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9th Annual Riverside Film Festival

Posted In: | From Issue 818 | By: | 05th November, 2015 | 0


A broad array of first-run feature films, foreign films and documentaries that you won’t likely see at the local Big Box theatres, along with free films and a special tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy are all significant components comprising the 9th Annual Riverside Saginaw Film Festival, which will be happening this year from Wednesday  through Sunday, November 11-15th and shown at six venues: The Castle Museum, First Congregational Church, The Temple Theatre, Hoyt Library, Pit & Balcony Theatre, and The Saginaw Club.

A distinguishing component of the Riverside festival is the shared commitment towards quality exercised by their film selection board, which focuses upon showcasing a broad variety of substantive works as opposed to more experimental films.  “Every year is a new year and each year we look at what films are out there, what other festivals are showcasing, top-notch films that never make it to this market, as well as feedback from patrons in order to determine what people like to see when making our film selections,” explains Riverside Film Festival Director Irene Hensinger.

“We’ve always focused on new films, but again this year we are making an exception with our Tribute Series of Free films that will be shown at Hoyt Library and will honor actors who actors & directors who passed away this year,” continues Irene. “This year we sill honor Louis Jourdan with a showing of Gigi, along with Roddy Piper with a screening of They Live, and Omar Shariff with his wonderful work in Funny Girl. Additionally, we will show The Serpant & the Rainbow in honor Wes Craven.”

Established back in 2007 as a grass-roots effort to bring interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking contemporary movies to the Saginaw area, the Riverside Saginaw Film Festival is decidedly poised for greatness. In 2014 they were the recipient of an All Area Arts Award and 2015 finds the organization evolving in many positive directions. Festival attendees reflect all ages and come from throughout the Great Lakes Bay region, the Thumb, Tawas, and Flint areas are also represented.

Generally the festival has run from Thursday through Sunday in the past,” explains Festival Director Irene Hensinger, “but his year we are adding a Wednesday showing and featuring two Star Trek films, in memory of Leonard Nimoy, who passed away over the past year. We’ll be showing two 35 millimeter Big Screen films at The Temple Theatre on November 11thThe Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home, which are two of the best.  One screening will be at 5 PM and the other at 8 PM.”

 “In terms of our organization, we are doing very well,” reflects Irene. “We feature films that rival those shown at any of the big festivals and have received wonderful support from individuals, businesses, and local foundations, which is undeniably important. Without their support we could not exist; plus, this support allows us to keep ticket prices low and affordable, so we would like to express special appreciation to our underwriters, First Merit Bank, Garber Automotive, the Wickes, Morley, Jury & Andersen Foundations, The Public Libraries of Saginaw, The Saginaw Arts & Enrichment Commission and Delta Television.”

“Additionally, this year we worked with a facilitator and pulled together a 5-year Strategic Master Plan, to help guide us into the future.  We’ve also applied to a marketing class at Saginaw Valley State University through their ‘Adopt a Business’ program and got accepted. They will be doing surveys and gathering demographics and data by surveying audiences at all of the venues and interviewing our Board Members. All of this will be beneficial to us as we continue to grow.”

“We are also working with different restaurants throughout the screening areas that will offer special discounts to patrons with a festival pass and the names of the participating venues can be found on our website.”

Cost for the festival is only $40 for a Pre-Festival Pass that gains you entry to all films & events, or $45 for a pass during the Festival run.  Single Ticket admission is only $6.00 and $5.00 for students at the door only with a valid ID. Tickets may be purchased by going to riversidesaginawfilmfestival.org or by calling 989-607-1070. You can also check out their facebook page that includes reviews of the films playing.

While a look at their screening schedule reveals the dynamic range of cinema available over this three-day stretch of the 2015 festival, the Review had the opportunity to delve deeper into a few of the films showing that we feel deserve special attention.

 

SUPERIOR 

Showing Friday, November 13th • 8:00 PM • 3rd Floor of The Saginaw Club

This last minute addition to the 2015 Riverside Festival is a compelling & engaging tribute by writer/director Edd Benda, who hails from Birmingham, Michigan, that offers a snapshot of America in 1969, back when futures were uncertain yet the most outlandish adventures remained possible, and was inspired by a real journey taken around Lake Superior by Karl Benda and Dan “Dudza’ Junittila more than 40 years ago.

