The University of Central Missouri's annual Show Me Justice Film Festival is coming up in Warrensburg April 7-8. We spoke with festival organizer Dr. Mark von Schlemmer about the festival, its history, its mission, and what to expect during the Show Me Justice Film Festival in 2016.

Kurt Parsons

What is The Show Me Justice Film Festival, and how did it come about?

The Show Me Justice Film Festival (SMJFF) is an international film festival that features all sorts of films (documentary, narrative, experimental, animation) about all sorts of topics as long as the films have a social justice theme. We don't define exactly what social justice is, but traditionally it is connected with giving voice to the voiceless, exploring issues such as racism, sexism, poverty, substance abuse, gender identification, mental health issues, issues of disability . . . the list goes on. And those are just some of the topics in THIS year's festival!

The festival took place in Warrensburg in 2010 but then the producing body was going to drop it and various individuals at the University of Central Missouri spoke up and brought the festival into the loving hands of the campus and handed me, a new instructor at the university and a filmmaker with experience in producing and having films in festivals, the task of bringing it to life within the Warrensburg community and the campus. Each year it has grown stronger as we shaped the film festival to fit the rhythms of the campus and the region. Now in our 6th year, this year the festival is a two day event featuring 34 films from 12 countries with two mornings of workshops, two afternoon shorts programs and two evenings filled with short and short feature films along with a reception, and a filmmakers roundtable – this year the roundtable will focus on the Representing Race in Film – a topic of special pertinence to Missouri at this time.

Is the festival open to students only, or can the public attend?

The festival is open to one and all! While we often have quite a few UCM students in attendance (as well as serving as our major source of volunteers popping the free popcorn and tearing tickets, etc.), we also have hundred of area middle and high school students joining us on Friday morning and afternoon and hopefully we are building an audience from throughout the area (we are only 45 minutes east of K, 90 minutes west of Columbia, and less than 40 minutes from Sedalia!). The films come from all over the world and we hope our audience does as well!

How are films selected for screening during the Show Me Justice Film Festival?

The films are submitted though one of the major submission sites: Film Because of our somewhat unique theme, we often get films from 6 continents with all sorts of content. Our panel of screeners is composed of faculty, staff, students and community volunteers who watch a handful of films each and rate them. Then he festival staff programs the festival from those comments and their own ideas of putting together a festival with diverse type of films and themes that will challenge and inspire our audiences.

What are some notable past films that have been featured, or notable guests that have been appeared?

These films are mostly ones that will not ever be seen in your local Hollywood-driven theater, so you won't recognize many names. That is one of the charms of such a festival - you may not be able to find these films anywhere else and you will likely not easily track down this interesting assortment of films together. Of local note, in 2012 we featured Kansas City filmmaker Kevin McKinney's hard-hitting documentary Corporate FM which explored the corporate takeover of our local radio stations. The following year we featured Kansas-based writer/director Kevin Willmott's biting satire Destination: Planet Negro! One of the charms of such a festival is that we bring filmmakers to the area and give audiences a chance not to just watch these films, but to meet the makers of them and ask them questions about their choices and their art. We have had filmmakers travel from the UK, France, Canada, and even as far as South Africa to present their films and we get to showcase to them our Midwest hospitality and enthusiasm.

What about tickets? How much are they, and where can they be purchased?

We screen the films in beautiful Hendricks Hall on the UCM Campus - a venue large enough that so far it has room for as many film enthusiasts as want to visit. Even on our Friday afternoon when we have 600 middle and high schoolers in town, we don't fill up the theater - so tickets are available at the door. Evening shows are $10 for adults, $5 for students, military, and seniors. Afternoon shows are $5 for adults, free to students, military and seniors. You can lower the cost one level if you bring two canned goods that we donate to a local food pantry (social justice in action!). You can also buy a festival pass for $20 and get a free festival T-Shirt and get in free to all events.