Hells Half Mile Film & Music Festival: Sixth Season Set for Innovative Arts Outside the Mainstream

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre, News, Local,   From Issue 709   By: Robert E Martin

12th August, 2010     1

As Bay City’s Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival embarks upon its fifth year of showcasing cutting edge independent films and musical artists that prefer to channel their muses from a different room than that occupied by mainstream sensibilities, this annual showcase of creativity and innovation is entering a pivotal year.
“You never know how well something slightly out of the mainstream will be accepted, so we proceeded cautiously,” explains HHM Founder & Festival Director Alan LeFave, as he reflects upon the evolution of the festival. “We hoped that the community would come to appreciate being offered something different, not a rework of something already existing. Each year our audience has grown larger even though we’re somewhat ‘under the radar’ as far as promoted events go around the area. But the potential is unlimited as long as people and businesses continue to grow their support.”
Fans of independent film & music can prepare for another year of innovative programming as the 6th Annual Hells Half Mile Film & Music Festival unveils itself to the public, with run dates scheduled from September 30 – October 3, 2010 at various Bay City venues.  In prior years the Festival has drawn over 5,000 attendees to mid-Michigan, craving a great entertainment experience outside of the mainstream.
With an opening night Street Party planned September 30th in downtown Bay City, the festival screens feature films, short and animated films, and documentaries in both short & feature categories. Many films are handpicked from major festivals like the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, while others come from homegrown filmmakers in Michigan and around the world.
With the HHM committee engaged in the final stages of film selection for this year’s festival, a focus is definitely poised for offering the community free panel discussions and lectures with visiting filmmakers, as creative access is a core component of the philosophy behind HHM. “We have a few decisions left to make before announcing the official schedule; and we like to inform the filmmaker first before our selections are made public,” notes Alan.
One of the pending guests has visited HHM in prior years. Australian screenwriter/director/ and actor Christopher Weekes (Bitter & Twisted has written a screenplay called The Muppet Man, which is a biopic about the genius of Jim Hensen.
“This was listed as the favorite unproduced screenplay in Hollywood in 2009,” explains Alan, “and came from the ‘Hollywood Blacklist’. As I understand it, this is a survey of Hollywood insiders asking them what they read in the past year that they liked but has not yet been produced. ‘The Muppet Man’ was the number one pick. Christopher is a great guy and agreed to come back to HHM and talk about his experiences as a sought after screenwriter, directing and acting in your own films, and other topics. This will be a ‘must see’ for aspiring filmmakers.”
On the musical edge of HHM 2010, more great Indie music is slated for this year’s line-up. Headlining this year’s festival will be Matt Pond PA, a group that started in Philadelphia and currently resides in Brooklyn. Matt Pond recently partnered on the music for SXSW film favorite Lebanon PA. “They’ve recorded two songs for the Fox series The OC, “ notes Alan, “and been described as being somewhere between the realms of radio-friendly pop and brooking chamber singer/songwriter pop.”
Additionally, on Saturday night at the Masonic Temple, along with Matt Pond PA, the group Ghost Heart from Grand Rapids and Kid Coma out of Flint will be taking to the stage. On the Friday night of the Festival groups such as Neighborhood Muscle, Arts of Life/Arts of Death, Business Midgets and Metrata will be performing at The Vault on Midland Street.
When asked what he feels is the core purpose for holding the HHM Film & Music Festival, Alan points to the uniqueness of the program mix. “There are so many great events and festivals in the Great Lakes Bay Region, but we wanted to offer something totally different and chose mid-Fall is present it, so it wouldn’t compete with all the other great events in our area”
“Fall in Michigan is great and for the last four years we have brought people out to the streets of Downtown Bay City, walking from venue to venue, and enjoying all the restaurants in the area. And last night we added an opening night Street Party with music, food and drinks. It was a huge success and we plan to do it again this year.”
As with most grassroots organizations, each of the organizers has a day job, lives of their own, families, so organizing an event of this magnitude can become a challenge. “There never seems to be enough time to devote to everything we want to regarding the Festival,” reflects Alan. “But that just shows how dedicated our team is. We get it done every year without ever having a financial deficit and we all have a great time pulling it together. We commit to building a festival within our means. I have to applaud every single one of our team for their efforts. They make it fun to be part of the group and we’re always open to new people joining us to help grow the fest and join in our fun.  If there’s anybody out there interested they should come to the festival this year, check us out, and get involved with us.”
Are there any highlights or standout moments that epitomize what the significance of this event represents within the community that come to Alan’s mind?
“In the Fall of 2008 I was waiting around for a completely different event in Bay City and saw a guy with the latest HHM T-shirt,” recalls Alan. “I went up and complimented him on this shirt and he recognized me from the festival. He went on to express how pleased he was with the event and after seeing the film The Auteur at HHM; he walked out of the theatre thinking ‘I can’t believe I just saw that movie in Bay City’.
“He couldn’t stop talking about how much he appreciated that we were bringing in such fantastic independent films to a local movie theatre. And this is what makes it even better – The Auteur was finally released on Video On Demand last year.”
“Many films from the last several fests have gotten distribution, such as The Cake Eaters, directed by Mary Stuart Masterson; and Timer starring Emma Caulfield and Leaving Barstow, which was written, produced and starred Kevin Sheridan. I think Matthew Waynees ‘Unknown has been on the Cinemax Thriller Channel almost non-stop for two years. The general public doesn’t necessarily realize that film festivals are the place to see great independent movies far before they ever get to the local Cineplex, premium pay channel or Netflix.”
“In 2008 we had a film by the U of M and Detroit native Sultan Sherief titled Student FX: The Story of Bilal. It was an early cut of his film that ended up at Sundance this year under the name Bilal’s Stand. Talk about seeing something at HHM first! We got a version of it before Sundance did, which is something I’m very proud of.”
“I think the Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival represents something new, edgy, creative and unique for a lot of people in our community,” concludes Alan. “Bay City may be considered by some to be a drive-by town in a fly-over state, but that’s certainly not the way we view ourselves or our lives. The people of the Great Lakes Bay Region can become the tastemakers and early adopters if we choose to; and as long as are exposed to all the creative things out there, and not just the mainstream offerings.”
For more information on the 2010 Hells Half Mile Film & Music Festival please go to www.hhmfest.com


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