Hell's Half Mile Film & Music Festival 2021

Bay City’s 15th Cutting Edge Showcase of Cinema & Music Set for September 23 - 26

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, , Artist Feature,   From Issue 919   By: Robert E Martin

15th September, 2021     0

After 18-months of theatrical screens sitting silent, the 15th Annual Hells Half Mile Film & Music Festival is returning to Bay City and joyously turning the house lights up in spectacular fashion, featuring approximately 80 films from independent filmmakers ranging in length from features to shorts,  showcasing cutting-edge musical acts from all parts of the country, while also re-inventing the festival itself by adding a ‘Virtual Access Pass’ that will afford patrons an opportunity to screen select content within the comfort of their own homes.

Happening from Thursday through Sunday, September 23-26th, festival co-founder and Director Alan Lafave formed HHM fifteen years ago with the firm belief that by providing a platform for alternative voices & perspectives, the public-at-large reap the benefits of richer entertainment and personal inspiration.  As a non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating and expanding the art of independent film, music, and entertainment, over the years HHM has consistently proven that when you strive to exceed expectations, you will inspire greater community participation in the arts.

“Given the uncertainty of how things were going to be for coming back to normal, what we’ve done this year is feature 17 feature length films, both narrative and documentaries; and then we have 6 regular short-film programs, which  is one more than usual. Plus we have 2 Michigan shorts programs featuring all Michigan-made short films, so this year we’ll be featuring a total of 8 short program presentations,” explains LaFave.  “Film venues will consist of The State Theatre and Delta College Planetarium, and then we have a new venue at The Hobby Building, in a new gallery space being built out near the Pere Marquette Depot”

“The  biggest evolution of the festival that is different from prior years is that we are adding a Virtual Program, making some of our programming available to watch at home,” continues Alan. “People will be able to get a streaming app through Roku, Firestick, or Apple TV and add the channel so they can access content virtually. They can purchase an All Access Pass for $75, which gives access to all films, music, and receptions; a Film Pass for $50, which gives access to all films, with both passes providing access to all Virtual Programming, or they can purchase simply a Virtual Pass for only $10. Right now if they purchase either the All Access or Film Pass online at hhmfest.com they can also save $10 on all passes.” Tickets for individual films will be $8.00.

A Smorgasbord of Cinematic Creativity

While a complete roster of the films featured at HHM 15 can be found on their website, here is a brief breakdown on several that stand out.

“Of particular interest to many of The REVIEW readers are two of the great music-related feature length documentaries we will be showcasing,” notes Alan. “One in particular is Vinyl Nation, which offers a dep dig into the crates of the vinyl record resurgence to discover what an old technology says about the relationship to music and the lifestyle around it.  And another is Suzi Q, which is music focused documentary about trailblazing rock singer-songwriter Suzi Quatro, who came out of the Michigan music scene and helped redefine the role of women in rock’n roll when she broke out in 1973.” 

“Additionally, we continue our partnership with the Made In Michigan Film Festival and will be showcasing a couple of feature length Michigan films,” continues Alan. “One is Driftless, an adventure oriented political drama about a female park ranger at work during a state government shutdown on a busy 4th of July weekend, protecting the park from the people and the people from each other; and the other is PinBox, about a socially out-of-touch character obsessed with old school pinball. When he's not fantasizing about 1970s pinball champs he's working as a repair man. After discovering a mysterious old pinball table, Eddie starts a quest to repair it and learn of the game's origins.”

Other festival film highlights include the Opening Night Shorts program, which features Under the Lights, about a boy with epilepsy so desperate to feel like a normal kid that he goes to a prom knowing the lights will make him have a seizure, along with Smelly Little Town, which details Bay City’s indecision over whether to capitalize on its most famous native, Madonna, who was born in Bay City on Aug. 16, 1958.   When Madonna broke big back in 1985 she was on the Today Show and when asked about her birthplace, she described it as a ‘smelly little town.’ 

Local media turned public opinion against her and the mayor used it as a wedge issue during his 1985 re-election campaign.  (Indeed, this writer remembers when Dave Davenport of The Burdons phoned him one morning to explain the Mayor had called and asked if the group would like Madonna’s key-to-the-city, as they deserved it more than she did.  Apparently this film focuses on how by 2008 attitudes had shifted as the town fell on hard times and there was renewed interest in using Madonna’s fame for municipal gain, so this film poses the intriguing question whether with a shrinking population and cash strapped government, is it too late to do anything about it?

