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  • Thrive Detroit

Movies and Festivals in Detroit and Michigan

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When this issue makes it to print, the Academy Awards will have aired and that Hollywood excitement will rest until next year. But Hollywood isn’t the only entity (and, arguably, not necessarily the best) for film appreciation. The Detroit area and other spots in Michigan are presenting some worthwhile film events in March and beyond.

The second annual Freep Film Fest, founded by the Detroit Free Press and, runs March 19-22. It showcases documentary “films that are about or relevant to Detroit, the region and Michigan in the hopes of fostering engagement and discussion about the issues and challenges we face while at the same time celebrating what makes us unique.” The event’s venue partners are the Fillmore Detroit and the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts. One highlight this year will be the unveiling of “Detroit Industry and the Ford Motor Company Motion Picture Laboratory,” which will screen at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 21, at the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts. This film uses silent footage from the time of the creation of Diego Rivera’s famed murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. According to the Free Press, pianist David Drazin will provide live musical accompaniment to the film. A post-film chat hosted by Free Press arts writer Mark Stryker will also include Hubert Massey, the Detroit-based muralist who has mastered the buon fresco technique that Rivera used to create the “Detroit Industry” murals. Other highlights in include “Graveyard of the Great Lakes: A Shipwreck Hunter’s Quest to Discover the Past,” which profiles David Trotter, who has discovered nearly 100 shipwrecks in his 35 years of exploring the Great Lakes; and “Fire Photo -> 1,” which tells the story of Bill Eisner, who has amassed a visual history of the Detroit Fire Department that’s been described as a priceless museum. More information on this festival can be found at:

The Greater Farmington Film Festival will be held March 5-8. This is the second year for this festival as well, which partners with Oakland Community College and the Farmington Civic Theater, both of which provide the venues. The films last year were thought-provoking and wonderful, so this year should be no different. Their mission is to provide a “selection of feature films and documentaries that engage the heart and mind, explore important contemporary issues, and inspire action. Films with a conscience. Good films for a better world.” Support the festival, buy tickets and all-access passes, and see film selections here:

The Ann Arbor Film Festival, which runs March 24-29, is the granddaddy of festivals, this year being its 53rd. It is the longest-running independent and experimental film festival in North America, founded in 1963 by George Manupelli, a well-known and respected University of Michigan Art professor who died in 2014. “Internationally recognized as a premiere forum for independent filmmakers and artists, each year’s festival engages audiences with remarkable cinematic experiences. The six-day festival presents 40 programs with more than 180 films from over 20 countries of all lengths and genres, including experimental, animation, documentary, fiction, and performance-based works.” This festival uses the historic Michigan Theater as its main venue. For more program information, visit

The 5th annual Capital City Film Festival will take place April 9-12 in Lansing. This multimedia festival touts itself as “a multimedia showcase of independent films and live touring bands with engaging audiences in Michigan’s capital city. It celebrates artists from around the world who share their craft while promoting and building on the cultural assets of our diverse locale.” In addition to films and live music, the festival also includes The Fortnight Film & Game Contest, which is a competition for teams of amateur, student, and professional filmmakers and game developers in Michigan. For more information, including on entering the contest, go to and

Summertime in Michigan is full of festivals, including film festivals, two of which are described here, though this is certainly not an exhaustive list.

The Waterfront Film Fest runs June 11-14. This festival started in artsy Saugatuck in 1999, but has been moved to South Haven, which is also on Lake Michigan’s western coast. The festival was started to “provide a ‘middle coast’ venue for independent filmmakers eager to show their work to sophisticated audiences. The festival has succeeded with growing support and recognition each year, and enthusiastic reviews from attendees.”

The Traverse City Film Festival was founded by Academy Award-winning director Michael Moore (he lives in TC), who runs the festival and serves as president of the board of directors, which also includes actor and Michigan native Jeff Daniels. Moore and the festival rescued the State Theater in Traverse City and were instrumental in its renovation, and now the festival grows every year. The State now operates as a year-round, community-based, and volunteer-staffed art-house movie theater. The festival also renovated the historic Con Foster Museum building in Clinch Park and turned it into a sister screen for the State Theatre, naming it the Bijou by the Bay. This year’s festival runs July 28-August 2. The list of this year’s films is not yet available, but for more information, visit their web site:

Though festivals are trendy and growing, good film is often available throughout the year at Detroit’s  own treasure, the Detroit Film Theatre, which is always a gem and a cool way to spend an afternoon or evening. Plan ahead for next year and make sure to get out to see the Academy Award-nominated documentaries, animated shorts, and live-action shorts, which are screened every February and are not to be missed. It is a very popular multi-weekend event—plan to buy tickets in advance, and arrive early, as the parking situation is usually a madhouse. The Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor also screens the shorts during the same month. It’s always fun to be “in the know” when you watch the awards. But don’t wait to visit the DFT until next year. Check it out now:

Support the varied festivals and films, and step out of the mainstream theaters for a change, which will certainly expand your film experience and worldview.

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