Below are my top picks for documentary features at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival that kicks off this Thursday, October 12 and runs through Sunday, October 22. So many shows and special events are sold out so don’t miss out on your opportunity to attend some of these amazing film screenings, mingle with filmmakers, hang with friends and meet new people!

These films are beyond fantastic and you do not want to miss out…that’s a WWP promise!

Purple Dreams

Purple Dreams reveals an extraordinary arts in education success story. This inspirational documentary shadows six at-risk black high school students on an emotionally powerful, three-year journey of transformation in a racially biased city. With access to the arts and academic mentors, our at-risk youth have the potential to break the cycle of poverty in a single generation. Struggling with homelessness, low-income neighborhoods, gangrelated violence and single-parent households, these students broaden their education through participation in a triumphant musical production that ultimately propels them into a world of opportunity they never expected. Black youth stereotypes are turned upside down while you are entertained, moved and witness the need for arts in education, especially in underserved communities.

Suitable for most audiences

Filmmakers Scheduled to Attend Oct. 18th, 19th, 21st, 22nd:
Joanne Hock, Director/Director of Photography
Robin Grey, Producer


Skid Row Marathon

When a criminal court judge starts a running club on LA’s notorious skid row and begins training a motley group of addicts and criminals to run marathons, lives begin to change. “Skid Row Marathon” follows five runners as they rise from the mean streets of LA to run marathons around the world, fighting the pull of homelessness and addiction at every turn. Their story is one of hope, friendship and dignity.

Suitable for all audiences

Filmmakers Scheduled to Attend October 18, 21:
Gabriele Hayes, Director/Producer
Mark Hayes, Producer



A Swazi girl embarks on a dangerous quest to rescue her young twin brothers. This animated African tale is born in the imaginations of five orphaned children in Swaziland who collaborate to tell a story of perseverance drawn from their darkest memories and brightest dreams. Their fictional character’s journey is interwoven with poetic and observational documentary scenes to create a genre-defying celebration of collective storytelling.

Includes mature themes, suitable for most audiences

Filmmakers Scheduled to Attend Oct. 19th,  20th, 21st,  22nd:
Amanda Kopp, Director/Producer
Aaron Kopp, Director/Producer


Tennessee Whiskey: The Dean Dillon Story

Dean Dillon wrote over 30 #1 hit songs for the biggest artists in country music over the past four decades, yet most have never heard his name. George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Lee Ann Womack, Brooks and Dunn, Pam Tillis and the list goes on. Oh, and that song by Chris Stapleton, Tennessee Whiskey, he wrote that too. A legend in Nashville, yet unknown outside of Music City, Dean finally comes out of the shadows and shares his music, his personal life, and the stories behind the hits in this honest film about a man responsible for songs that shaped an era and helped to create some of country music’s biggest rock stars.

Includes language, suitable for most audiences


Be Relentless

On May 4, 2014, Norma Bastidas, a single mother and survivor of human trafficking, sexual violence, abuse and addiction, set out to break the Guinness World Record for longest triathlon by running, biking and swimming 3,762 miles (6,054 km) from Cancun, Mexico to Washington D.C. This was her stand against human trafficking. “Be Relentless” is the documentary film that follows Norma for each step of her grueling journey that spanned Mexico and the United States. Running alongside Norma’s story of triumph are the stories of other trafficking survivors from around the world. Through these survivor voices and through Norma’s persistence, “Be Relentless” proves that everyday people can make an extraordinary impact in seemingly unchallengeable issues.

Includes mature themes, suitable for most audiences

Filmmakers scheduled to attend Oct. 13th & Oct. 14th:
Brad Riley, Director
Jessie Marek, Producer


Other Docs That I Really Enjoyed

I must admit that I only made it through a little over half of the documentary feature films this year (27 with 25 left to go…) so I still have a lot to watch during the festival too (come find me if you want that list!). In the meantime, here are the other docs that I truly enjoyed:

For ticket information, visit