The 2021 Riverside Saginaw Film Festival

Showcasing the Cutting Edge of Contemporary Cinema at the Court Theatre October 21-24th

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Movie Reviews, Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 920   By: Robert E Martin

07th October, 2021     0

When it began back in 2007 the Riverside Saginaw Film Festival started with a fundamental goal and purpose of showcasing the cream of the crop from high-caliber first release films that share a common thread of substance and set the bar for artistic accomplishment.

Over the past 15 years Riverside has earned a well-deserved reputation for offering audiences throughout our region the only opportunity they have for screening a broad range of current dramatic narratives, documentaries, comedies, and foreign films that have received high praise from both critics and festivals across the globe wherever they have premiered.

Set to happen Thursday through Sunday, October 21-24th, this year’s 2021 Riverside Saginaw Film Festival will be showcasing six highly acclaimed and current new releases at Saginaw’s newly restored Court Theatre; and then next month will be showcasing additional films from November 12-14th.

Having gained significant traction with audiences each consecutive year to the point they were able to expand and offer both a Fall & Spring festival over the previous two seasons; as the Pandemic of 2020 impacted all Arts oriented activities around the globe, it also forced organizers to reconstitute and rethink the Riverside Festival as it makes its return to the region in 2021.

According to Festival Director, Irene Hensinger, “Rather than stage screenings at multiple venues this year, we decided to show all the films at The Court Theatre in order to test the waters and see if people are really ready to come back.  The Court Theatre has taken significant steps to make sure everything is clean and because it is large enough we are able to make sure proper social distancing is in place, which is the primary reason we went there.”

“It actually was quite surprising how many Independent films were made and released over the past 18 months,” notes Irene. “We started out screening approximately 40 to 50 films that were all quite good and not available on local screens, all of them contemporary and some of them brand new 2021 films. One of them is already a Cannes Film Festival winner, but unfortunately many of them were compromised somewhat. Some of them go directly to streaming in order to make money and one of the films we selected got pulled by the distributor for later release because of the attention it was receiving.  Hopefully,  we can get all or some of them scheduled for our November festival.  What happens is the distributor pulls the film at the last minute hoping for big theatrical returns; but we are very pleased with the roster of films we are able to offer this year.”

Each of the films playing at Riverside will be shown twice at the very affordable price of only $5.00 at the door. “We strive to make the festival affordable,” notes Irene, “so at Riverside people can see really excellent films at half the price of the mega-plex cinemas.”

“People I talk with at major film festivals like Sundance continue to be surprised at two things: first, the quality of films that come to this relatively small regional festival; and secondly, the fact we manage to live within a realistic budget, largely because of the grass roots support we’ve been fortunate to cultivate.”

According to Irene, the majority of feedback received from patrons is that they are eager to see films that they otherwise might have to go downstate to screen.  “We do not feature experimental films or first-run Marvel comic book blockbusters, and while we’ve featured short film contests in the past, we find those are not that well received. What we are always looking for is a good French comedy, which everybody seems to like, but become harder to find each year. So many of the Independent films are very serious and deal with powerful issues, but we also don’t want to feature a weekend of downers, so always keep our eye on trying to balance everything out with uplifting films.”

In addition to showcasing these innovative and compelling films, The Riverside Saginaw Film Festival is also hoping to conduct some accompanying seminars tied into some of this year’s films, which feature three documentaries.

Without further ado, here is a breakdown of the schedule and films being shown at this first installment of the 2021 Riverside Saginaw Film Festival.

THE LOST LEONARDO • Thursday • October 21st • 7:00 PM / Saturday, Oct. 23 • 2:00 PM

THE LOST LEONARDO is the inside story behind the Salvator Mundi, the most expensive painting ever sold at $450 million. From the moment the painting is bought for $1175 at a shady New Orleans auction house, and the restorer discovers masterful Renaissance brushstrokes under the heavy varnish of its cheap restoration, the Salvator Mundi’s fate is determined by an insatiable quest for fame, money and power. As its price soars, so do questions about its authenticity: is this painting really by Leonardo da Vinci?

