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Heartland: The Gnomist

by on October 17, 2015
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"The Gnomist" (2015), a documentary short about the power of art, imagination, and community, is now playing at the Heartland Film Festival.

For Heartland showtimes and tickets, please click here.

Directed by Sharon Liese, “The Gnomist” is a documentary short that examines the mysterious appearance of finely crafted “fairy” homes and doors fitted in the hollows of trees in a suburban forest in Overland Park, Kan. The film follows three women and the life-affirming effect this work of community art had on each of them.

When the custom-crafted, fairy-themed dollhouses first appeared, they were curiosities for the people who frequented the trails of this public-park forest. However, visitors soon realized that the homes weren’t just static conversation pieces. Whoever built the homes continued to interact with them and the people who visited them. Fairies would move in, unpack boxes and decorate the homes as the seasons change, creating the illusion that these were places where magical, invisible creatures actually lived and worked. Members of the community, their imaginations engaged, began to leave notes and gifts for the fairies of “Firefly Forest,” and the fairies would often respond in kind.

The documentary features three strangers whose lives are touched by the make-believe community of forest fairies. Robyn has two sons and shortly after moving to Kansas, the family is rocked when her husband suddenly divorces her. She and her sons take comfort in the magical mystery, a welcome distraction from the upheaval they’ve experienced in their new home.

Alex, an athlete who recently suffered a serious hip injury that limits her to a wheelchair while she awaits surgery, writes a blog that documents the events in the woods. The sense of wonder and community the fairies create helps her cope with her situation and gives her hope for the future.

Kelly is a young mother whose 3-year-old daughter, Allie, recently died of brain cancer. She feels a connection between her daughter (who they lovingly called Little Owl because she loved owls and the woods) and the fairy forest, and leaves a note on one of the houses in honor of her departed child. Kelly, her husband, and their other daughter, 7-year-old Evie are deeply touched and comforted when the fairies build a door in memorial to “Little Owl.”

The film eventually reveals the person behind the fairy houses and demonstrates the healing influence of this work of communal, participatory art and imagination — a powerful type of “magic” in its own right.

3.5 Yaps

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