March 26 2009 12:00 AM

Lake Michigan Film Contest films must be at least one-quarter filmed, produced or financed in states that border Lake Michigan. All films shown are in Wells Hall on Sunday, March 22, followed by a concluding awards ceremony at 6:40 p.m.

‘Blue Devils, Marine Aviation Squadron VMF-451’

noon Wells Hall, C

“Blue Devils” is a no-frills account of VMF-451, a hardy unit of Air Force pilots who absorbed some of the heaviest fighting in the hellish Pacific theater of World War II. Now they’re leathery octogenarians with huge eyeglasses, but in 1944 they were callow young pilots with little idea of the horror ahead. The testimony of the pilots and vivid stock footage kicks this remarkable story along in unremarkable, but competent, fashion. The guys still talk in stiff Marine diction, but they open up more as the film goes on, and the payoff is a fascinating window on what it’s like to live or die by your own split-second decisions.

Once the unit plunges into the brutal islandhopping wind-up of the Pacific war, the Bunker Hill and its flyboys endure unimaginable horrors, including devastating kamikaze attacks and pointless accidents. We are losing guys like these by the hundred every day in nursing homes and hospitals all over the country, and that makes documents like these well worth treasuring. -Lawrence Cosentino

‘Copyright & Creativity in the Digital Age’

2 p.m. Wells Hall, B

This dull documentary explores the copyfight in the Digital Age and what rights people have when using others work in the creation of their own music, films and art. A few interesting points aren’t enough to save this piece marred by cheesy editing and a lack of noteworthy interview subjects. —Luke Allen Hackney

Shown with: ‘Austins Movie’

Austin is an autistic child with a love of art and photography. His wondrous nature and reaction to conservative complaints about a local sculpture makes it impossible to refrain from smiling.—Luke Allen Hackney

‘The Cost of Oil: Voices From the Arctic’

2 p.m. Wells Hall, D

This ambitious, eco-documentary explores the ramifications of ongoing oil exploration and drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas near the remote village of Point Hope, Alaska. The issues raised include toxic pollution, habitat loss for whales and walruses, a village of native hunters under cultural siege, and, oh yeah, climate change. This part of the world is wickedly hooked into global warming at both ends; it’s sitting on the oil that helps to cause it, and melting as a result of it. Filmmaker Coulter Mitchell mixes these issues together and serves them up cold, like a half-digested toxic vichyssoise of environmental science and activist anthropology. The most telling moments sneak in quietly, as when an Exxon Mobil flack boasts about the pretty colors they’re painting their tankers. “We put together an oil spill response plan that sets us apart,” the flack boasts. -Lawrence Cosentino

‘Exploring the Wild Kingdom’

2 p.m. Wells Hall, D

The conflicted message of most nature documentaries, from David Attenborough’s epic opuses to ‘Animal Planet,’ can be summed up this way: Watch out, because nature can deliver agonizing death in seconds — but it’s also a beautiful, precious thing we must save for future generations. The tension between cheap thrills and thoughtful science in nature shows is nothing new. It began in the 1950s with a pioneering show called “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” This rollicking documentary (produced by former WILX-TV personality Roger McCoy) follows TV pioneer Don Meier as he invents the TV nature show, first as croc-wrestling macho display, later as habitat-conscious lesson in ecology. The film is a thorough, leisurely tour of the wild and woolly days of early television, where everything was still being figured out and standards had yet to be set. —Lawrence Cosentino

‘I Love Trash’

4:45 p.m. Wells Hall, D

“I Love Trash” explores the subculture of Dumpster diving by way of a Morgan Spurlocklike quest by James and Don, a pair of dreadlocked Berkley, Calif., hippies, who set out to fill their vacant apartment and live for three months on garbage.

These adult children babble on about “art” and the evils of consumerism with no clear goals except to live a life full of laughter, ice cream and bad music. For the first 20 minutes, they succeed in finding some perfectly good food, furniture and “art supplies” in Dumpsters. By the end of the movie, they have accumulated so much they have to give it all away, which begs the question whether they realize that the consumer culture they hate is what supplied them with their lifestyle.

The filmmakers only seem to interview likeminded people who think its “cool” to Dumpster dive, but seem oblivious to people out there who do so to survive and probably don’t think it’s “cool” or “arty.” You’ll know that the movie is almost over when James and Don do an interpretive dance while wasting an industrial-size roll of Saran wrap. —Neal McNamara

‘The Tower’

noon Wells Hall, B

In what could have been an interesting horror movie about the kind of people that like to explore abandoned buildings in Detroit, “The Tower” is instead nothing more than a showcase for gory special effects, which, don’t get me wrong, are actually quite good. The plot focuses on Joan, whose brother has gone missing in an abandoned office tower in downtown Detroit. Joan enters the building after — gasp — her brother appears to her in a dream sequence and tells her he’s still alive.

