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Movie Manager

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When new Heartland Truly Moving Pictures, Inc. President Stuart Lowry walks through the contemporary Heartland Film offices in Fountain Square's Murphy Arts Center, he sees a lot of space to grow - literally and figuratively.

Having taken over the leadership of the city's biggest and most high-profile film festival and its parent organization in December, Lowry is reminded daily that Heartland is running with half of its former staff. The reason: there are eight empty cubicles stationed amid the six that employees actually occupy. 

Stuart Lowry was recently appointed Heartland Film President. - BRITTANY BRODERICK
  • Brittany Broderick
  • Stuart Lowry was recently appointed Heartland Film President.

"Three years ago, we were twice the size we are as far as staff and budget," says Lowry, who knows his charge is to improve Heartland's bottom line and increase its annual budget from the $1.8 million to about $3 million within the next several years.

While he's doing that, Lowry must also chart a new course for the 22-year-old organization. Jeff Sparks, who founded Heartland, has always stepped up to the challenge of attracting inspiring films and encouraging their creation. But then he stepped down last year.

"I would love to see something that amazes us," Lowry says. "But I don't know exactly what that will look like, and I don't know who will be stewarding that. I just know everyday we need to be thinking in those terms and preparing."

Trying to find the answers to such big questions might seem daunting. But it's the sort of thing that invigorates Lowry, a theater buff and children's book author who has held top spots at nonprofits throughout the city. These included Indy Parks and Recreation (where he was director before starting at Heartland), White River State Park, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis and Conner Prairie Interactive History Park.

"Working in a not-for-profit from year to year is a big challenge and part of the reason I have gray hairs. But it's the best challenge. It's what makes it great," says Lowry. "What makes you great as a person is trying to come into a situation like this and mastermind how to keep it relevant and sustainable for a long time."

Doing that, as Heartland heads toward its silver anniversary in 2016, means change for this arts organization that is best known for its annual 10-day film festival in October. 

In its 22nd year, Heartland's 2013 Festival broke record numbers in areas such as attendance, submissions, programming and community outreach. Vanessa Hudgens even graced the festival with the world premiere of "Gimme Shelter." - BRITTANY BRODERICK
  • Brittany Broderick
  • In its 22nd year, Heartland's 2013 Festival broke record numbers in areas such as attendance, submissions, programming and community outreach. Vanessa Hudgens even graced the festival with the world premiere of "Gimme Shelter."

With just a month under his belt as Heartland's president (and a year's experience as its chief operating officer), Lowry has his work cut out for him. Here is just a glance at his to-do list:

   ·Grow Heartland's budget by more than $1 million, to $3 million in the next few years.

   ·Increase festival attendance, especially by younger moviegoers, from a record of 24,000 last year to its capacity of about 72,000.

   ·Make the organization's marketing bolder and more social-media based to reach potential sponsors beyond Indianapolis.

   ·Support newer year-round endeavors, including the Heartland Roadshow. The 3-year-old program offers screening of short films during the Indianapolis Downtown Artists and Dealers Association First Friday events and community screenings of independent and studio-released films. It offered 12 screenings in 2011 and more than 60 in 2013.

   ·Attract new donors and grow revenue so all of Heartland's programs, not just the film festival, are subsidized.

   ·Encourage partnerships with other local film festivals.

   ·Add key positions, including a development director who will work with potential donors and an artistic coordinator who will help Festival Artistic Director Tim Irwin screen and coordinate submissions.

But even as he hires more staff, pinches pennies and shifts funds, Lowry has a lot to work with at Heartland. One priority is arts-world clout, something he plans to build on inside and outside the city.

Heartland Truly Moving Pictures' newly appointed President Stuart Lowry talks shop in the nonprofit's screening room, located in the Murphy Arts Center in Fountain Square. - BRITTANY BRODERICK
  • Brittany Broderick
  • Heartland Truly Moving Pictures' newly appointed President Stuart Lowry talks shop in the nonprofit's screening room, located in the Murphy Arts Center in Fountain Square.

Throughout its more than two decades, the organization has garnered a solid reputation in the international film industry. Part of that is due to its film festival with arts-focused events that turn filmmakers into stars for a weekend - and awards more than $100,000 in prize money in the process.

Another part of it is the Hollywood heavy hitters who have offered support. A string of big names, including actor Martin Sheen, his son Emilio Estevez and writer/producer Rob Reiner have come to town to support the organization.

Which celebs are next? Hopefully some big names that understand independent filmmaking, he says. Adding to his personal wish list, Lowry says that he'd like to host Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks, one of his favorite actors. Robert Redford, James Earl Jones and Meryl Streep are among others on his roster. But whether they'll show up is another unknown.

Something Lowry can count on, though, as he looks into Heartland's future, is support from its past.

Sparks, who is working on an urban renewal endeavor that is separate from Heartland, advises Lowry almost daily.

"He [Lowry] is very operational. And that is something we needed desperately, because that is not my strength," says Sparks. "He is also very gifted at presenting, and he is great with people. It's a winning combination that has allowed this transition to happen."

And it's this very combination on which Heartland's future is relying.

Among other goals, Lowry is tasked with nearly doubling Heartland's income. - BRITTANY BRODERICK
  • Brittany Broderick
  • Among other goals, Lowry is tasked with nearly doubling Heartland's income.

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