Unravelling the hidden agendas of the richest men and most powerful art institutions in the world, THE LOST LEONARDO reveals how vested interests in the Salvator Mundi are of such tremendous power that truth becomes secondary, which gives this film the imprimatur of an allegorical morality tale for our current state of time.

Two of the pivotal characters include Dianne Modestini, one of the top art conservation professionals in the world. Modestini restored the Salvator Mundi over several years in the period between 2005 and 2017 and became convinced the work was from the hand of Leonardo da Vinci. Dianne Modestini comes under intense scrutiny but continues to fight for the attribution.

The second is United States art dealer Robert Simon.   Together with Alexander Parish, Simon purchased the Salvator Mundi in 2005 for $1175 and was the key person in brokering its Leonardo da Vinci attribution.

HOPE • Friday • October 22nd • 11:00 AM / Saturday • Oct. 23 • 8:00 PM

This Scandinavian feature film centers upon Anja (Andrea Bræin Hovig) and Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård), two characters who adore their careers in dance and theatre. Their blended family structure is complicated, with two young sons and an adolescent daughter from their own union and two adult children from Tomas' marriage.

Returning home after the triumphant international debut of a ballet she directed, Anja finds Tomas is working late, a galling abnegation of responsibility in her eyes. Then her physician gives her a dire diagnosis: she has an inoperable tumor that may be connected to the lung cancer for which she was successfully treated the previous year.

A long-time superwoman who's been compensating for an often absent, workaholic husband, Anja soldiers on, refusing to tell anyone but Tomas what's happening - and becoming increasingly exasperated by her children's blissful ignorance, while only intermittently buoyed by Tomas' support. The next few days will test the strength of their relationship more than any other challenge they've faced.

This films was a huge success at the Toronto International Film Festival.

AILEY • Friday • October 22nd • 2:00 PM / Saturday • Oct. 23 • 5:00 PM

Alvin Ailey was a trailblazing pioneer who found salvation through dance. This amazing documentary traces the full contours of this brilliant and enigmatic man whose search for the truth in movement resulted in enduring choreography that centers on the Black American experience with grace, strength, and unparalleled beauty.

Told through Ailey's own words and featuring evocative archival footage and interviews with those who intimately knew him, director Jamila Wignot weaves together a resonant biography of an elusive visionary beginning with the dance legend’s childhood in Texas to his evolving love affair with ballet in Los Angeles to his first steps onto a stage and eventually, his final bow.

It is an educational journey, an uncompromising look into the challenges of an artistic life, and a tribute to the man whose studio and dance company still bear his name.   Although private by nature and likely shaped by the homophobia of the time, Alvin Ailey found a way to express himself through dance. He was often the only Black man creating in the largely white dance world, but the documentary is not centered on his exclusion. Instead, its lens is focused on his resilience, his sources of inspiration that lead him to create classic and challenging works alike, and his struggles with mental health under the pressures to succeed.

The film traces his influences back to the trailblazing Katherine Dunham and training with the technique-driven Louis Horton. After a time, Ailey began to recruit his  ‘A’ company of dancers to create a repertoire of his own and established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His childhood memories provided the inspiration for works like “Revelations” and “Blues Suite.”

Adding to his ballet training, Ailey mixed in movement from jazz clubs and church dances to create a dance vocabulary that felt uniquely his—unlike anything most white audiences had ever seen before. He became an international sensation, traveling the world and working impossible hours, all while facing racism and homophobia at home. In a rare confession, some of the dancers and crew members in his company remember Ailey’s mental health struggles and isolation, pulling the curtain back on the posh façade of a choreographer extraordinaire to show the man behind him.

Collected together in “Ailey,” this portrait of the choreographer does much to demystify the legend but only to a point, and thus keeps his mystique while also humanizing the historic figure. "Ailey" is a celebration more than a tell-all, an introduction for a man whose name is now synonymous with American dance and whose steps live on in the bodies of countless teachers, students, and performers.

TRUFFLE HUNTERS • Friday • October 22nd • 5:00 PM / Sunday, Oct. 24 • 11:00 AM

Deep in the forest of Northern Italy resides the prized white Alba truffle. Desired by the wealthiest patrons in the world, it remains a pungent but rarified mystery. It cannot be cultivated or found, even by the most resourceful of modern excavators.