Once inside, she meets the master of the place, a businessman from 1920s Detroit who had murdered his wife after Black Friday. The businessman tells Joan she must go to the belly of the building to shut off some light so he can be free, and thus she’ll get her brother back. During her journey she meets freaks, zombies and space aliens of some sort, but barely shows any emotion because she’s a horrible actress.

A little ways in, she meets a guy who has been trapped in the building for a while, and they face the horror together. They eventually find out that the farther down into an abandoned building in Detroit you go, the worse it gets. Metaphor? —Neal McNamara

‘The Truth About Average Guys’

4:45 p.m. Wells Hall, C

When Jason finds out his dream girl/coworker has a sister that is mentally challenged, he sees it as an in. Recruiting his best friend, an aspiring actor, to portray his own mentally challenged brother, Jason attempts to woo Katie. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but this low-budget film aspires to be nothing but an unpretentious comedy and delivers enough laughs to say “mission accomplished.” —Luke Allen Hackney

Shown with: ‘Throbbing Justice’

Raunchy humor can be funny, but this satirical action short is nothing more than a flat, one-note joke. —Luke Allen Hackney AnD: ‘Peeling It Off’ An awful secret is hidden at a smoothie shop in this terrible but mercifully short feature. —Luke Allen Hackney

‘The Twenty’

2 p.m. Wells Hall, A

With the recent arrival of a new child and only a few months of sobriety after years of alcohol abuse, Carty atempts to his piece his life and rocky marriage back together. One day, a $20 bill comes into his possession that bares a disturbing message scribbled upon it. The possible plea for help becomes an obsession that may help him find his way — or further drive him to the brink. It’s an interesting premise, but the films slow pace and a series of unusual sequences make it difficult to appreciate. —Luke Allen Hackney

Shown with: ‘Hanging On’

No sympathy for this spoiled, drug-fueled, teen couple that skip school for a day of debauchery that leads to surprise/disaster.

—Luke Allen Hackney

‘You Are Here’

4:45 p.m., Wells Hall, A

Once you get past the first 10-or-so grueling minutes of this movie and start to put together what’s going on inside the mind of its protagonist, this film moves from nearly unbearable to a commendable attempt at getting the audience to step into the shoes of someone whose life is slowly falling apart for reasons she can’t understand. The movie tells the story of Mimi, a respected charitable officer at some prominent company, who starts to notice things getting weird at work, at home and in her day-to-day life. As more strange things happen, she begins to question her husband’s fidelity and her coworkers’ confidence in her, until she finally realizes what’s going on. [SPOILER ALERT: Mimi suffers from early on-set Alzheimer’s].

The acting lags and the filming looks like it could have been improved with a bigger budget, but the ambitious concept of telling this story through Mimi’s eyes makes you wish the filmmakers could’ve gotten their hands on just a little more money and talent.

-Eric Gallippo

‘When the West Brings Civilization Back to Africa'

Noon, Wells Hall, A

This documentary about a young woman’s quest to simultaneously bring
aid to Africa and debunk the myths many Westerners believe about the
continent seems to have its heart in the right place, but, like its
subject, it gets a little lost along the way.

Twenty-year-old Hope College student Sam is part of an engineering and
work crew traveling overseas to improve the quality of drinking water
in a rural village in Cameroon. Before her trip, she starts thinking
heavily about the cultural differences she will face and the images of
Africa she and her neighbors have been raised on. After consulting a
few professors and walking around Holland, Mich., to ask locals what
Africa means to them (“wild animals,” “political unrest,” “black
people), she jets off, determined to have her own experience.

As she makes herself at home among the villagers, she questions the
motives behind her and her teammates actions; are they taking pictures
of kids because they’re cute, or because they’re African cute? As
narrator, she vocally ponders such questions in an obnoxious infinitum,
often falling into the same generalizations she wants to sidestep.

Ultimately, Sam realizes the relationship between the villagers and
Westerners is a complex one. Because of aid workers like herself, they
know there’s a world full of drinkable water, digital cameras and
higher education, and they want in, and if that means projecting a
stereotype of poverty to the West, so be it.

Exhausted and disheartened, Sam does what the Americans always do; she goes home.

