Real to reel

Mar 3, 2010 at 12:00 am

Since opening last fall in a former Cass Corridor school building, the incredibly ballsy Burton Theatre has become a boon for the film-starved downtown landscape, and this week's inaugural Detroit Independent Film Festival is further proof that cinema obsessives finally have something new to freak out about.  Continuing in the sort of brashly audacious style of programming that puts Herzog and Dolemite under the same roof, the DIFF, as the cool kids call it, gives us more exotic options than those little tubs of popcorn seasoning. The weeklong event offers dozens of films, features the work of Michigan filmmakers — be it narrative, documentary or short — plus a few new works from some legendary cult directors to spice up the broth.  

Appropriately kicking things off with an experimental film showcase, the fest aims to bring out a wide array of voices, techniques and formats, all imbued with a gently anarchic sprit and independent energy. Also, the first annual Michigan Film Awards will be held on Saturday, March 6, at the DeRoy Auditorium on Wayne State University's campus. 

Anyway, there's too much to properly cover here, but there are plenty of highlights:

Litterbug is a locally shot comedy about a self-absorbed (really?) techno DJ posing as an environmentalist to impress a girl, with a cast featuring several comedians from Ferndale's Go Improv Comedy Club.  If that's not enough to entice, the flick was shot using "green production" practices, for guilt-free viewing!

On Wednesday there's a tribute to Troma Inc.'s schlock-master Lloyd Kauffman, and his latest triumph of zero-budget gore, satire and self-promotional frenzy: Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. After the feathers settle, the renegade pranksters at Royal Oak's Thomas Video offer their own blend of mayhem, You Can't Rent Here Anymore, a horror comedy riot about the worst video store customer of all time.

In a slightly more terrifying vein, there's the Detroit premiere of zombie genre master George A. Romero's latest, Survival of the Dead, well ahead of its May release date. Horror fans will want to check out the unearthed 1976 biker-terror classic Northville Cemetery Massacre, which gives that sleepy suburb more action than it has seen in years.  

Also of note is Official Rejection, a humorous documentary about the struggles of directors being turned down by film festivals; in a bit of meta paradox, the film is becoming a hit on the indie festival scene. 

On a more contemplative note, there's A City to Yourself, a doc detailing the quest to find new and positive uses for the miles of land left barren by Detroit's slow population erosion.  

Located in a former school, up the street from the legendary hipster mecca the Gold Dollar, and among the ruins of what was once the city's Chinatown, the Burton's less about celebrating Detroit's tarnished past than polishing its artistic future. With this grandly ambitious film festival, let's hope it's just the start of a brighter day.

Runs through Sunday, March 7, at the Burton Theatre (3420 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-473-9238). For a daily DIFF schedule, go to