Despite the short-sightedness of Lansing's new regime in ousting meddlesome big-budget Hollywood productions, there is, in fact, a Michigan filmmaking community. Small, proud, faintly parochial but fiercely resilient, local movie-making artisans are as scrappy as the rust belt soil they've sprung from. The full flower of their collective creativity and hustle blooms at the second annual Detroit Independent Film Festival, which spans five nights and multiple venues, from downtown to the burbs, with screenings of more than 80 films across all genres. The fest's manic spirit is embodied by one of its founders, the ambitious director Robert Joseph Butler, a tireless, and occasionally tiresome, promoter of not just the festival but the greater Michigan creative community. Butler — who also created the Michigan Film Awards — envisions the DIFF growing into a world-class cinematic event, this year's baby steps include forming a partnership with the two-night Uptown Film Festival, which opens March 11, with the VIP world premiere of Kill The Irishman starring Val Kilmer, Linda Cardellini and Ray Stevenson, shot almost entirely in Detroit. Other Michigan-made films will be highlighted, including Annabelle and Bear, and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's Things Fall Apart. Screenings will be held at the Uptown Palladium 12 and down the block at swanky sister theater, the Birmingham 8, with $75 and $150 ticket packages available for the black tie set.
The real nitty-gritty's hits at the delightfully funky Burton Theatre in the Cass Corridor, where they'll host the Wednesday night "Michigan Filmmaker Night," highlighting a large number of homegrown shorts, and the frenetic, wildly inventive black-and-white quirkiness of the feature-length The Beast Pageant. Many of the shorts feature overlapping talent, including actors, writers and crew members who've toiled for years, such as actor Johnny Victor, who appears in two comedic live-action shorts, Pink Lines and World of Art. And it's not just the local movie vets; Best Girlfriends features original music from the legendarily bizarre and charismatic Troy Gregory (the Witches), and Bullies on Vacation sports a surprisingly funny performance by Brian Vander Ark, famed for his '90s hits with the Verve Pipe. If the state's growing movie biz is going to survive, it'll need help and political will, but Step 1 is harnessing local creative talent, and the DIFF is a great place to start.
DIFF runs Wednesday, March 9, through Sunday, March 13. For schedules, tickets and more info, see DetroitIFF.com. The Uptown Film Festival runs Friday, March 11, through Saturday, March 12; info at uptownfilmfestival.com.