Insolence has come to define the identity of Lydia (Isabel May). Who could blame her? Lydia’s copywriter dad (Nat Faxon) has died of cancer, leaving Lydia and her mother (Missi Pyle) with a mortgage they can’t afford, a college future that’s uncertain at best, and a relationship where the gulfs are only growing wider. 

After rebooting her dad’s old computer, Lydia finds a folder of unfinished, unpublished film scripts — including the cornball Dune and Star Wars mashup Space Chronicles: An Epic Saga of Life, Love and Loss in a Distant Galaxy. There’s talk of glorp milk, galactic collapse and, yes, a cringeworthy space-pirate rap battle. If only to get out of a part-time job, Lydia insists that shooting the film is her sole extracurricular priority on a plotted course to film school. But that excuse eventually becomes Lydia’s earnest quest to write an ending, make the film, reconcile with her mom, and reconnect with estranged cinephile pal Simon (Miles Gutierrez-Riley).

Reportedly shot on a $50,000 budget over nine days, writer-director Leah Bleich’s The Moon & Back will make its world premiere at the Heartland International Film Festival. At its strongest, Bleich’s film confronts comforts we’ve forgotten or that fall behind in the sweep of life, reminisced upon by people whose meticulous plans didn’t pan out but pivoted to something of an equivalent meaning they couldn’t yet comprehend. 

There could stand to be more such moments of honesty in a film that loses too much of its svelte 74 minutes to parodic cheek, with references to Love, Actually, Say Anything …, The Edge of Seventeen and, most bizarrely, Titanic (for a gag that suggests the clearly platonic Lydia and Simon are making out in a car). It feels like an unwise tradeoff for a tale that feels too truncated to dig up the truths it’s trying hard to mine. 

“People just mimic other people,” Simon tells Lydia when she panics about how to pen an ending. “That’s art.” True as that maxim about borrowing from the best can sometimes be, The Moon & Back exceeds its lending limit without crafting its own unique charms. It also results in a rushed conclusion that crams in a big push to pack the house, Lydia’s final edit on the film, a premiere party and, from out of nowhere, a prom to attend. Bleich also seems to leave a rather crucial plot thread hanging, and not in a manner that befits dramatic ambiguity.

Scattered throughout The Moon & Back are strong moments about what you can gain elsewhere as you scale back one dream. You just have to scale back expectations for the focus of the film around them.

The Moon & Back will have its world premiere during the 31st Heartland International Film Festival at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7, at the Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie, 1258 Windsor St., in Indianapolis

It will also screen at:

  • 12:45 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 9, at Living Room Theatres, 745 E. 9th St., Suite 810, in Indianapolis
  • 3 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 11, at the Landmark Glendale 12, 6102 N. Rural St., in Indianapolis

Writer-director Leah Bleich is scheduled to be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A on Friday, Oct. 7.

The Moon & Back will also be available to stream online from noon Thursday, Oct. 6 through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16 (all times Eastern) through Heartland’s virtual platform.

Tickets are available at