A widely varied array of first-run feature films, foreign films, documentaries, short films, U.S premiers, and a special musical concert entitled ‘Music & Mayhem’ all comprise the 8th Annual Riverside Saginaw Film Festival, which will be happening this year from Thursday through Sunday, November 6-9th and shown at six venues: The Court Theater, First Congregational Church, Hoyt Library, Pit & Balcony Theatre, and The Saginaw Club.
A distinguishing component of the Riversidefestival is the shared commitment towards quality exercised by the 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 board member Irene Hensinger.
“We’ve always focused on new films, but this year we are making one exception with a Tribute Series of Free films that will be shown at Hoyt Library,” continues Irene. “This year lost a lot of iconic movie actors such as Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall and Philip Seymore Hoffman, so we will be showing To Have and Have Not, Hook, and A Most Wanted Man, which is Hoffman’s most recent film that did not play in this market. Plus we’ll be showing an excellent documentary called Shoot Me/Elaine Stritch, which is a poignant portrait of Detroit born Tony & Emmy award- winner Elaine Stritch, who moved to Birmingham shortly before her death at age 89.”
Riversideis also presenting their annual Short Film Contest that received nearly 45 submissions to judge from Thailand, Spain, France, Italy, as well as across the United States; which is another strong indicator of how the reputation of Riversidehas spread since its inception.
Hensinger admits that the game is changing for filmmakers, as it is with musicians in the digital age who don’t need that studio deal anymore to get their work out before a large audience. While this makes the filtering of content more important, it also opens a new dimension to Directors more interested in getting their work into varied markets as opposed to large festivals. “One film we’re showing is called Xanadu and writer/director Dominic Reynolds will be appearing on Skype for a Q&A at the showing,” notes Hensinger. He’s from Scotland and this is the first time his film has played in the United States. He approached us through the short film contest, only his film isn’t a short but the story of a guy trying to finish his novel that gets caught up in his own novel.”
Other Riversidehighlights include Cyber Seniors, which is a documentary about how a group of senior citizens discover the world of the Internet through the guidance of teenage mentors that becomes catapulted to another level when an 89-year old decides to create a YouTube cooking video. “Tim Price who works with Todd Farley at First Congregational Church knows the Director out of Toronto, so helped us arrange this showing,” adds Irene. “Actually, with each of our films we try to have some type of Q&A or add another layer of depth to the experience beyond simple viewing of the work.”
Another intriguing documentary featured his year is The Standbys, which is a story about Broadway understudies and standbys and profiles three undiscovered performers at various points I their careers who get the chance to become understudies. “Saginaw’s Brian d’Arcy James and his Shrek standby Ben Crawford are profiled in this film and we tried to bring Brian back to town, only he’s filming in Canada right now, so we’re hoping to have one of the producers come in for a Q&A, either in person or through Skype,” explains Irene.
Other Riversidehighlights include:
• Last Days of Vietnam. Directed by Rory Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, this work explores the chaotic final weeks of the Vietnam War, as the North Vietnamese closed in on Saigon and panicked South Vietnamese desperately attempted to escape. On the ground diplomats confronted a moral quandary: whether to obey White House orders to evacuate only U.S. citizens or risk being charged with treason and save the lives of as many South Vietnamese citizens as they could. “We will be bringing in the current Chaplain of Disabled Veterans in the State of Michigan, Michael Knutson, who happens to live in Shields to talk about his personal perspective of time spent in Vietnam,” notes Hensinger.
• The Saginaw Trail. This rare 1953 Western starring Gene Autry is no longer in general distribution and set in 1827. The story takes place in the wilds of Michigan and Autry plays an officer in Hamiltons Rngers, determined to bring a scurrilous fur-trapper to justice. To protect his own interests, the trapper has been goading the local Indians into attacking the white settlers. “Historically, this film is unbelievably inaccurate,” laughs Hensinger, because it features the ‘Delaware’ Indians, but it is fun to watch and we got permission to show it from the Gene Autry Foundation. We’ll have a speaker from the Saginaw Historical Museum talking about the historical connections in the film.”
• Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory. This powerful film chronicles a social worker who discovers that songs and music embedded deep in memory can ease pain and awaken fading minds of the 5 million Americans that suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia – many of them alone in nursing homes. This film was a winner at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
• Skeleton Twins. Currently in limited release, this film features SNL veterans Bill Hader & Kristen Wig who coincidentally cheat death on the same day, prompting them to reunite and confront the reasons their lives went so wrong. This film was also a Sundance winner.
• Snowpiercer. A failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet. The final survivors board a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. When cryptic messages incite the passengers to revolt, the train thrusts full-throttle toward disaster. Starring John Hurt, this often-absurd film is full of brilliant surprises.
Because Riverside is an entirely volunteer organization, they need to rely upon donations and foundation grants to sponsor the festival, and Hensinger notes that it isn’t cheap. “We have to pay for venues and pay for each film that we show, so we are grateful for the support that we receive and pleased to witness the reputation of Riverside growing,” reflects Hensinger. “Refreshments will be available at all the venues and we’re grateful for the loyal following that we have cultivated and encouraged by the fact we get new people attending every year.”
Major donors to Riverside include First Merit, Saginaw arts & Enrichment Commission, Delta Broadcasting & Public Libraries of Saginaw, along with the Harvey Randall Wicks Foundation, the Jury Foundation and the Rollin Gerstacker Foundation.
Single tickets to each showing are $6.00 and students with ID get in for only $5.00. A Pre-festival pass is only $40.00 and pass during the festival run only $45.00, which is an incredible value to see each of these films considering the cost for viewing at local Cineplexes. Passes and adult single tickets are on sale at the Riverside website along with a complete listing of all films being showcased – go to www.riversidesaginawfilmfestival.org. Passes only are on sale at the Temple Theatre during its business hours or by calling 989-776-9425.
For last minute movie or schedule changes visit the Riverside website or log onto their facebook page. Also visit the Riverside Website for a complete breakdown on film times, showings, and locations.
16th November, 2023