Is Motown becoming movie town? With a sudden influx of Hollywood productions inspired by the state's massive tax incentive flooding in, the sight of light rigs and the sound of echoing clap boards are becoming as common as potholes on area streets. With a number of projects small and large, and with stars like Sigourney Weaver and Clint Eastwood being sighted about town, there's a buzz in the air that's energizing the community with a new sense of possibility for Detroit area filmmakers and creative artists. Now, prepared to surf the crest of this oncoming wave of good vibes is the inaugural Detroit Windsor International Film Festival, an event that could help make Woodward Avenue the rust belt's answer to the Sunset Strip. Er, or something.
Attracting film studios is one thing, but keeping them is another, and as once off-the-map industry hotspots like Austin and Toronto have proven, a film festival is a key to that success. As the DWIFF's website states, one of the long-term goals is "Building a Detroit Film Culture" in which everyone from working professionals to fans can connect and share their mutual passion. Now folks on both sides of the river have their chance, with the new festival bowing June 26-29, at a variety of locations from the campuses of Wayne State, CCS, the University of Windsor and in venues such as the Detroit Film Theatre and many more. The weekend will have more than two dozen feature screenings of a wide array of films, as well as music, the customary panels and lectures and interactive events designed to engage visitors in not just the finished product but the craft of filmmaking.
Festival organizer Suzanne Janik was part of the selection committee that sifted through hundreds of entries to create the final program, a fun "Every day was like Christmas, with piles of DVD's to watch!" Among her favorites, Certifiably Jonathan, a documentary about legendarily loony comedian Jonathan Winters, attempts to get his paintings into the Museum of Modern Art, and as she laughs, "Yes, he's still alive." The planners have striven to make the fest "an urban experience," but in order for the show to go on — and to thrive — there's going to need to be more screens in the movie-starved 313. As Janik says, "A huge part of a having an active and vibrant downtown is having plenty of entertainment venues" — that includes more movie theaters, beyond the DFT and the tiny four-screen Renaissance Theater. If the Festival takes off, it could help plant an entrepreneurial seed:
"We would love to help attract that kind of development," Janik says. Where Ann Arbor's famous festival is known for its experimental spirit, the DWIFF aims to be somewhat more accessible, but to still celebrate the inventive spark of independence. As Janik points out, "We're not New York or L.A., but we're real America."—Corey Hall
The festival runs Thursday, June 26, through Sunday, June 29, at various locations in Detroit and Windsor. For more info and a complete list of screenings go to dwiff.org.