More than 5,000 films have been screened at the festival over the past five decades. The festival has gone through its ups and downs during that time, too, including cuts to state funding and a high-profile censorship controversy several years ago.
Donald Harrison, the festival’s executive director, says more than 230 films will be shown this time around, many by obscure filmmakers.
"We really encourage people just to have that open mind, that sense of discovery," says Harrison. "We guarantee that people will see things that really affect them in a rewarding way, and of course they’ll see things that maybe they don’t care as much about, but that’s probably someone else’s favorite film in the festival."
We caught up with two longtime fans of the festival - an audience member, and a filmmaker – to hear some of their favorite film fest memories.
According to Ashenfelter, Thompson is seeking refunds for concession stand customers along with payment of a civil penalty by the theater for what he considers to be a violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.
Yes, yes... there are a lot of abandoned buildings and sad reminders of better times in Detroit.
While some artists come to Detroit to gawk at the "ruin porn," as Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra has pointed out, the filmmakers of the new documentary "Detropia" say they hope people take away something other than a sense of awe at the decay.
Co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady say they want their audience to understand the people who stayed behind in Detroit:
"Initially when we went there, we were just looking for this Phoenix story. We were hoping that there were people on the ground there that were really just going to fix the place. But after spending a couple years filming there, and spending time with our characters we realized that was really just a very dishonest story," said Grady.
Answer This!, a film by University of Michigan alum Christopher Farah, takes you out to the bars of Ann Arbor, where diehard trivia teams—like the Ice Tigers —face off for a glory far greater than a round on the house.
The movie follows Paul Tarson, a U of M graduate student played by Christopher Gorham. Afraid to make any decisions about his post-academic life, Tarson redirects his intellectual energy toward a citywide pub trivia tournament, much to the disappointment of his professor father, played by real life U of M Professor Ralph Williams.
Funded in part by the now suspended Michigan Film Office incentives program, Answer This! was filmed almost entirely on the U of M campus and around Ann Arbor. It is the first movie to receive official sanction from the university.Farah said it was important for him to locate the film in his hometown. He and his brother Mike Farah, who produced the film, tried several bigger, broader scripts before settling on Answer This!.
“None of those stories really resonated with us,” said Farah. “We wanted to do something that would kind of take us back to something we could really connect with.”
Farah uses the locations in the film to create that same hometown feeling for moviegoers.
“What we did,” said Farah, “was try to take a lot of those places that go beyond the really famous Ann Arbor spots...no matter what town or what city it’s in, people can relate to those kind of places, whether it’s a great corner bar or a pond or rope swing that only they knew about back where they were growing up.”
For audiences from Ann Arbor, this has the effect of making the familiar seem epic.
“A sidewalk outside Ashley’s feels so big in the movie...When you walk by it, it just kind of feels like a sidewalk. But in a movie, it feels like A SIDEWALK,” said Farah. “It’s taking that Ann Arbor that we know, and is somehow blowing it up to cinematic proportions.”
Answer This! opens this weekend in Ann Arbor, Novi and Grand Rapids.
We wrap up our Stories from the North Woods series with a look at how cities and towns from Detroit to Marquette are bringing new life to their old movie palaces.
The Vista Theater as community theater
When the Vista Theater opened in Negaunee in the 1920s, the Upper Peninsula town was booming. Alfred Keefer says the Vista "was the theater to be at, and they would fill this house up on movie nights."
The old film incentives were scrapped in the tax overhaul approved by the Michigan legislature and the Governor.
They said the old film incentives, which gave production companies a 42% credit on total expenses in Michigan, was too costly ($115 million was spent last year, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy).
In it's place, a $25 million film incentive program for Michigan's next fiscal year (which starts October 1).
Now, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he wants to improve the film incentives.
MPRN's Rick Plua filed this report:
Richardville says his new proposal would focus financial support in activities that reward spending on Michigan products, services, and workers.
He says investors have put money into expensive production facilities, and workers have learned new skills in the belief that incentives would attract more film business to the state.
“I think the strength of that workforce, the strength of the investments we have in Michigan will cause us to win contracts in competitive situations versus other states. Once we’re done with that, then let’s analyze it to see what we can afford versus what the industry needs to sustain itself here in Michigan.”
Governor Rick Snyder’s office says he would like to see how Michigan’s new incentive program is working before making changes.
Republican state senator Rick Jones says Michigan’s film tax credit might need to be trimmed, but he doesn’t think it should be eliminated.
Governor Rick Snyder has said he’s going to put Michigan’s generous film tax credit policy under the microscope.
Movie companies can get up to a 42 percent tax credit if they film here.
But State Sen. Rick Jones says movies made in Michigan can be good for the state, because a hitcan bring residual money into a community:
A good example would be "Somewhere in Time" with Christopher Reeve." We still have people traveling to Mackinac Island to see where that movie was made. There are still souvenirs sold, and it increases tourism.
Jones says his position has nothing to do with the possibility that the next Batman movie may be shot in his hometown of Grand Ledge.
Another movie, “Red Dawn,” was also filmed in Grand Ledge and is awaiting release.