—Eric Gallippo

Short Film Program

‘Arc of a Bird’

This polished, well-acted and slightly heavy-handed mock documentary
about a missing artist and his miraculous paintings pokes a little fun
at art dealers, buyers and curators and, whether intended or not, comes
off as somewhat of an allegory for Christianity. However moving the
finale may (or may not be), the sentiment is squashed by melodramatic
music courtesy of The Frames.

-Eric Gallippo

‘Ghost Wiring’

In this pleasant, but mostly unmemorable art film, a mix of abstract
(bright colors, bold shapes, dark lines) and figurative (outlines of
girls and a birds) subjects are set to the indie-Americana sounds of
Neko Case.

—Eric Gallippo

‘The Hungry Dead’

The living dead ravage Lansing in this fun, campy exercise of zombie
flick competence, terrorizing humans in Riverfront Park and other
downtown locations before making their way to a young couples’ home
where it becomes clear they’re more interested in raiding the fridge
than scooping out brains.

—Eric Gallippo

‘It All Adds Up’

While others write off Detroit’s kids and the fact that less than half
of them finish high school, Steve Kahn and Leonard Boehm are doing
something about it with their Math Corps summer camp. The Wayne State
University faculty members started the program 17 years ago, and this
documentary takes viewers into the classrooms and lecture halls where
these extraordinary instructors turn kids onto math, but more
important, their own potential.

—Eric Gallippo

‘Doctor Reddy’

A bizarre little movie about an Indian’s doctor’s unconventional style.
Worth seeing for Reddy’s breakout, Bollywood dance number during a
karaoke jam at a local biker bar.

—Eric Gallippo

‘Switching Sides’

It’s a little difficult to know what to make of this one. On the one
hand, you’ve got a young, up-and-coming politician named Monty who
turns his back on a gentrifying development project to help save a
Detroit community center that brings people together through music. But
a closing line about Monty going on to become the first “hip-hop mayor”
raises a weird flag that this was an ill-timed propaganda piece for
Kwame Kilpatrick.

—Eric Gallippo

Student Film Program 1

Noon Wells Hall, D

‘Bresson and Adeline’

The narrated story of a pair of siblings that both suffer from the odd condition of not existing.

—Luke Allen Hackney

‘The Happy Man’s Pants’

Epi-curious king Randy sets out with his assistant to find true
happiness beyond his unending supply of exotic women, entertainment and
foods. Along the way, he encounters the real people of this country and
discovers happiness is best found when it’s not being looked for in
this funny, and slickly produced, family-channel-ready parable.

—Eric Gallippo

‘Mary's Ring’

Short comedy following Mike and Ethan on a grave robbing-excursion in
search of an engagement ring for the latter's girlfriend. Hilarity,
pop-culture references ensue.

—Luke Allen Hackney

‘Patrick Warren’

An unusual silent short depicting a faux-magic show. The "tricks" were
executed with animation drawn directly onto the film's print using an
exacto-knife and pen.

—Luke Allen Hackney


A stop-motion short depicting an environment that is dramatically altered when an unusual creature creeps its way in.

—Luke Allen Hackney

‘Plain and Simple’

Telling the tale of Pauly, a penguin on thin ice due to low-attendance
at his exhibit, this unique and highly stylized short combines colorful
animation with live actors and sets.

—Luke Allen Hackney

Student Film Program 2

4:45 p.m. Wells Hall, B

‘Already Happened’

A portable CD player that mysteriously appears on John's desk turns out to be a time machine in this unusual short film.

—Luke Allen Hackney

‘Alternate Endings’

A whodunit on the set of a Hollywood movie lot in which viewers get to
decide what path our security guard hero takes while trying to solve
the murder of a director after he has a blowout argument over whether
or not to include bonus features on the DVD release of his latest film.
Although completely novel for its choose-your-own-adventure format and
clever with its meta-movie shtick, this comedy elicits more chuckles
and knowing grins than true laughs.

—Eric Gallippo

‘Coq au Vin Janina Maria’

A young woman returns home following an unexpected death and attempts
to hold her family together through the power of tradition.

—Luke Allen Hackney


Relationship aftermath. Boy gets text message from girl. Boy remembers things about girl. Boy meets with girl.

—Luke Allen Hackney

‘High Step’

Everything you may or may not want to know about MSU's Marching Band.

—Luke Allen Hackney

‘Zeke the Wonder Dog’

A short documentary about Zeke, the Frisbee-catching pooch that has
entertained Spartan football fans during halftime for more than 30

—Luke Allen Hackney