Sifting the Cream of the Cinematic Crop • Riverside Saginaw Spring Film Fest Set for April 25-27

6 Award Winning & Critically Acclaimed Films Poised to Screen at The Court Theatre

    Additional Reporting by
    icon Apr 04, 2024
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If you are looking to catch a first rate collection of contemporary films and documentaries, many of which have secured top honors at major film festivals such as Cannes and Sundance, you won’t want to miss the strong showcase of cinema set to screen at the 2024 Riverside Saginaw Spring Film Festival, which will be happening Thursday through Saturday, April 25-27th  at Saginaw’s historic Court Street Theatre.

When it first started back in 2007 the Riverside Saginaw Film Festival began with a fundamental vision of showcasing the cream of the crop from high-caliber first release films sharing a common thread of substance that set the bar for artistic accomplishment. 

Remaining true to this mission over the past 17 years Riverside has cultivated a well-deserved reputation for offering audiences throughout our region the only opportunity they have for screening a broad range of current dramatic narratives, documentaries, comedies, and foreign films receiving high praise from both critics and festivals across the globe wherever they have premiered. 

“The way we configure the festival it’s possible to view this wide assortment of first-rate filmmaking over one long weekend,” comments Festival Chairwoman Irene Hensigner. “Previously, when we only held the festival once a year we had to showcase whatever films were available at that time, but since we started scheduling one festival in the fall and one in the spring, we can show more new films as they become available throughout the year.”

“For this year’s Spring Festival we’ve selected two very compelling documentary films and four narrative films and had a lot of very strong work to choose from,” she continues. “One thing we are doing differently this time is around is shortening the festival to three days from Thursday through Saturday. In the past we’ve shown two films on Thursday and all day Friday through Sunday, but this year we decide to drop Sunday and show a full day and evening of films from Thursday through Saturday, because attendance isn’t as strong on Sundays. We always look at the numbers after each festival and our last Fall festival went well, with lots of younger people attending, so it’s nice to see younger people coming to see these films on the big screen.”

“Each of the films playing at Riverside will be shown twice at the very affordable price of only $5.00 at the door because we strive to make the festival affordable,” emphasizes Irene. Honestly, you can’t beat the affordability of seeing these films on the big screen at our festival. At the Big Box theaters the Senior rate alone is $9-$10.00, so with Riverside people can catch an amazing array of top-notch films at half the price they would pay elsewhere.”

“People I talk with at major film festivals like Sundance continue to be surprised at two things about our festival: first, the quality of films that come to this relatively small regional festival; and secondly, the fact we manage to live within a realistic budget, largely because of the grass roots support we’ve been fortunate to cultivate.  If people are interested in helping us sponsor a film, they can contact me about sponsorship opportunities, which are always appreciated. 

According to Irene, the majority of feedback received from patrons reflects their eagerness and appreciation  to be able to see films they otherwise might have to go downstate to screen.  “We do not feature experimental films or first-run Marvel comic book blockbusters, and while we’ve featured short film selections in the past, we find those are not that well received.”

“What we are witnessing with this year’s selections are many first-rate independent films, along with many from debut directors that are very serious and deal with powerful issues, with others examining  different aspects of the human condition in novel and insightful ways.” 

So without further ado, here is a breakdown of the schedule and films being shown at this latest Spring installment of the 2024  Riverside Saginaw Film Festival.


THE LEAGUE  (2023) • 103 Minutes.

Showtimes: Thursday, April 25 • 1:00 PM & Friday, April 26 • 4:00 PM

Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Sam Pollard (MLK/FBI), THE LEAGUE celebrates the dynamic journey of Negro League baseball's triumphs and challenges through the first half of the twentieth century. The story is told through previously unearthed archival footage and never-before-seen interviews with legendary players like Satchel Paige and Buck O’Neil, whose early careers paved the way for the Jackie Robinson era, as well as celebrated Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Hank Aaron who started out in the Negro Leagues.


From entrepreneurial titans Cumberland Posey and Gus Greenlee, whose intense rivalry fueled the rise of two of the best baseball teams ever to play the game, to Effa Manley, the activist owner of the Newark Eagles and the only woman ever admitted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, THE LEAGUE explores Black baseball as an economic and social pillar of Black communities and a stage for some of the greatest athletes to ever play the game, while also examining the unintended consequences of integration.


JOAN BAEZ • I AM A NOISE • (2023) • 113 minutes (1 film festival win, 6 nominations)

Showtimes: Friday, April 26 • 10:00 AM & Saturday, April 27 • 7:00 PM

At the end of a 60 year career legendary singer and activist Joan Baez takes an honest look back and deep look inward with this powerful documentary, as she tries to make sense of her large history-making life, along with the personal struggles she has kept private.  The documentary opens with a telling quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life.”


Over the course of almost two hours, Baez culls through her own personal archives of drawings, photos, home movies, letters, and audio recordings to give the audience the most intimate expression we might possibly ask for. It encapsulates almost every aspect of who she is as a human being across these three dimensions.


