choice of words gordon parks
choice of words gordon parks
choice of words gordon parks
choice of words gordon parks

The 19th annual International Tallgrass Film Festival, in person Oct. 20 to 24 and virtual Oct. 24 to 29, will honor Kansas native and well-known filmmaker Gordon Parks.  The festival will include the showing of three of Parks’ films, and a free panel discussion about Parks impact on Black filmmaking and photography. 

Saturday evening Oct. 23 is totally dedicated to Park with a film double header, and interview with the filmmaker’s son David Parks, followed by a gala celebration.  In the greatest homage to Parks, this year the festival will feature five movies vying for the inaugural Gordon Parks Award for Black Excellence in Filmmaking. 

Parks, who grew up in Fort Scott, KS, initially established himself as a talented creative, with his work as a world-acclaimed photographer for both Life and Vogue magazine.  He then went on to demonstrate his creative talents as a songwriter, musician, author and as one of the first African-Americans to produce and direct a major motion picture. 

With a creative resume of such caliber, Parks’ recognition at Tallgrass seems overdue, yet timely, with this year’s recognition coinciding with the 50th anniversary of “Shaft,” Parks’ most famous movie.

shaft filming
shaft filming

Saturday nights double header will feature “Shaft,”(100 minutes) and the documentary “A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks,”(89 minutes).  The evening, at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Wichita, begins at 5:30 p.m. The night capping gala will be held at the Wave, 650 E. 2nd St N. Tickets for the movies only are $15. Tickets for the movie and gala are $45. 

A Choice of Weapons

Taking its name from Parks’ 1966 autobiography A Choice of Weapons, John Maggio’s documentary “A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks” follows Gordon Parks’ stellar career through his artistic development and his work’s impact on some of Hollywood’s most successful directors.

“There’s a lot of stuff that I could’ve delved into, but I was more interested in his legacy and his work. So I wanted to focus on Gordon’s work biography and tell Gordon’s story through the heirs to his legacy… some of the young artists and photographers working today that Gordon inspired,” said John Maggio, producer and director of the movie.

The documentary premiered in June at the Tribeca Film Festival.

He’s a Bad Mother Shut Your Mouth

Park’s 1971 action film “Shaft” is a national treasurer, so much so that in 2020 it was deemed culturally and historically important enough to be preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. 

“Shaft” was one of the earliest of what later became known as Blaxplotation movies and It was by far the most commercially successful movie of that genre.   “Shaft” was the first film featuring a strong Black male in a truly heroic role.  John Shaft was cool and Park’s movie is one of the coolest and most entertaining action films of the 70s. 

Other Parks films to be shown during the festival include: 

“The Learning Tree,” Thurs., Oct. 21, 1 p.m.,Wilke Family Center, 330 N. Broadway

“Leadbelly”, Thurs., Oc.t 21, 4 p.m., Wilke Family Center

Black Excellence in Filmmaking Award

Although this is the inaugural year for the Black Excellence in Filmmaking Award, it’s making a big impact on the festival, by helping to greatly diversify the festival’s film selection and my significantly increasing the value of the awards presented to the producers/directors of the festival’s award-winning films. 

Up until this year, the top cash prize for the festival was the “Stubbornly Independent Gala Winner, with a $5,000 cash prize.  The Gordon Park Black Excellence in Filmmaking Award includes a $5,000 cash prize, plus the winner receive a $15,000 Panavision camera rental package.   These high-precision camera systems are so prestigious you can’t buy them, you can only rent them.

The award was created in partnership with David Parks, with support from the Kansas African American Museum, Shocker Studios, Wichita State University Office of Diversity & Inclusion, and the Wichita Branch NAACP.

To qualify, films were required to be a minimum one hour, with no traditional distribution deal at the time of the festival. The entries were open to films of any production budget, from any country and the director must self-identify as either Black, African-American or African-Diaspora.

The films will be judged by a juried panel of film professionals that includes David Parks, who is a seasoned photographer, filmmaker, and author. 

