The 254

Samuel Thomas and Louis Hunter

By Kevin Tankersley

Interested in a film about a woman who hunts pythons in the Florida Everglades? Maybe a film that tells the story of a group of female taiko drummers, or movie centered around a hitman where things don’t go quite as planned.

These and many, many more feature films, music videos and short films will be screened in downtown Waco as part of the seventh Deep in the Heart Film Festival, which will take place July 20-23. Films will be shown at the historic Waco Hippodrome as well as just down the block at Cultivate 7Twelve. Parties for VIP passholders will take place across the street at Stay Classy Waco. Following the in-person movies, the festival will have an online encore presentation from July 23-29.

“We want to give our VIP pass holders a chance to see everything, and because we have multiple tracks of films playing in different theaters, we know that’s physically not possible,” said Samuel Thomas, one of the festival’s founders. “The online encore was our chance to let our community see all the things that our great filmmakers presented to us. And it doesn’t have to be just a VIP pass. It can also just be tickets (purchased) per block if they so choose.”

Thomas and Louis Hunter began the festival as a way for moviegoers in communities that aren’t New York or Los Angeles to see films that are shown at festivals such as Sundance, Tribeca and South by Southwest.

“It’s a big deal to be able to bring filmmakers from outside [of Waco] to show their work,” Hunter said. “We felt like Waco was just a prime opportunity to do this. And it means a great deal here, because we’re offering people the opportunity to see things that other people see around the world, bringing it to your own hometown.”

Hunter and Thomas are filmmakers themselves, and while it’s a big deal to show their work at festivals in New York and LA, “oftentimes, those cities are so large that the festival gets lost and there’s not enough focus on the filmmakers,” Hunter said.

There were more than 700 films submitted to this year’s festival, and the festival’s programming team were tasked with narrowing the field from there. While at least two people on the team saw each film submitted, Thomas says he’s the only one who viewed every single entry. But Deep in the Heart is becoming so popular with filmmakers that this will probably be the last time he’s able to do that.

“We like the eclectic nature of our programming team,” Thomas said. “We like different perspectives. I’m sure you don’t like the same films that people in your family like. Everybody’s different. We want to see the merit in everything, and it helps for us to all come together and really push and fight for the films that we love.”

Some films in the festival are by local filmmakers, including high school and Baylor students.

“A couple of them tell very local stories, but also, several of them told really universal stories,” Hunter said. “There’s a really funny one in there called ‘The Central Standard,’ which is kind of a hitman thing gone wrong. But it’s really humorous and it’s really fun, and anyone from anywhere can identify with that story.”

Waco’s Independent Film Festival

There are 144 feature films, short films and music videos slated for the Deep in the Heart Film Festival this year, including films shown at Austin Film Festival and a Sundance Film Festival winning short film.

In the 2022 feature film “Disfluency”, Jane returns home to her parents’ lake house after failing her final college class where she comes to terms with the trauma that derailed her senior year.

“Warsha” is a 2021 short film that follows a Syrian migrant working as a crane operator in Beirut who volunteers to cover a shift on one of the most dangerous cranes, where he is able to find his freedom.