I try to avoid typical Academy Award bait when constructing my own year-end best-of lists, making generous room for films released before Oscar season. This year, I offer up a list exclusively devoted to the best Indiana-made films.
1. The Impersonators
Humanexus opens with an earthy form of expression — mysterious drawings scratched on cave walls. What follows is an exhilarating, 12-minute free-fall through the evolution of human communication — a beautifully animated look at the invention and impact of printing, radio, film, television, the Internet, etc. The short film is a collaboration between IU information visualization professor Katy Börner; animator Ying-Fang Shen, a former IU School of Fine Arts associate; and Norbert Herber, an IU Department of Telecommunications senior lecturer and sound artist and musician. Don't be fooled by its university origins; Humanexus is a cinematic journey worthy of the big screen. In fact, it has received over 100 official selections at film festival around the world, including the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.
Shot in writer-director Zack Parker's hometown of Richmond, Proxy follows a quiet young woman (Alexia Rasmussen) who suffers a miscarriage after a brutal attack. In a support group for mourning mothers, she finds herself tangling with two fellow grieving parents (Alexa Havins and Joe Swanberg) who grow violent after the death of their son. Proxy is a poignant look at this sort of identity change people experience when they have children. Parker said he didn't intend to make a horror film from this domestic subject matter. But he found he could “push the themes and audience further” by working within the trappings of the genre, doing what any effective horror film does by holding a funhouse mirror up to everyday issues.
Proxy was a bold choice for the opening film of this year's first Diabolique International Film Festival in Bloomington, as the thriller is more grounded in reality than the other selections of the pulpy genre fest. "I don't make movies about monsters or anything supernatural. Human beings are terrifying enough,” Parker said.
4. The Great Flood
This pick is a bit of a cheat since it wasn't made in Indiana, but filmmaker Bill Morrison presented it at IU Cinema in September — oddly enough on the same day his film All Vows had its world premiere there last year. A state-of-the-art sanctuary for cinephiles, IU Cinema mirrors Morrison’s mission of “bringing attention to the process of the moving image that the viewer is engaged in.” Morrison calls attention to that process by leaving archival film’s pock marks intact, emphasizing the fragility of film as well as the history it exposes and our ever-changing perception of it.
Eroding just like the land the Mississippi River flooded, the footage in The Great Flood creates a surreal atmosphere. As its hazy images of American adversity flicker in and out of focus, the film makes our country’s history seem like a bad dream from which we are still trying to wake up. Thanks to Morrison’s exuberant editing and Bill Frisell’s spirited score, this collage of corroding film clips bursts with life.
5. Hell Walks the Earth
To open the Skyline Drive-In's horror film series in October, local horror director Terence Muncy revived his gritty 2008 zombie film, fittingly on the same night its inspiration, Night of the Living Dead, made its drive-in debut on a chilly fall evening 46 years ago. Shot through a black-and-white haze of horror nostalgia, Hell Walks the Earth is an engaging echo of George A. Romero's seminal zombie film. Muncy creates a sense of foreboding with the rural Indiana setting. "This can be a wonderfully eerie place to live," he said.