Lela Meadow-Conner, Executive Director, Marketing/Public Relations
Often described as a wicked good kid from Boston, Lela has been with the film festival since late founder Timothy Gruver invited her to Wichita in 2003. A bit of a vagabond, over the last 10 years she's lived in Los Angeles, Chicago & Denver before touching down in Wichita full-time in 2011. Her favorite films are just as varied and include Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Muppet Movie and The Godfather Part II. In addition to 10+ years of experience in the entertainment industry in Hollywood, including marketing and publicity, she also holds a degree in the culinary arts. In her spare time, she can often be found in her kitchen producing, marketing and publicizing her culinary creations for her film festival compadres. How do you like them apples?
Nick Pope, Director Operations & Programming
A graduate of the University of Kansas, Nick has spent his life in Wichita and has been with the Tallgrass Film Festival since the beginning, when he started as print traffic assistant. In 2015, Nick was upped to full time consultant and added the title of Director of Operations. His passion for film grew in the 90's with indie auteurs such as Wes Anderson, The Coen Brothers, and Paul Thomas Anderson. His programming team wades through more than 600 submissions a year. Fortunately, for him, the festival is in October so he can still make time for March Madness.
Erin Patten, Director of Production
Erin likes to make things. All sorts of bizarre and wonderful things out of silver, glass, yarn, fabric, wood, pixels, video... whatever is handy. She's been making things for Tallgrass since 2005, when Tom asked her to do floral centerpieces for the galas, and hasn't stopped yet. She's also had a hand in making the screening copies of the shorts programs and several of the Tallgrass trailers over the years. When not busy with all of that, she enjoys trashy B-movies, German Weimar cinema, costume dramas, and Xanadu.
Amber Brown, Executive Assistant
Amber loves Tallgrass the way Dorothy loves Toto. Where else in Wichita could she make phone calls to Hollywood, take orders from ladies as fabulous as Lela and Francine, or seek out fellow movie-loving Wichitans? Before Tallgrass people rolled their eyes at her endless soliloquies about pop culture, now she's experienced everything from being kissed on the head by Dog the Bounty Hunter to trying to convince people she worked on The Voice (people who still don't care.) Amber is attempting to make herself more awesome by enrolling as a film student at KU in fall 2015. Outside of film, Amber's other unhealthy obsessions include Harry Potter and her cat.
Gretchen Mitchell, Co-Director of Programming
Gretchen has an addictive personality. Fortunately her obsessive outlet manifests itself, not in crack or meth, but in watching and organizing the films submissions and programming committee for the festival. Since she began volunteering for the festival in 2005, she has fallen crazy for the international narratives and the raw, edgy domestic indies. When she is not driving the rest of the staff crazy with it, her OCD is perfect for working at Tallgrass. Also, she knows all the best late night taco joints in town.
Shan Jabara, Director of Acquisitions & Community Engagement
Shan has been with Tallgrass since its start, joining the first programming committee in 2003, followed by various leadership positions in programming throughout the years. Currently, as Director of Acquisitions, Shan's focus is on researching, reviewing and booking films for the annual festival and year-round screenings and working with various community groups in conjunction with particular films and events. She's famous for her hummus and baba ghanoush and don't forget to ask her about her ex-pat days in Vietnam.
Tom Mittlestadt, Director of Events & Logistics
When he's not covered in glitter, Tom can usually be found backstage, propping on set, or at home watching a film from his Southern women collection. Tom has been designing Tallgrass' legendary parties since 2003 when he turned a parking garage into an extravaganza that people are still talking about. Despite constant heckling from his fellow staff members, he remains a PC.
Mary Ann Hollander, Events & Logistics Manager
Mary Ann has been with Tallgrass for the last three years and keeps Tom and his event team organized. She holds a degree in Arts Administration from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Thane Chastian, Technical Director
Thane can best be described by his initials: TEC. If it plugs in, turns on, makes noise, shows pretty colors on the wall, well, that makes him happy. He connects equipment, ideas and people - and not always in that order. Allow him to tell you all about his trip to Chicago to scout all the shooting locations for the original Blues Brother's movie (not that horrible remake in 2000!). He speaks geek, but heck, someone on staff has to.
Arietta Austin, Hospitality Director
Arietta is the hostess with the mostess. Hospitality Director for nine years, this California girl has witnessed it all, and only done half of it (she says with a wink.) Ari can always be counted on for her fierce earrings and contagious laughter. From the moment they touch down in Wichita, every visiting filmmaker at Tallgrass is treated like a VIP thanks to this lady.
Blaire Birdsong, Hospitality Coordinator
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered to get through this thing called life." A huge Prince fan and lover of live music Blaire found another love with the TFF family. Her belief in life long learning and interest in event coordinating led her to Tallgrass as a volunteer in 2013. When she is not teaching, Blaire enjoys spending time with her niece and nephew and traveling. TAKE ME AWAY!
Anne Bowman, Director of Food & Beverage
If it doesn’t sparkle, it had better be pink and fluffy or designed to be worn with stiletto heels. When she isn’t locating a donor for a cool cuisine for a Tallgrass party or reception, Anne, a consummate closer, stays busy with several other non-profit organizations ….all the while, her tiara intact.
Francine Fairweather, Box Office Director
Francine is the best Box Office Director that Tallgrass has ever had. The girl can count, sort and organize like nobody’s business and we always call on her when we just need to get things done. Francine has a knack for remaining drama-free amongst her hot-headed colleagues. When she's not selling tickets or counting money, you can usually find her adding to her shoe collection or singing her signature song “Killing Me Softly,” on the karaoke circuit.
Brian Gray, VIP Box Office Manager
Brian works as a VIP ticketing liaison for the festival, but let it be know, he hates pickles with a serious passion and wants to make that very clear. What he loves, well that’s easy. It’s all about music, sports and most importantly, film and everything film related. Moving from hometown Wichita to Manhattan (NYC) for film school and an internship with Pressman Films was quite a culture shock, but he loved learning more about the industry. A competitive spirit is alive and well within Brian - whether on the basketball court or in the box office - he expects to win. So let Brian watch What About Bob for the 800th time and he will be a happy guy. But whatever you do, don’t give him a pickle.
Gray Brand, Volunteer Director
Gray is a dedicated pop culture fanatic with a heart that beats for TV and movies. Originally from the Bay Area, she moved to Kansas in 2008 and stuck around after graduating from Wichita State University with a degree in Integrated Marketing and English Literature. Gray joined the Tallgrass team in 2015 after years of involvement as a festival volunteer. When she’s not rewatching Arrested Development for the hundredth time, you can find her inside a nice, cold movie theater formulating her Oscar picks.