From love quarrels and battles with addiction to a small town-guy searching for love, Michigan filmmakers know their material better than anyone.
An abundance of regional talent and good movies has bumped the Lake Michigan Film Festival, running from Jan. 9 to Jan. 11, to a new level, from a competition to a full-on festival. In past years, the East Lansing Film Festival honored regional filmmakers in its Lake Michigan Film Competition, a selection of short films shot by Midwestern talent, with festival honors determined by audience vote.
For 10 years, rounding out the ELFF program with locally cultivated flicks was not difficult, according to LMFF Director Karl Millisor. However, the smaller titles often got buried in the heavy stock of nationally acclaimed features that packed the larger festival.
This year, for the first time, the competition will get festival treatment — a three-day showcase featuring 34 short films and five features. “We are in the process of turning the Lake Michigan Film Competition into its own film festival,” Millisor said. “The films just keep getting better and better.” All screenings will take place in the East Lansing Hannah Community Center, with simultaneous programming in two theaters. Daily admission is $5 per feature film or block of short films. Saturday, the showings will end at 8 p.m., followed by a party and award ceremony at El Azteco restaurant at 255 Ann St., East Lansing.
Dark dramas told in less than 30 minutes are a fixture in the lineup this year, as well as full-length features. Thursday, the festival opens with “Foster Boy,” a 114-minute courtroom drama that delves into corruption and abuse in the foster care system. Saturday, Director Colton Fromhart will present “Burnt,” a five-minute suspense film about two agents who visit an underground doctor. The bite-sized drama made in Clinton, Michigan was runner-up for North America in Light This Location, an international film competition with an emphasis on cinematography.
Another notable Michigan-made film is “Eugene,” which will be screened in the short film block Friday at 6 p.m. The independent production was written, shot and edited in Bay City by a crew of film fanatics that have operated a local film festival for 15 years.
“We’ve been running the film festival for so long that we wanted to make our own film,” said Don Hessell, the director of “Eugene” and the Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival. “As organizers of a film festival, we’ve watched thousands of films and they can start to feel the same. We wanted to do something fresh and new that was exciting to us, and that’s what we did with Eugene.”
Hessell described “Eugene” as an “absurdist comedy” exploring the peripheries of unconventional storytelling. The short film follows a man and his dog as they search for acceptance in a cold town with varying success. The film is short in cinéma vérité style with a cast full of non-actors and shots of daily life in Bay City, while also toying with layers of perceived reality.
The short film was made by 30 Bay City residents, including a core team of seven filmmakers, and was edited in four days. Hessel and his team wrote roles with their friends in mind.
“The films you are going to see at the East Lansing film festival, you aren’t going to see anywhere else,” Hessel said. “Especially with the shorts. The great thing is if you don’t like one film, it’s over before you know it.”
Lake Michigan Film Festival
$5, Thursday, Jan. 9 to Saturday, Jan. 11
Various start times
East Lansing Hannah Community Center
819 Abbot Road, East Lansing
For a full schedule, visit elff.com/festival