Other intriguing films include Big Bons,  set deep in former mining territory of Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula, turning the lens upon a female-run strip club fighting to stay open to provide a safe space for members of its community, which will be featured in the Shorts program; and Immortal, a drama sci-fi feature about a brilliant geneticist on the verge of a breakthrough that could change the course of humanity.

On the Music Side of Life

Apart from cutting-edge cinema, HHM also offers a refreshing range of musical entertainment from innovative bands and artists spanning the country from the east coast to the west. “Because we had to scale back a little bit as we did with films this year, we’ve merged our Friday Night Music with our Friday Night Reception and then opened our Saturday Night Music showcase to ticket holders and passholders at The Empire Room,” explains Alan.

Notable groups that will be featured this year include Ganser, a Chicago based indie rock band who incorporate sounds of new wave and post punk into their noisy sound. Ganser describes its music as "dissociative shouts and murmurs." But that doesn't translate to the sound itself. Most of the group's songs have a cleanliness and proficiency that demonstrates the ensemble's intelligence and precision. The members care deeply about the music, made with an attention to detail that best exemplifies the stories the songs aim to tell. They will be performing at the Opening Night Rreception Thursday, Sept. 23rd at 6 PM at the Pere Marquette Depot.

The Blueflowers • This Detroit-based band have been described as folk-noir, with their music sometimes evoking images of David Lynch collaborating with Quentin Tarantino and having lunch with Phil Spector. The members of the Blueflowers are all about the vibe they create: a dark and moody atmosphere with elements of Americana and plenty of reverb for flavor.

Physco • Cincinnati band, PHYSCO (fi-sco) combines energetic alt-rock, hard-hitting arena rock with lyrical depth that will keep you thinking. Whether you are dancing, screaming, or contemplating the meaning of life PHYSCO has a place for you at their live show and beyond.

Teamonade • This Bowling Green, Ohio based band, - named after the tasty beverage combination of sweet tea and lemonade -- has set itself apart in Ohio’s music scene with its catchy punk vibes and thoughtful lyrics about existentialism, depression and relationships. The band's upbeat, mathy indie rock is just as refreshing as an ice-cold Arnold Palmer.

This Pine Box • Dayton, Ohio-based This Pine Box occupies a space somewhere between ‘70s inspired classic rock and modern, danceable pop-rock. The Way Out displays the band’s ability to write ultra-catchy hooks, meaningful lyrics, and alluring melodies.

Special Events

Again this year HHM will feature special Workshops and partner with Seed & Spark, a platform for filmmakers that is equally as educational as it is a crowdfunding platform, with a workshop that will focus on ‘Understanding Crowdfunding Outreach’.

Finally, when asked what the most challenging component has been pulling this year’s HHM Fest to fruition, Alan kicks back, smiles, and responds: “Just about everything.”

“A great part of making this festival evolve and happen is our sponsors, both old and new, who have been an incredible help,” reflect Alan. “We had to look at how we move forward, and given the uncertainty surrounding us, those who would rather not attend live events can participate virtually this year, which we were happy to program, but added an expense we needed to fund. We could not have done this without our sponsors stepping forward and it will be interesting to see how much revenue is generated from the virtual component.”

“It was hard to get restarted after a year off - you lose organizers and add new ones - so that’s always a challenge, and lining up the venues also presents considerable challenges. But having done this for 15 years now, it’s very gratifying to realize that our first festival had 600 people in attendance and our largest festival gathered 4,000 attendees.”

“When we were in lockdown last year people in their isolation turned to the music they loved, the movies they cherished, and virtual programs online for musicians to entertain them and console them and spend time with in their isolation, along with galleries they could visit, so now that we are able to feature live film screenings and musical performances once again, participating in this festival either in-person or virtually is a way for our community to show that continued support for what artists bring to our lives.”

For a complete schedule of events, film times, venues, and to purchase tickets to the 15th Hells Half Mile Film & Music Festival, please visit www.hhmfest.com.




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