Park’s Panel Discussion

On Fri., Oct. 22, from 3-4 p.m., Denise Sherman, executive director of The Kansas African American Museum will moderate a panel of filmmakers who will discuss Gordon Parks’ influence on Kansas and international Black filmmakers and photographers. The conversation will encompass a historical look at Parks’ work while analyzing the present atmosphere for filmmakers and photographers. David Parks and Brandon Wilson will panel participants.   

Wilson, who is one of the judges for the Black Excellence in Filmmaking award, is also an experienced filmmaker.  His feature film debut won the Oscar Micheaux Award at the Bare Bones Film Festival in Oklahoma. His second feature SEPULVEDA world premiered in New York City at the 2016 Urbanworld Film Festival.

All panels are held outside in the 1st Street tent (155 South Broadway) and are free to the public.

With three of Park’s Movies, the Park’s documentary, six Parks Awards nominees and a few other films with Black subject matters, more than one quarter of the festival’s 44 feature films available this year for in-person screening in some way embrace the Black culture 

Virtual Film Festival

The Virtual Film Festival films play Oct. 24-29 through the Tallgrass Cinesend app at  Most films are geoblocked blocked to Kansas only.

Some of the in-person films can also be watched virtually and virtual tickets can be bought online. 

Wichita film director Devon Bray’s 2021 film “Unsurety” is among the festival’s virtual only screenings. 

Tickets and More

Tickets to individual movies are $10, double headers tickets are $15.  If you want to go all in, consider purchasing a FILMPass, they start at $100 and include tickets to all features and shorts in person and online.  The VIP TallPass, cost $175 and includes access to all movies and all parties and VIP events. 

Visit the Tallgrass Film website to see information on all of the films that are part of the festival, both live and virtual.  Tickets to all Tallgrass events and movies can be purchased online at

This year’s festival will host events at a number of locations in downtown Wichita with limited capacity enforced for pandemic safety.  Masks are required indoors regardless of vaccination status.

Nominated Films for the Tallgrass

ferguson rises
ferguson rises

Gordon Parks Black Excellence in Filmmaking Award 

Ferguson Rises

Sat., Oct. 23, 12:45 p.m., Wilkes Family Center

83 minutes, Rating 13+, USA

Before an explosive global uprising condemned the murder of George Floyd, there was a small town in Missouri that erupted in protest after the murder of Mike Brown Jr. Ferguson Rises highlights varied perspectives with an intimate portrayal of Michael’s father’s grief to help us understand why Ferguson is the Selma of our times.

Finding Sally

Sun., Oct. 24, 2:30 p.m., Mama Films

78 minutes, Rating: 13+, Ethopia

Sally was an aristocrat and then became a communist rebel with the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party. Four decades after Sally’s disappearance, Tamara Dawit pieces together the mysterious life of her aunt Sally. This film is also in competition for the festivals DOXX Award for documentaries

Many Fires This Time: We the 100 Million

Fri., Oct. 22, 10:30 a.m., Wilkes Family Center

69 minutes, Rating 13+, Mexico/USA

This is a poetic docudrama about the 1 in 3 Americans and counting, living in economic insecurity. It follows the journey of poet and activist A Scribe Called Quess? as he connects with fellow activist poets and the communities they represent from Oakland to Chicago to Kentucky to his hometown of New Orleans.

One Pint at a Time

Sat., Oct. 23, 3:15 p.m., Wilkes Family Center

88 minutes, Rating 13+, USA

Black-owned breweries share less than 1% of craft beer revenues in America. This has inspired Black brewers, beer brand owners, and influencers across the country to reshape the future of this multi-billion-dollar industry.

Subjects of Desire

Sat., Oct. 23, 1:45 p.m., Mama Films

103 minutes, Rating All Ages, USA

This is a thought-provoking feature documentary that examines the cultural shift in beauty standards towards embracing Black aesthetics and features. This film is also in competition for the Tallgrass DOXX Award for documentaries.


Sat., Oct. 23, 10 a.m., Wilkes Family Center

94 minutes, Rating: All Ages, USA

A film celebrating the history, lineage and future progressions of jazz dance. This film is also in competition for the festival’s DOXX Award for documentaries.

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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