During the height of the Vietnam War in 1969, Charlie is on his way to Michigan Tech University and Derek is counting the days to his inevitable military draft eligibility. Before their precarious futures take hold, the lifelong best friends embark upon one final adventure: a 1300-mile bike ride along the shores of the gargantuan Lake Superior.

With two-speed Schwinn bicycles and limited preparation, Charlie & Derek pedal through the massive northern backwoods of Michigan, Minnesota, and Canada. Along the way they face hunger, exhaustion, and the kind of people in the world who never wanted to be found.

Superior was filmed on location in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the summer of 2014. The production team behind the film consists of eleven young filmmakers that traveled more than 7,000 miles round-trip in a truck and three sedans from Los Angeles to the most remote regions of the Keweenaw Peninsula to tell a story true to its origins. Indeed, the bikes used for filming Superior are the exact same bikes that were used by Edd's uncle and cousin on their ride back in 1971.

This screening at Riverside, which wraps up the premier tour in Michigan, features an appearance by the film’s writer/director, Edd Benda for a question and answer session following the film. He was also gracious enough to offer me this last-minute interview.

Review:  Please give me some details in terms of the genesis of Superior.  What was the impetus for making this film and what were some of the objectives that you are striving to achieve with it?

Benda: Over a Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago, my uncle Karl shared the story about his epic bike ride around Lake Superior that he took with his cousin Dudza in the summer of 1971. I was so fascinated by the time and place where this kind of adventure was possible, that I started writing a fictionalization of their adventure into a feature film. What Superior became was not only inspired by Karl and Dudza's story, but a patchwork quilt of a lot of different adventure stories I grew up listening to as a kid. 

When it came time to actually make the movie, I knew that we needed to return to my home state to film in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Having recently graduated form the University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinematic Arts, I had an incredible network of young and ambitious filmmakers with whom I set out to make Superior a reality. We traveled from Los Angeles, California to Calumet, Michigan in three sedans and a pickup truck to spend a month living and filming in one of the most remote regions of the country.

As young adults on an adventure on our own, we were perfectly equipped to take on a story about young men at a critical junction in their lives. We want Superior to capture the freedom and sense of adventure that comes with youth, while not shying away from the harsh realities we all must face and decisions we all must make as we grow older.

Review:  Is this your first film or do you have other works that you've completed?  What was the most challenging component involved with pulling this venture together?

Benda: Superior is my debut feature film as a writer, director, and producer. I had the good fortune to make several short films and web videos while a student at USC, but Superior is my largest undertaking to date.

As with most films, the largest challenge was getting the project off the ground. Before we could even start thinking about how to make the movie, we needed to assemble a talented team and fundraise for production. When you add into the mix filming in a remote location where the nearest backup equipment is 500 miles away, there needed to be a great deal of preparation and meticulous planning.

Review:  What do you hope audiences take away from them while watching this film?

Benda: When we look back on our younger selves, it’s incredible to imagine how young and sometimes stupid we were when we were making choices that impacted the rest of our lives. Even more so, we think back to the friends we had when we were kids, and how we maybe lost touch or went our separate ways at some point, yet how important those people were in shaping who we are.

Superior lingers with audiences because it puts that crucial junction in life at the forefront. Set amidst the stunning vistas of Michigan, it leaves our audience wrestling with those choices we made as kids. While our characters are living at a time where an uncertain war hung over our nation’s young men like a black cloud, even today we still live and cope with the rewards and consequences of our decisions. I hope Superior inspires its audience to go on an adventure and cherish the time you have with the people you love.

What sets Superior apart from other films is that the film showcases the beautiful state of Michigan while subtly capturing a pivotal and uncertain time in US History. Superior focuses specifically on the lives of two young men in the Summer of 1969, one is on his way to college and the other is awaiting his impending call from the Vietnam War draft. Superior captures a time in our nation's history that has never been explored so personally on film before.

Review:  What are your plans for distributing the film?  

Benda: We are hoping to bring Superior to theaters nationwide before releasing to VOD, online, and DVD. That said, we acknowledge that the independent film market is incredibly competitive. A big part of our current tour around the state of Michigan is to build the audience for Superior to help bolster an eventual broader release. We are also considering involving potential corporate sponsors to help put together an initial theatrical release to help bring Superior to the big screen for audiences nationwide.

