Nov. 4 2015 03:34 PM

East Lansing Film Festival kicks off 18th year

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A legal dispute over a mummified leg. A conversation with a piano genius. The outbreak of a deadly virus. The birth of freestyle skiing. A Latina chef learns to make sushi. These are just a few of the diverse scenes that will grace the silver screens at the 18th annual East Lansing Film Festival.

The festival kicks off Thursday with an opening reception followed by a showing of “Uncle John.” The reception, as well as a post-showing afterglow party, will feature actor John Ashton (“Beverly Hills Cop” and “Midnight Run"), lead actor in “Uncle John.”

The rest of the festival features dozens of films stretched out across two locations over almost a week. City Pulse takes a look at some of the festival’s intriguing options.

Reviews by ALLAN I. ROSS


“Finders Keepers”

82 min., 2015 If you didn’t follow the media hoopla surrounding John Wood and Shannon Whisnant in the mid-‘00s, you didn’t really miss anything: Just an obese redneck (Whisnant) fighting for his right to own a mummified severed leg that he found inside a barbecue smoker he bought at a storage unit auction. The leg had belonged to Wood, a second-generation daredevil who lost the limb in an airplane accident in 2004.

The story went viral, and the leg’s true ownership was debated worldwide by mainstream news media, muckraking TV newsmagazines and the emerging social media webiverse. Newscasters struggled to keep straight faces, and the two were written off as tragicomic goofballs.

But in the documentary “Finders Keepers,” filmmakers Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel masterfully reveal the real tragedy — as well as the comedy — behind the story. It’s a profoundly human tale, which far surpasses the seeming tawdriness of the subject matter. It incorporates the perils of living up to high parental expectations (Wood was hoping to turn his leg into a memorial to his father, who died in the plane crash), the resentment bred by societal stratification, the system of addiction enabled by the health care industry and the new breed of fame spawned by reality TV.

The best personality-driven documentaries do two things: They explore previously unrecognized quirks of the human condition, and they do it in a way that utilizes too-good-to-be-true stories that are actually true. “Finders Keepers” does both.

“Keep in Touch”

105 min., 2015 Once you get past its unbelievable premise, “Keep in Touch” is actually kind of a sweet movie — creepy, but sweet. And at least the music is good.

On the worst day of his life, Colin (Ryan Patrick Bachand) finds out that he’s being boxed out of the startup he co-founded, his fiancée is breaking up with him, and —oops — he nails a construction worker with his car. He does a stretch in prison. The day he gets out, he discovers that Annie, the girl he grew up with and his first love, died in a car accident. When she was 15. And everyone in his life knew this but him. That’s the unbelievable part.

The creepy part comes when Colin hunts down Annie’s little sister, Jessie (Gabbi McPhee), who’s living as a singer/songwriter in Brooklyn. He ingratiates himself into her life — even meets her father — without telling her who he is. It doesn’t make much sense, but once the music starts, all is forgiven.

McPhee wrote and performed most of the soundtrack herself, giving the film a “Once”-like sensibility. And overall, the acting is exemplary, including solid supporting turns from Jill Eikenberry (“L.A. Law”) as Colin’s mother, Sarah Nealis as his fiancée, and James Colby as Colin’s probation officer.



15 min.

A fairly engaging short with above-average special effects and a nifty premise: Two scientists unwittingly invent time travel and are instantly tasked by a mysterious person from the future to abandon their research. It ends rather abruptly, but raises some questions that would be interesting to see answered in a feature-length film.


11 min.

On his deathbed, a young drug addict recalls the times he was mean to his mother — now his sole caretaker — when he was growing up. Heavy-handed, sure, but it may inspire you to pick up the phone and give your mom a call when the lights come up.

“Last Pyramid”

24 min.

In 2001, Trish Barnes lost her 17-year-old son, Kevin, in a drowning accident when he had a seizure while swimming. Kevin suffered from epilepsy, and endured multiple surgeries throughout his short life. After his death, Barnes decided to donate $1 million to the Epilepsy Foundation — but not as a simple cash gift. She would create original pieces of stained glass art pyramids and sell them for $50,000 a pop.

The documentary short “Last Pyramid” follows Barnes as she makes the titular piece, the 21st pyramid in the series. Barnes is a self-taught artist and an engaging character, but the filmmakers seem so enamored with her that they hold back from answering some basic questions. Namely: Did she reach her goal?

“Follies of Youth”

8 min.

Everything sounds quainter with an Irish lilt, even twee rom coms. A lovelorn Irish lass and the bloke who spurned her find their lives cross in a most interesting way at Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral Park at lunchtime.

