This year's CAFF, focusing on "American Dreams," kicks off with a conversation with Paul Schrader and screenings of Light Sleeper (written and directed by Schrader) and the Schrader-scripted Taxi Driver (directed by Martin Scorcese). Schrader, a graduate of Calvin College, also adapted the controversial Nikos Kazantzakis novel The Last Temptation of Christ.

This year's CAFF also features screenings of such relatively recent American cinematic fare as Bottle Rocket, Fight Club and Thelma and Louise, as well as a new Vietnamese film, Green Dragon. Earlier eras are represented by The Music Man, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and A Raisin in the Sun.

Marymount University, the East Coast host of the National Film Retreat, also counts itself among the sponsors of the CAFF.

Heartland Festival

Although the one-week Heartland Film Festival doesn't open until Oct. 17, it's already under way in one sense: This year's fest includes four summer screenings of previous festival winners. Each of the four films -- The Basket, No Easy Way, Shiloh and The Spitfire Grill -- have taken home the fest's Crystal Heart Award.

The Heartland event, which has no religious affiliation, showcases independent films that "leave audiences feeling entertained, satisfied and inspired," according to the fest's Web site. Festival organizer Jeff Sparks elaborated: "We are looking at films that explore the human journey, that express hope and respect for the positive values of life. It is not about family films. . . . We're about films that inspire and encourage. That includes family films, but it's not just family films."

Sparks said the festival grew out of a shared concern among several people about the power of film. "We were wanting to have an impact on the culture. We were wanting to do something that would get people to put their viewing efforts behind the kind of films that change our culture in a positive direction," Sparks said.

This year's winners of CAFF's Crystal Heart Award will share a prize pot of $100,000, with half of that going to the fest's grand prize winner.

Beginning with the Denzel Washington film Remember the Titans, Heartland also has bestowed an Award of Excellence upon theatrically released films during their theatrical run, allowing the film studios to use the award as a promotional tool. Hearts in Atlantis, The Princess Diaries and The Rookie are other winners of the Award of Excellence.

Festival organizers have broadened their mission to include distribution of certain Crystal Heart winners, many of which have, despite Heartland recognition, not been able to find domestic distribution.

"We got tired of all the films not getting distributed, so we decided to do it ourselves," Sparks said. Best Man in Grass Creek, the first film distributed by the group, played briefly in Indiana and will be available in video stores July 25, Sparks said.

The independent films screened at this year's Heartland Film Festival will be selected Aug. 8.