 

Tangerines 

Showing Friday, Nov. 13th at 11 AM & Saturday, Nov. 14th at 8 PM at The Castle Museum

Tangerines is the first Estonian movie ever nominated for a foreign-language Oscar. It is a simply told though never simplistic war movie about the 1992 conflict between the former Soviet countries of Georgia and Abkhazia, and a nearby neutral Estonian community whose residents have mostly chosen to flee to their ancestral homeland out of safety concerns. 

This story primarily concerns Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak), a getting-on-in-years carpenter who decides to stay behind to assist his worried friend, Margus (Elmo Nuganen), as he attempts to salvage whatever he can from a bountiful tangerine crop before the conflict reaches the doorsteps of their humble abodes.

Initially, the war arrives at Ivo’s workshop in the form of two Chechen mercenaries in a Jeep who are fighting for the Abkhazian side. Their minds are clearly focused on their military duties as they at first assume that the tangerine crates he is building are for guns. Ivo, however, maintains a calm resolve as he fulfills their request for food back at his modest home. The men check out his family photos and spy a young woman with a beautiful smile. Turns out she is Ivo’s granddaughter who fled with the rest of his family back to Estonia. Knowing that the soldiers are prepared to remark about her looks, Ivo cuts them off with the stern words: “Don’t comment. Don’t dare.” They, of course, obey this man they refer to as “grandpa.”

They take off but soon will return—one dead, one still alive but wounded—after they run into a van full of rival fighters on the road near Ivo’s land. Turns out, one of the Georgians also is alive though his injuries are more serious. A doctor is summoned and cool-headed Ivo devotes himself to nursing them back to health and diffusing the growing tension in the form of ugly schoolyard-level insults and vows of revenge for their fallen comrades as both bedridden men slowly recover. Ivo’s rule: “No one can kill anyone in my house unless I want it to happen.”

Eventually, though, these mortal enemies can’t help but strike a somewhat uneasy truce. Opposing ideologies and tribal allegiances become slowly diminished in importance after benefiting from the selfless kindness provided by Ivo and the ever-hovering threat of senseless violence and death outside. 

By the end, Georgian director-writer Zaza Urushadze has performed a small miracle by presenting the insanity of war in such a compact form. The film's insights might not be of the grandiose sort found in Hollywood’s massive battle epics. Nor are they unique. But they are perhaps even more affecting because of the film’s intimate scale.  – Roger Ebert

 

The Wolfpack 

Showing Fri & Sat., Nov. 13 & 14 at 8 pm at First Congregational Church

This documentary is a tale of our times and guaranteed to creep into your heart and shatter it with stark realization.  It tells the tale of the six Angulo brothers, locked away from society in their Lower East Manhattan apartment, who learn about the outside world through films they watch on TV – re-enacting their favorites with homemade props and costumes. When one of them escapes, the dynamics of the house are transformed as the brothers seek to enter society without abandoning the brotherhood.

A winner at the Sundance Film Festival, director Crystal Moselle first met the long-haired Angulo brothers wearing Reservoir Dogs drag as they enjoyed a rare outing on the streets of New York.  Raised in seclusion by their dominating Peruvian father, Oscar, the boys had been home-schooled and sheltered from the world – for one entire year they didn’t leave their residence, but learned about life through watching and restaging popular movies like The Dark Knight.

Named after Hindu deities, the six boys (their sister is barely glimpsed on camera) prove easy company – attractive, articulate, and engagingly enthusiastic. Yet the monomaniacal presence of their father lends a darkness to the film, particularly as mother Susanne struggles to explain her husband’s isolationism. A sequence in which she connects with her own mother speaks volumes about the toll this removed life has taken on her.

Stranger still is that Oscar’s avowed fear of worldly corruption does not extend to the movies which streamed into his fortressed home, their playful re-enactment bringing the full force of the law right to his front door.

Since becoming a Sundance prize-winner in January, The Wolfpack has opened up new vistas for the Angulos; for them, and for debut feature-director Moselle, the world is now their oyster.

Let’s hope that reality TV beckons for neither.

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