodrome at 724 Austin Ave. Tickets are available by individual screening, a package of six or all-access VIP passes.

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"Monster In A House," directed by Christiano Dias, was featured in last year's Deep in the Heart Film Festival lineup. Photo Courtesy of Louis Hunter