Detroit Cinema: Spring Film Fests

By: Scott Davis | March 18, 2015

For a long time, films and movies have helped us either escape reality in fantasy and fictional genres, or have helped us to better understand reality through documentaries. In a place with such a strong culture like Detroit, it is no wonder why the city provides a perfect environment for filmmakers to showcase their work.

The ups and downs, the triumphs and heartbreaks or the innovation and growth the city has experienced in the past few years are all great stories to tell with a camera. Luckily, several local filmmakers have captured these stories for all to see, and each will be on display at the Freep Film Festival, which starts tomorrow and continues through Sunday, March 22.

According to its mission statement, the Freep Film Festival will, “showcase films that are about or relevant to Detroit, the region and Michigan in the hopes of fostering engagement and discussion about the issues and challenges we face while at the same time celebrating what makes us unique.”

The event features 25 programs, the vast majority of which are films. Kicking off the festival will be a “Fire + Water Double Feature,” with films “Fire Photo -> 1” and “Graveyard of the Great Lakes: A Shipwrecked Hunter’s Quest to Discover the Past.” The screening begins at 7:30 p.m. at The Fillmore Detroit, and staying true to the festival, both films were locally produced.

“We definitely view Michigan-and-Detroit-connected films as the festival’s backbone,” Steve Byrne, entertainment director of the Detroit Free Press, said. “That said, we’ve expanded a bit beyond that this year, and we expect to continue to do so. But Detroit and Michigan stuff—that’s where we want to excel.”

As Byrne noted, the festival has expanded a bit this year. This is the second installment of the event, and filmmakers from not only Michigan, but all over the world will be showing films. Filmmakers residing in France, Los Angeles, New York and beyond have ventured to Detroit for the event. This installment has seen some serious growth, as well.

“We essentially doubled in size from the first year, as far as programming goes,” Byrne said. “We’ve also added several new venues, including Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAD) and the Elizabeth Theater at the Park Bar. We’re also partnering with Kresge Arts in Detroit and Midtown Detroit Inc. on some programming, so we’re very excited about that.”

Other venues for the festival include The Detroit Film Theatre and Marvin and Betty Danco Lecture Hall at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Tickets can be purchased either through the websites of the various venues, or on http://freepfilmfestival.com, under each individual film’s information pages.

All of the films are open to the public, except for the “R” rated film “It Follows,” which is the only fictional film in the festival and only film with an age restriction. The horror movie was shot in the Detroit area, and screens on Friday, March 20 at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Several of the films also offer activities or events after the showing. These activities coincide with the film or program and are often interactive.

“The extras are an essential element of the festival. Every program has something that goes beyond the film. In some cases, it’s director Q&As. Others have panel discussions that bounce off issues raised by the movies,” Byrne adds. “Still others go way beyond that – like the chance to adopt a dog at the ‘Detroit Dog City’ showing or a dance party with Underground Resistance’s Mark Flash following the ‘Jitterbugs’ event at MOCAD.”

Byrne also explained more add-ons for the festival. The Detroit Free Press partnered with Preservation Detroit to offer behind-the-scenes tours at the Fillmore Detroit. Also, for the first time, the outlet hosts the Freep Film Festival Academy – an all-day workshop on Friday, March 20 geared to aspiring filmmakers. Extremely talented people will be sharing their expertise and experiences here.

As illustrated above, the Freep Film Festival is a great opportunity to explore film, look at the city through a camera lens and interact with filmmakers. Get tickets before it sells out!

Another upcoming film festival is the 53rd Ann Arbor Film Festival, which takes place from Tuesday, March 24 until Sunday, March 29. According to its website, The AAFF is the “longest-running independent and experimental film festival in North America.”

It is internationally recognized as a premiere forum for independent filmmakers and artists. This year’s installment features more than 200 films, videos, live performances and more, with more than 30 premieres!

Several special guests will be in attendance for the festival. Such guests include visual artist Tacita Dean, filmmaker Wojciech Bakowski and filmmaker Jill Godmilow. There will also be live cinema performances by Demdike Stare, Karl Lemieux with Roger Tellier-Craig and more.

You can view both the extensive lists of films and filmmakers online. There are several venues being used for the festival. Tickets can be bought online as well. Some options include purchasing a single screening ticket for $10 for most films (or $7 for students and AAFF members), a weekend pass for $60 or a festival pass for $100.

Both festivals are great opportunities for moviegoers, aspiring and established filmmakers and the people of Detroit to appreciate the film industry. Check them out, you will not regret it!