The only souls on Earth who know how to dig it up are a tiny circle of canines and their silver-haired human companions - Italian elders with walking sticks and evil senses of humor - who only scour for the truffle at night so as not to leave any clues for others.

This small enclave of hunters induces a feverish buying market that spans the globe. With unprecedented access to the elusive truffle hunters, filmmakers Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw (The Last Race, 2018 Sundance Film Festival) follow this maddening cycle from the forest floor to the pristine restaurant plate.

With a wily an absurdist flare, The Truffle Hunters captures a precarious ritual constantly threatened by greed and outside influences but still somehow protected by those clever, tight-lipped few who know how to unearth the magic within nature.

QUO VADIS, AIDA?  • Friday • October 22nd • 8:00 PM / Sunday • Oct. 24 • 2:00 PM

Jasmila Zbanic’s “Quo Vadis, Aida?” is a razor-sharp incrimination of failed foreign policies from around the world embedded in a deeply humanist and moving character study of the kind of person that these policies leave behind.

It’s a very specific story of war crimes in 1995, but it feels also like a modern commentary on how often foreign policy and U.N. intervention fails to see the human lives caught up in their decision making, and so often in their inability to make those tough decisions quickly and empathetically. Taut and intense, this is the kind of film that a critic hopes finds a broad enough audience to provoke conversation and insight about how we fix these broken systems. It truly feels like Zbanic’s work here could effect change if seen by the right people.

Aida (a fantastic Jasna Djuricic) is a translator for the UN in the town of Srebenica in Bosnia in 1995 in this true story. At that time, a war between the Serbians and Bosnians had led to incredible bloodshed but the Serbians were at a point wherein they overtook Srebenica, leading the UN soldiers and locals there on their heels when it comes to what happens next. As the gun-toting Serbians approached Srebenica, thousands of local Bosnians tried to enter a UN base camp there, with only a few hundred let in before the gates were closed, leaving so many men, women, and children outside, wondering what to do next or where to go when the only place they’ve been told would be safe won’t let them in.

With inside knowledge of how negotiations and planning (or lack thereof) are going between the UN leaders and Serbian army, Aida senses that everything is about to get much worse. Tension is rising in the camp from the beginning, as there are no facilities or rations for the people who have come there for safety, and Aida struggles at first to get her husband and son from one side of the gate to the other, even knowing that nothing is fixed when she does.

“Quo Vadis, Aida?” is one of the best films ever made regarding shifts in power, and how this kind of nightmare often unfolds with slow, deliberate actions instead of the standard quick pace of action filmmaking. Aida can see how increasingly dangerous the world around her is becoming, but bureaucracy and confusion keep halting any efforts to stop it.

Despite Aida’s unique situation in that being a translator gives her access, there’s also a sense of a broader canvas at work in this story that’s essential to its success. There are several shots of dozens of human beings filling the frame, either in the base or waiting outside for an answer about their fate. All of them are being let down by policies that may have given a warlord an ultimatum but then did nothing when he ignored it, and now they are stuck in the middle, between a conquering enemy and a supposed ally who has no idea what to do next.

This is a film about almost unimaginable war crimes—the murder of thousands of innocent men—but it places that international story in a deeply human context. We often read about these dark chapters in history and the kind of horror that took place in Srebenica can be hard to really wrap you brain around.

“Quo Vadis, Aida?” is daring enough to not only ask how this kind of thing happens, but to interrogate how easily we move on from these kind of war crimes, going back to daily life in the same places where so many ended.

TRUE MOTHERS • Saturday • October 23rd • 11:00 AM / Sunday • Oct. 24 • 5:00 PM

This Japanese film offers a poignant morality tale about adoption.  It is not strange or unusual for a couple to want to procreate and have a child. However, things are not proceeding smoothly for the couple formed by Kiyokauzu and his wife Satoko.

Despite steadily trying to get his wife pregnant the couple yield to reality and, exhorted by a professional association, proceed to adopt a boy. They are happily adapting to their adopted son, but unexpectedly a woman named Hikari Katakura shows up soon enough, emphasizing she is the boy’s biological mother, and creating a confrontation in the process.




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