Never mind South by Southwest — here’s Capital City Film Festival

How the fest handles hundreds of films and dozens of bands


Capital City Film Festival’s eighth edition continues its goal of bringing a slice of the coasts to Lansing. With a guerilla attitude toward venues — downtown Lansing still lacks a proper movie theater — and a decidedly edgy variety of multimedia, festival co-founder Dominic Cochran hopes CCFF can become Michigan’s own South by Southwest.

“We weren’t the type of people to complain about having nothing to do in Lansing. Instead we decided to do something about it,” Cochran said. “We’ve had this vision since the beginning. Not just focusing on films, but also making a music a very integral part of the festival.”

CCFF has been providing its audience lineups of feature-length and short films that are nothing to scoff at. Cochran and his team’s curation has attracted finely constructed flicks that have already hit the circuits like the Sundance Film Festival and the aforementioned SXSW, two crucial benchmarks of quality in the independent film industry.

“We want festival goers to trust our level of curation. When you buy the $50 ticket, it gets you into every film, concert and party. You just kind of buy the ticket and take the ride,” Cochran said.

Building that lineup is no easy task.

CCFF receives hundreds of submissions —by fellow co-founder Jason Gabriel’s estimate, more than 400 this year — which its team is tasked with carefully sifting through.

“We get a firehose of films from all over the world. We are extremely selective about our submissions. We don’t play stuff that is only marginally good,” Cochran said. “It’s hundreds and hundreds of films, and every one of them gets a view.”

“It’s a lot of cultural stimulus,” Gabriel laughed. “Things that I’m not so certain of, or might have different cultural revelations, I send to the full selection committee so more eyes can weigh where the film is relative to our audience.”

The result of the arduous process is a beefy roundabout of movies that often traverses deep social issues, as independent film has always been a potent medium for such messages.

“I look for a storytelling quality. While there are different qualities, an audio quality, a visual quality, the story is supreme,” Gabriel said.

The emotional and political heavyweights this year come in the form of documentaries. “This is Home” follows a family of Syrian refugees and “The United States of Detroit” traces the different communities working toward a comeback for the city.

“Watching these films is a cultural research project in long form,” Gabriel said.

The films paired with the concert series creates an environment that is overwhelming by its own design.

“The goal we have when we lay out the schedule is to make the choices difficult. We think it’s fun when you look at a schedule and go ‘Ugh, this movie looks amazing, but I really want to go this concert!’”

Cochran said. “In Lansing it’s not frequent you have difficult choices between three different things.”

CCFF decided early on to push short films as hard as it does the features. There are 19 fulllength pictures and more than 100 short films. “We take the short film aspect very seriously. Every night you have the choice between a full length feature or a slew of short films,” Cochran said.

Film festivals are often the only venue available for short features and there’s a classic trope that limitations breed creativity.

Filmmakers like Kevin Sluder, whose film “Heartless” will be shown at CCFF Saturday before the feature length “Revenge,” live and die by the film festival circuit, where budding filmmakers get a chance to show off their talent.

“It’s a great way to get your film on a screen, especially a short film. It’s a good opportunity to see film and interact with fans and fellow filmmakers,” Sluder said. “Just being around the independent film community is such a blast.”

Sluder emphasized that the camaraderie felt by these small crews often translates well to the silver screen, which makes the atmosphere of a short film screening at a festival like CCFF all the more special.

“It’s a bunch of people helping each other, everyone wants the film to come out the best it can be. It’s really cool to have that kind of tight knit community on a set,” Sluder said. “They lift you up when you start doubting yourself.”

Though the Greater Lansing area has another major film festival in East Lansing, Cochran’s goal for CCFF is to be complementary and not divisive.

“I wouldn’t say our audiences are different. They’re a little more classical music and we’re a little more rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a nice contrast,” Cochran said.


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