In the musical sphere, Baez sharpened her trade and came of age at Club 47. By the age of 18, she was a star thanks to an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, and she quickly rose to fame in her early 20’s, forging an intimate friendship and alliance with Bob Dylan as they both rose to national prominence amidst the background of the Civil Rights Movement.   In contrast to D.A. Pennebaker‘s Don’t Look Back, we get Baez‘s intimate reflections on this period in 1965 when she joined Dylan on his tour in London, which we find was demoralizing for her. He was beginning to evolve, and she didn’t fit easily into the inner circle that formed around him.


But the true power of this documentary emerges in the last third of the film, when Baez rips off the mask of her wildly successful and powerful career to reveal the dark underpinnings of mental illness, along with suggestions of sexual abuse.  By choosing to use this documentary as a vehicle to step out of her role as a gifted singer and lifelong social activist and share the difficult struggles she has lived with at the same time she was riding high in the spotlight of public acclaim makes this one of the bravest documentaries of a gifted musical celebrity to ever hit the silver screen.



FALLEN LEAVES • (2023) • 81 minutes • Comedy/Drama  (8 festival wins, 52 nominations)

Showtimes: Thursday, April 25 • 10:00 AM & Friday, April 26 • 7:00 PM

In modern-day Helsinki, two lonely souls in search of love meet by chance in a karaoke bar. However, their path to happiness is beset by obstacles - from lost phone numbers to mistaken addresses, alcoholism, and a charming stray dog.


Restrained but radiant, Finnish auteur Kaurismäki's Cannes film festival hit is an achingly romantic drama about two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl where love and companionship have eluded them throughout their entire lives. This is a movie that could easily be gloomy so easily, but instead manages to capture the chemistry between these two disparate souls with a level of whimsy and optimism.  The occasional jokes are as funny as they are deadpan. The little gestures and touches of affection between the characters are both plausible and endearing. There is no straining for effect, but it somehow manages to lift your mood by osmosis.


As we move through in increasingly Dystopian world that often makes no sense, Fallen Leaves drops its couple into a place that manages to factor hope into the equation, and makes for an oddly nice film, one that mixes grim reality with optimistic acceptance.


THE TASTE OF THINGS • (2023) • 135 mins • Drama/History/Romance (7 wins, 26 nominations)

Showtimes: Thursday, April 25 • 7:00 PM & Saturday, April 27 • 4:00 PM

French film star Juliette Binoche (still beautiful at age 59) stars in the story of Eugenie, an esteemed cook, and Dodin - the fine gourmet celebrity chef she has been working for over the last 20 years. Growing fonder of one another, their bond turns into a romance and gives rise to delicious dishes that impress even the world’s most illustrious chefs. When Dodin is faced with Eugenie’s reluctance to commit to him, he decides to start cooking for her.


The film, presented in the French language with English subtitles, is set in France in the late 1800s. While the chef is famous, Binoche's character is his secret weapon, as she is also an artist in the kitchen.  Story-wise, the film is a slice of life chronicling their long-term relationship, both professionally and as lovers. While their interactions are languidly drawn out, with the camera soaking up the richness of not only the foods they prepare, but the relations among these two and their staffs, along with the elites they cook for amidst the beauty of the French countryside and gardens.


ZONE OF INTEREST • (2023) 105 minutes • Drama/History/War

Showtimes: Thursday, April 25 • 4:00 PM & Saturday, April 27 • 1:00 PM

Loosely based upon the 2014 novel by Martin Amis, this film focuses upon the life of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife Hedwig, who strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden called the ‘Zone of Interest’ that is built beside the concentration camp.


The Zone of Interest takes a unique angle in approaching the Holocaust, which gives the film a really sinister quality that frames the evils of the Holocaust in a new and terrifying way. It achieves this approach through stark juxtaposition. It compares the relatively banal, matter-of-fact homemaking of the Hoss family against the utterly horrendous tragedy being perpetrated just over their garden wall. By doing this, it is not an overly graphic or in your face film.


Instead, the violence and evil is primarily heard and not seen, as the horrifying sounds of the camp constantly bleed into the Hoss family home. It is in this way that the film makes its mark. To have such tragedy and horror ignored by this family and their guests. To normalize the mass murder going on over the garden wall. The glib and matter-of-fact way it is treated by them all.


That is where the horror lies.


DRIVING MADELEINE • (2023) 91 minutes • French Drama  (1 festival win, 2 nominations)

Showtimes: Friday, April 26 • 1:00 PM & Saturday, April 27 • 10:00 AM

Madeleine, 92 years old, calls a taxi to take her to the retirement home where she will be living on the other side of Paris. . Charles, a disillusioned taxi driver with a tender heart, comes to pick her up and in no hurry to reach her destination, she asks him to go through a journey to places from her past that have mattered in her life. 


The taxi driver is having a very bad day: pressing debts, traffic violations and a troubled marriage.  But as Madeleine shares her remarkable history, we are reminded that inside every seemingly benign elderly woman we might pass on the street is a warrior, a nurturer and a spirited adventurer.


Through this simple narrative that carries the audience through the streets of Paris, her extraordinary past is revealed. And while neither of them realize it yet, they will forge a friendship during this drive that will change their lives forever.

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