The 2023 Riverside Saginaw Fall Film Festival

A Top Shelf Collection of Contemporary Cinema Set for November 9-12th

    Additional Reporting by
    icon Nov 02, 2023
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An eclectic assortment of seven contemporary films that premiered and secured top honors at major film festivals throughout the year and will no doubt be considered for Oscar nominations will soon be showcased in one 4-day package when the 2023 Riverside Saginaw Fall Film Festival lights up the screen from Thursday through Sunday, November 9-12th at Saginaw’s spacious and historic Court Street Theater.

When it first started 16-years ago 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, cultivating 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 Hensingner. “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.”

 “Given the nature of the industry now the reality is that if new films we desire to show happen to be on Netflix or other streaming services, we often cannot obtain them, nor do we necessarily want to,” she explains. “While many of the films we are showcasing are also available on streaming services, the difference between watching a film on a smaller screen at home or in a classic, spacious, and comfortable theatre on a big screen with surround sound, delicious fresh popcorn,  and in a setting where you don’t have any distractions is significant.”

 “Riverside has gone through many evolutions since its inception,” she continues, “but one of the many things people enjoy about the way we stage the festival now at one venue instead of different locations scattered throughout the city is they can actually watch every film we showcase if they desire, because we screen each of these films twice - on different days and times - so they don’t run into any scheduling conflicts.” 

Each of the films playing at Riverside will be shown at the very affordable price of only $5.00 cash at the door. “We strive to make the festival affordable, so at Riverside people can see really excellent films at half the price of the mega-plex cinemas,” notes Irene.

 “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 is how appreciative they are of the opportunity 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 contests in the past, we find those are not that well received.  What we are always looking for is a good French comedy, which everybody seems to enjoy, but become harder to find each year,” she smiles. 

“So many of the Independent films are very serious and deal with powerful issues, but we also don’t necessarily want to feature a weekend of downers, so always keep our eye on trying to balance everything out with uplifting films.  Attendance has been very good and at our last festival back in the Spring we were happy to see more younger people in attendance, as we’re always looking to broaden our audience base,” concludes Irene. 

Additionally, Riverside has significantly improved the footprint of their cultural impact upon the Great Lakes Bay Region with their new Friday Flicks film series, which screens independent, foreign, and documentary films in collaboration with the Public Libraries of Saginaw system at Butman-Fish Library on a monthly basis.

“We had a really nice turnout at the first showing in October and the library said they had never seen that many people for a single event before, which is very encouraging,”  notes Irene. “Someone also came forward and offered to arrange to moderate a discussion after each film with professors from Saginaw Valley State University & Delta College.” 

The next film to be shown in this series will the The Bookshop, a 2017 English drama that takes place in 1959 and tells the tale of Florence Green, who decides against polite but ruthless opposition, to open a bookshop in an East Anglican town. This film won 14 awards at various film festivals across the globe and received a total of 23 nominations. These films are free, with no reservations necessary, and begin at 2:00 PM.

Now, without further ado, here is a breakdown of the schedule and films being shown at this latest installment of the 2023  Riverside Saginaw Film Festival.

JOYLAND (2022) • 126 minutes • Drama • Directed by Saim Sadiq

Showtimes: Thurs. • November 9 • 4:00 PM & Sat. • November 10 • 10:00 AM

 With stunning honesty that’s achingly bittersweet, Joyland is a Pakistani film with a brave narrative that tackles gender and sexual fluidity issues in a repressed patriarchal society.  Colored with wisps of hopefulness, it concerns the youngest son in a traditional Pakistani family who takes a job as a backup dancer in a Bollywood-style burlesque show and quickly becomes infatuated with the strong-willed transsexual woman who runs the show.  

 This tender, timely, and controversial story feels like a novel in its minute detail and is a film about self-discovery in a place where self-discovery can be dangerous. In his debut feature, Saim Sadiq crafts a story sensitive in nature and vibrant in visuals while tackling divided gender roles and repressed sexual desires in his homeland of Pakistan. With all these story threads coming together in a nuanced, complex conclusion, this film’s very existence constitutes an act of artistic bravery.

Watch trailer here.

THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS (2023) 147 minutes • Adventure-Drama • Directors: Felix vanGroeningen & Charlotte Vanermeersch.

Showtimes: Thurs. • November 9 • 7:00 PM & Sun. • November 12 • 4:00 PM

Two pals return to the Italian Alpine Valley where they met as children in order to build a mountain cottage together after years of being separated.  Rich, beautiful, and inexpressively sad, this film explores the friendship between men who cannot talk about their feelings and about how we win and lose in the game of life. The title is a reference to the concept in Buddhism  that the world is composed of nine mountains and eight seas, specifically eight concentric circular mountain ranges separated from one another by eight seas, with the ninth and tallest mountain, Mount Menu, at the center. The film premiered in competition at the 75th Cannes Film Festival last year, where it won the Jury Prize. 

