Flicks shine light on state and Detroit

Fat Man on Batman
Fat Man on Batman Courtesy photo

George Clooney's next blockbuster won't be showing at the Freep Film Festival.

That's by design, says Steve Byrne, the Detroit Free Press entertainment editor and executive director of the festival, which runs March 31 through April 3. Instead of Clooney, there'll be opportunities to see dozens of documentaries — short and long — that are Detroit- and Michigan-centric.

"The first thing that made us want to start a film festival was that there was an abundance of Detroit- and Michigan-focused documentaries that were not being shown to an audience," Byrne says. Another opportunity presented by the festival: a chance to screen documentaries from the newspaper's Emmy-winning video production department.

During the festival's first year, the documentaries were specific to Detroit and Michigan. But Bryne says the films being shown will progress as the festival evolves. "We will always want to keep the festival Detroit-related, but that would be impossible if we want to continue," he says. "What we can do is show films and documentaries that are not mainly focused on the region, but maybe an aspect or two is."

That statement is evident in such films as one that looks at Michael Jackson's journey from Motown to his solo career. It's not specifically about Detroit, but the city is important to the film's narrative. Or the festival's only fictional film, Superior, which follows two friends on a bike journey along the shores of stunning Lake Superior. Again, Michigan is the backdrop in this coming-of-age story.

The festival has expanded its reach throughout the city. Live events are scheduled at the Fillmore Detroit, and a few music-related films will be shown at Jack White's newly opened Third Man Records in the Cass Corridor.

Here are some of the films and events that you should check out:

Kevin Smith

The writer/director/podcaster/guy from Clerks Kevin Smith will perform a live version of his popular and hilarious podcast "Fat Man on Batman" at the Fillmore on opening night. If you can't tell, Smith is a huge comic book nerd/fan and the highly anticipated film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was just released in theaters. There is no better timing. Watch Smith as he's joined by his co-host, comic book writer Marc Bernardin, as they discuss the film, superheros, and any other geeky pop culture gems that come up.

Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m., Thursday, March 31, Fillmore Detroit. Tickets $20-$60.


Claressa "T-Rex" Shields was just 17 when she traveled to London to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games. This documentary follows her track to winning gold in women's boxing. The Flint native overcame growing up in poverty and exceeded the expectations of her coaches and family. The film also focuses on her rise to fame, which creates a different kind of spotlight for someone coming to prominence at a young age. A discussion after the screening features Shields, director Zackary Canepari, and participants in the Detroit Boxing Gym Youth. The film shows on Thursday and Friday evening of the festival.

Thursday- Doors at 6 p.m., film at 7 p.m., March 31 at the Detroit Film Theatre at the DIA.

Friday- Film at 7 p.m., April 1 at Cinema Detroit. Tickets for both nights are $20.

'Roulette Stars of Metro Detroit' with Electric Six

If you're longing for the days of The Office or Parks and Recreation, then check out this mockumentary from Detroit indie rockers Electric Six. What started as a Kickstarter campaign has now grown into an almost complete mockumentary that is only being shown to contributors of the Kickstarter and film festival attendees. Is the band trying to be ironic, or do they take themselves that seriously? Is this what it's really like being in an indie rock band? See the first-ever Freep Film Festival work-in-progress viewing at Third Man Records in the Cass Corridor.

Film at 8 p.m., Friday, April 1 at Third Man Records, Tickets $10.

'Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall'

This documentary is for anyone who's a fan of Michael Jackson's solo debut Off the Wall and of the Jackson 5. The film follows Jackson with his brothers in the Jackson 5, his departure from Motown Records, and the beginning of a blockbuster solo career. As the story goes, Jackson left Motown and the Jackson 5 to record one of the best-selling R&B and pop albums of our time. There are exclusive interviews with artists like Pharrell Williams, John Legend, Mark Ronson, and Motown founder Berry Gordy. Every song on the album will be discussed, along with Jackson's imprint on music that lasts to this day.

Film at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 2, at the Marvo and Betty Danto Lecture Hall at the DIA.

Film at 11:45 a.m., Sunday, April 3 at Emagine Royal Oak. Tickets $10.

'Land Grab'

Director Sean O'Grady takes viewers to a behind-the-scenes look at the perfect row of trees on the city's east side known as Hantz Woodlands. Some view the purchase of land as a wealthy and greedy business man getting a chunk of property in Detroit for a reasonable price, and some look at Hantz as it's intended: a farming initiative in the city of Detroit. It's hard to tell what will happen with the land because, like a tree, it takes time to grow. Watch the film and decide for yourself.

Film at 1 p.m., Sunday, 4/3 at the Detroit Film Theatre at the DIA. Tickets $10.

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