“Going to the Top”

10 min.

This well-shot short attempts to allegorize a young man’s rise up the corporate ladder as an existential elevator ride with a psychotic stranger. The dialogue is ludicrous and the (possible) attempt at horror are ho-hum, but the camera work is excellent and the slick elevator set would look right at home in the tech noir series “Black Mirror.”

East Lansing Film Festival

Nov. 5-12 See web for locations and schedule (517) 980-5802, elff. com


(Subject to change. Full schedule and film details available at

Opening night schedule

Studio C!

1999 Central Park Drive, Okemos

Thursday, Nov. 5 6:30 p.m. —Opening night reception 7:30 p.m. — “Uncle John” 9:30 p.m. — Afterglow (Lead actor John Ashton will be on hand for the reception and afterglow.)

Wells Hall Schedule

619 Red Cedar Road, East Lansing

Friday, Nov. 6 Altman Theatre (A) 7:00 p.m. — Slice of Life Short Films Program 9:15 p.m. — “Train Station” (Directors Marty Shea and John Versical scheduled to attend.)

Bergman Theatre (B) 7:00 p.m. — “Burst Theory” (Director Zac Page and Producer Lisa Mueller scheduled to attend.) 9:15 p.m. — “The Stories They Tell” (Director Danny Kim and cast member Siu-Lan Tan scheduled to attend.)

Coppola Theatre (C) 7:00 p.m. — “Exported From Michigan” (Director Jon Vander Pol and Cinematographer Robert Sonneveldt scheduled to attend) 9:15 p.m. — Shorts Program 1

Disney Theatre (D) 7:00 p.m. — “(313) Choices” (FREE showing) 9:15 p.m. — “Amy”

Saturday, Nov. 7 Altman Theatre (A) 12:00 p.m. — Filmmakers panel discussion 2:00 p.m. — LMFC Short Docs: “Birdsell Project” and “The Ragged Edge” 4:00 p.m. — Challenges Short Films Program 6:30 p.m. — “T-Rex” 9:00 p.m. — “Superior”

Coppola Theatre (C) 12:00 p.m. — 60/50 Project: Across Generations

(FREE showing) 2:00 p.m. — “Move On!” 4:00 p.m. — “A Light Beneath Their Feet” 6:30 p.m. — “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out The Window and Disappeared” (In Swedish with English subtitles) 9:00 p.m. — Shorts Program 2

Disney Theatre (D) 2:00 p.m. — “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs 4:00 p.m. — “The Life and Death of an Unhappily Married Man” 6:30 p.m. — “Trace Amounts”

Studio C! schedule

Friday, Nov. 6 1:30 p.m. — “Move On!” 4:00 p.m. — “Seymour: An Introduction” 6:30 p.m. — “Keep In Touch” 9:00 p.m. — “Finders Keepers”

Saturday, Nov. 7 1:30 p.m. — Slice of Life Shorts Program 4:00 p.m. — “Cold Nights Hot Salsa” (Director Edwin Gailits scheduled to attend) 6:30 p.m. — “East Side Sushi” 9:00 p.m. — “Amy”

Sunday, Nov. 8 1:30 p.m. — Short Documentaries 4:00 p.m. — “The Messenger” 6:30 p.m. — “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out The Window And Disappeared” (In Swedish with English subtitles) 9:00 p.m. “Seymour: An Introduction”

Monday, Nov. 9 4:00 p.m. — “Trace Amounts” 6:30 p.m. — “Phoenix” (In German with English subtitles) 9:00 p.m. — “Cold Nights Hot Salsa”

Tuesday, Nov. 10 4:00 p.m. — “The Messenger” 6:30 p.m. — “Finders Keepers” 9:00 p.m. — “Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia” Bergman Theatre (B) 12:00 p.m. — “One Smart Fellow” 2:00 p.m. — “That Bites!” 4:00 p.m. — “Dog Days of Winter” (Director Brian Gilmore scheduled to attend) 6:30 p.m. — “The Alley Cat” (Director, Marie Ullrich schedule to attend) 9:00 p.m. — Short Documentary Program

Wednesday, Nov. 11 4:00 p.m. — Challenges Shorts Program 6:30 p.m. — “Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia” 9:00 p.m. — “Amy”

Thursday, Nov. 12 4:00 p.m. — “Keep In Touch” 6:30 p.m. — “East Side Sushi” 9:00 p.m. — “Phoenix” (In German with English Subtitles)