Watch trailer here.

After Love (2020) • 99 minutes • Drama • Director: Aleem Khan Showtimes: Fri. • November 10 • 10:00 AM & Sat. • November 11 • 7:00 PM

Set in the port town of Dover, this British drama offers us a portrait of Mary Hussain, who suddenly finds herself a widow following the unexpected death of her husband. A day after the burial, she discovers he has a secret just twenty-one miles across the English Channel in Calais, which is where this mystery unfolds.  Critics have applauded the depth of this film and its visceral exploration of grief and betrayal that carries a maturity that goes beyond exposition. When it’s over, you come away feeling a little better about people in this sad yet hopeful world in which we live.

Watch trailer here.

King Coal (2023) • 80 minutes • Documentary • Director: Elaine McMillion Sheldon

Showtimes: Fri. • November 10 • 1:00 PM & Sat. • November 11 • 4:00 PM

A lyrical and disturbing tapestry of a place and people, KING COAL meditates on the complex history and future of the coal industry, the communities it has shaped, and the myths it has created. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon is a coal minder’s daughter who creates a powerful documentary tracing the cultural roots of coal mining that continues to permeate the rituals of daily life in Appalachia, even as its economic power wanes.   Her journey explores the region’s dreams and myths, untangling the pain and beauty the affect coal continues to have upon the health and economy of generations of Appalachian citizenry as the United States tries to move away from coal, when coal mining is the only vocation they only really know.

Sheldon reshapes the boundaries of documentary filmmaking in this spectacularly beautiful and deeply moving immersion into Central Appalachia where coal is not just a resource, but a way of life, imagining the ways a community can re-envision itself. The film transcends time and place, emphasizing the ways in which all are connected through an immersive mosaic of belonging, ritual, and imagination. Emerging from the long shadows of the coal mines, KING COAL untangles the pain from the beauty, and illuminates the innately human capacity for change.

Watch trailer here.

Polite Society (2023) • 104 minutes • Action/Comedy • Director: Nina Manzoor

Showtimes: Fri. • November 10 • 4:00 PM & Sun. • November 12 • 1:00 PM

This British martial arts action/comedy film written and directed by British Muslim  filmmaker Nida Manzoor is a hilarious film that with immense wit takes a serious stab at South Asian patriarchy and regressive traditionalism.   Ria Khan must save her older sister from what she perceives as an impending bad marriage. After enlisting the aid of her friends,  she attempts to pull off the most ambitious of all wedding heists in the name of independence and sisterhood, only to do so she must become a Marshall Arts fighter.

Polite Society throws, kicks, and punches the genre etiquette book out the window to deliver a fun film that blends Bollywood splendor and British wryness, creating an outrageous and riotous mishmash of influences that feels utterly original while also making smart commentary on ethnicity, family, and ambition.

Watch trailer here.

Fremont (2023) • 91 minutes • Drama • Director: Babak Jalali.       

Showtimes: Fri. • November 10 • 7:00 PM & Sun. • November 12 • 7:00 PM

This wry and sharply written film evolves into an engaging musing on the human connections and concurrent possibilities that can pop up in the most unusual places.  Brought to life by the empathetic efforts of a talented cast and further distinguished by striking black-and-white cinematography, Fremont takes a thoughtful and wry look at the immigrant experience by focusing upon the character of Donya, who works for a Chinese fortune cookie factory.  Struggling to put her life back together, in a moment of sudden revelation she decides to send out a special message inside one of the cookies she is making…with the film leaving a cookie-crumble trail of consequences of what happens after she does so.

Watch trailer here.

Flora and Son (2023) • 97 minutes • Drama/Music • Ireland • Director: John Carney                                                                                                         

Showtimes: Sat. • November 11 • 1:00 PM & Sun. • November 12 • 10:00 AM

This film follows Flora, a single mom who is at war with her son Max. Trying to find a hobby for Max, she rescues a guitar from a dumpster and finds that one person’s trash can become a family’s salvation by resolving parental issues and Max’s need to establish his teenage independence with the guitar becoming a mode of pivotal communication between the two.  

With music as its backbone, director John Carney creates a charming film with both director & stars contributing their own compositions in a pleasant mix of tunes articulating the distance between the impossibility of great songwriting and the genius of truly great songwriters. This film also stars Eve Hewson in the lead role, who is the daughter of Bono from the rock band U2.

Watch trailer here. 

The Riverside Saginaw Fall Film Festival 2023 will take place Thursday through Sunday, November 9-12th at the classic an fully restored  Court Street Theater, which is located at 1216 Court St. in Saginaw.   Admission is only $5.00 cash at the door and for more information you can visit or their facebook page.


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