Since it's inception back in 2006, The Hell's Half Mile Film & Music Festival has evolved into an impressively successful artistic excursion, drawing thousands of people to venues throughout Bay City for four days of viewing cutting edge independent films & music that stand out from the predictable sensibilities of the mainstream.
This year the 8th Annual 2012 HHM Film festival will run from October 4-7th and feature 15 feature length films, 5 of which are documentaries, along with another 18 short films. The musical portion of festival will showcase divergent artists ranging from the Chicago-based duo Bestfriends, whom are pushing the post-disco envelope as far as humanly possible; as well as pivotal local artists like Andy Reed's 'An American Underdog' and Jeff Yantz & the No Name String Band. Rounding out the program are special events such as the Opening Night Party, which starts at 5:00 PM at the Pere Marquette Depot, along with receptions and interactions with many of the featured filmmakers in attendance.
According to organizer & originator Alan LaFave, the HHM Festival is more than an event for those who appreciate independent film & music. “This is a grassroots effort to develop a community that participates in the arts and we hope our efforts inspire others to develop new artistic and cultural opportunities within our community.”
A few of the noteworthy films featured this year include Sasha Reuther's documentary on the epochal Flint Sit-Down strike of 1936-37 entitled Brothers on the Line, a newly released and highly acclaimed romantic-comedy in the vein of Woody Allen that has critics buzzing entitled, Supporting Characters (see accompanying interviews in this edition) as well as the much applauded documentary on the legendary Grande Ballroom, Louder Than Love.
“The selection process is always difficult,” admits LaFave. “At the festival's current size we have less than 30 time slots over 4 days, so that means we're forced to leave many films out that we would love to have in our program. But we have over a dozen directors, writers, producers and actors attending the festival this year. To us having the filmmakers at the festival is one of the greatest experiences of putting on the film festival. Interacting with them and talking about their processes, influenced, and all their stories about getting the film made are invaluable.”
“We truly feel that the entire program is worthwhile,” continues Alan, “and we hope people see as many as possible. The Opening Night film is Missed Connections, a solidly hilarious romantic comedy that is so much better than what we regularly see at the local Cineplex. Several cast & crewmembers are scheduled to attend, including writer/lead actor Kenny Stevenson, actor Dorien Davies, producer Lisa Rudin and director Eric Kissak. Lisa & Eric have both worked on huge films like Bruno and The Dictator, so it will be great to meet them and discuss their experiences in filmmaking.”
“And then our closing night film is Alter Egos, a funny independent take on the superhero film. Attending the single screening of the film for our closing night is director Jordan Galland and lead actors Kris Lemche and Joey Kern. People will likely recognize Joey from cult favorites Super Troopers, Grind and Cabin Fever, where he co-starred with Rider Strong, who attended HHM last year. Rider and Alexandra Baretto are returning this year, along with director Chris Levitus with their short film Walter Can't Dance.”
Two other films Alan highlights consist of Chasing Jimmy, which is all about Bob Brown's effort to find Jimmy Buffet and get him to attend the Cheeseburger in Caseville festival. “We're hoping to serve cheeseburgers & margaritas for this screening,” he adds. “And we're bringing film & music together with director Ton D'Annunzio's 'Louder than Love - the Grande Ballroom Story', which is packed with concert clips of Iggy & the Stooges, The MC5, the Who and so many more. (Editor's Note: Check out the Review archive for an interview with D'Annunzio on Louder than Love that appeared last April.)
Another important film to be featured is After the Factory, a documentary that looks at two post-industrial cities - Detroit and the Polish town of Lodz - that shows the positive changes individuals can make in communities experiencing industrial decline. “This doc moved our team so much that we decided to have a 'town meeting' after the screening,” notes LaFave. “We're only screening it once so this is special. The panel after the screening will include people from the film, local entrepreneurs, local government, and community leaders to discuss what we've learned from the film and how we can apply it locally. The public is welcome to participate in the conversation. This is about everyone in the community talking about positive change, not about pointing fingers.”
The two music events this year happen on Friday, Oct. 5th at Old City Hall's banquet room with a Local Music Showcase including Vince Dynamic, Lawless Carver, Jeff Yantz & the No-Name String Band, and Freeman's Narrative. Doors open at 8 PM and tickets are $5.00 at the door. This is followed by the Independent Showcase on Saturday, Oct. 6th at the old Masonic Temple with headliners Bestfriends from Chicago and guest Lightning Love, An American Underdog, The Crane Wives and The Fishing Journal. Doors open at 7 PM and tickets are $12 in advance or at the door.
When asked what the most rewarding feedback he's received about the HHM festival, along with its burgeoning reputation, LaFave notes, “Putting on this event every year is hard. All the organizers have day jobs, and some have families, too. But when people stop me throughout the year and tell me that this is the coolest event in the Great Lakes Bay Region, it makes me very proud and excited. It makes me forget how hard we all work to pull it together. Well, it makes me forget for a short while anyway,” smiles LaFave.
For more information on screening times and special events and ticket purchase for the 2012 Hell's Half Mile Film Festival go to their website at www.hhmfest.com. All access passes include tickets to all films, Saturday Night Music at the Masonic Temple, and both Friday & Saturday receptions. All access passes run $40.00 through October 1st and $50.00 from Oct. 2 through the festival. Film Passes to all screenings are also available for $20.00 until Oct. 1st and $30.00 afterwards; and individual tickets to specific films only run $5.00.