Local filmmaker hoping for Heartland prize

INDIANAPOLIS — When Hannah West was 4 years old, she often had an idea in her mind and a camera in her hand as she set out to make movies.

By the time she was 7, the budding filmmaker was doing her best to tell real stories through video, even using a PowerPoint presentation to showcase the work, mother Shelley West said.

Now 21, she is pursuing a career in film while studying media arts and science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and one of her projects is about to gain her some wider exposure.

“Not in Vain,” a short film featuring Hoosiers discussing their relationship with opioids like heroin, is featured in the 26th Annual Heartland Film Festival from Oct. 12 through 22 in Indianapolis. West, a 2014 New Palestine High School graduate, learned her project was selected in September.

Having the documentary showcased at the filmmakers’ gathering defies her expectations, West said.

The Academy Award-qualifying festival will present $100,000 in cash prizes in several categories, including the Jimmy Stewart Legacy Award, U.S. and World Premieres, High School Film Competition, and the Indiana Spotlight Program, according to festival organizers.

West follows in the footsteps of another Hoosier filmmaker and former Greenfield resident, Zachary Shields. Shields served as cinematographer and producer for “Night School,” last year’s $45,000 grand-prize-winning documentary about three students from inner-city Indianapolis determined to graduate from high school against the odds.

Since the inaugural Festival in 1992, Heartland has grown from a four-day event with fewer than 20 films to an 11-day celebration featuring 213 independent films, more than 150 visiting filmmakers and 290 film screenings.

West’s film, a 14-minute documentary, will be part of the Indiana Spotlight showcase and will play three times during the Festival. The first showing will be at the AMC Castleton Square theater at 2:45 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, and again at 12:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 16. The film also can be seen at AMC Traders Point theater at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17.

West spent more than six months researching, shooting and editing the project. She’s still somewhat in awe that her work, on such a huge social issue, is getting such recognition.

“It would be awesome to win something, but I’m just happy the story is getting an audience, an audience I wasn’t prepared for,” she said.

Her class project called for students to make a documentary on a topic they cared about and wanted to study.

West approached a friend who lost a brother to heroin use and listened to her story. After discussing and researching the opioid crisis more, she knew she had found her topic.

“Opioid addiction is an insane problem and is truly a crisis,” West said. “It was unnervingly easy to find people affected by this.”

West is hoping her film will shed light on the fact opioids are affecting thousands of families and friends without many knowing about how dangerous the drug is.

The experience of creating an eye-opening film, one that can help people, has convinced West making poignant documentaries could be her calling.

A professor encouraged West to submit her finished class project to Heartland earlier this year. She waited for months before finding out in September the documentary had been selected to be shown at the Heartland Film Festival.

Shelley West said she isn’t too surprised her daughter is having success making films. The young adult has always been passionate and focused on the creative process, her mother said.

Family members said the best part of this experience is seeing West achieve success as she discovers how to use her passion to have a positive impact on others.

The success with the Heartland Film Festival proves the hard work is paying off, Shelley West said. It’s thrilling to watch her daughter grow into a professional young woman, she said.

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.