Arts & Entertainment, Film, and Travel & Tourism

Films make headway at ArtPrize Seven

October 16, 2015
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Waterfront Film Festival ArtPrize
Viewers crowded into the Ladies Literary Club to see films that were part of the Waterfront Film Festival. Photo by Mike Nichols

Even without the backing of state money, local film continues to be a grassroots arts industry that won’t give up.

Michigan’s film incentives may have been cut this summer, but that didn’t stop ArtPrize from giving special attention to film artists this year. For the 7th annual celebration of the world’s biggest art competition, the ArtPrize leadership decided to do things a little differently when it came to film.

Although films have been submitted to ArtPrize before, this year a three-day competition and venue was created to feature all the films, said Christian Gaines, executive director of ArtPrize.

“This is the first year we really got serious about it and how to implement it and integrate it. The thing about artists is they’re a poly-media, multi-media type of work,” he said.

“There’s a lot of artists out there who are 2-D, and musicians, filmmakers and dancers. And you want to make sure you don’t put yourself in a position where you … say no to someone who has a piece of work.”

From Sept. 25-27, ArtPrize hosted the Waterfront Film Festival for the first time ever. The nonprofit festival was used as ArtPrize’s main venue for film, presented at Ladies Literary Club,61 Sheldon Blvd. SE. The festival featured all 22 films submitted to ArtPrize. The films were made up of seven narrative features, five documentaries and 10 short films, Gaines said.

For independent filmmakers, Waterfront Film Festival is kind of a big deal. The nonprofit 501(c)(3) was co-founded in 1999 by Holland native Hopwood DePree, an actor, director and producer who is also an appointee to the Michigan Film Office Advisory Council.

Entertainment professionals from Los Angeles, New York and Michigan created the Waterfront Film organization to provide a “middle coast” venue for independent filmmakers eager to show their work to sophisticated audiences, he said. Since its inception, Waterfront has been bringing unique film experiences, education and opportunities to Michigan.

“Based on the shores of Lake Michigan, Waterfront founded and hosts one of the leading destination film festivals in the Midwest, regularly screening Midwest premieres of Academy Award-winning and nominated documentaries,” DePree said.

“Recognized as a top five film festival, the Waterfront Film Festival is a volunteer event committed to celebrating the independent filmmaker and promoting their works of art while further enhancing the cultural draw of West Michigan.”

This year, Waterfront launched its first-ever film competition: ArtPrize OnScreen. All of the 22 films submitted competed for audience awards in the following four categories: Public Vote Narrative Feature Film, Public Vote Documentary Film, Public Vote Short Film and the Best Film Juried Vote.

The films also were eligible for the large cash prizes associated with the ArtPrize public vote and juried awards.

“After the first weekend, one of our films, “T-Rex,” was selected in the Juried Top 5 shortlist in the Time-Based category, so we had an additional screening of that film Oct. 3 so the public could continue to see it,” DePree said. “The audiences were very receptive and seemed to have fun participating in voting for the films.”

ArtPrize was a fantastic way to showcase Michigan film, DePree said.

“We all felt that it makes a lot of sense to add the cinematic arts into the ArtPrize competition. We worked closely with the ArtPrize organization to make sure our efforts were to complement rather than compete,” he said.

“People are very supportive and interested in film. Film is a powerful and moving medium, and most people have had a good movie somehow touch or change their lives,” DePree said.

“Anyone who has had a reputable film production come to their town or business understands why Michigan needs to find a way to continue to bring that economic boost to our state.”

Finding a way to feature all of the films was tricky because film is a unique art, Gaines said. It’s a time-based medium, meaning that, unlike stationary art, it can only be fully viewed in a precise timeframe. A person’s understanding of the medium improves with time, and a film takes more attention, Gaines said, meaning a viewer has to spend more time with the work to develop and deepen their understanding of it.

“It’s a challenge we relish, frankly,” he said.

“Types of time-based work (include) dance or performance art, or music and musical theater. Music has been a staple of (ArtPrize) for the last three years, and in that sense, film is no different,” Gaines said.

“Filmmakers are artists. And one of the things about ArtPrize is, we don’t want to say no to any artist who wants to participate. The question is how do we offer a platform so the public knows it’s there so they can enjoy it, and to stick with the principles ArtPrize has? That’s how the Waterfront Film Festival relationship developed.”

Gaines felt this year showed him how much film still matters in West Michigan, regardless of what’s happening in Lansing. The moment he realized it came when he was at a screening of a film with about 400 high school students. At first, the students were rowdy, but as soon as the film started, they settled down, riveted by the images before their eyes.

He said it was a “very inspiring moment for me.” Film, properly funded or not, still demands attention.

“There’s some really rich film offerings here — whether it’s the movie theater at UICA, or very talented local filmmakers like Joel Potrykus. He’s a great filmmaker who’s committed to Grand Rapids and the region. But we have a lot of work to do in making the leap. We have a strong community that’s interested in art and innovation, and I would hope the leap to independent filmmaking would be there, but I feel like the interest there is fragile in West Michigan,” Gaines said.

“Local film festivals are anemic and not really interesting, and we could do more to make our local film culture more vibrant and dynamic. And I feel there are some organizations that are moving toward that, like UICA. … So if you’re interested in film, you do have an outlet, but like I said, we have a lot to do to bolster film here.”

Here are the winners of this year’s ArtPrize OnScreen film competition:

Narrative film, public vote award: "Décor," directed by Ahmad Abdalia, produced by Zein Kurdi. $2,000 cash prize and option for a theatrical run and premiere party at Celebration! Cinema, and hotel accommodations courtesy of Amway Hotel Corp.

Documentary film, public vote award: "Exported from Michigan," directed by Jon Vander Pol, produced by Amy Filbeck, Jon Vander Pol and John Wells. $2,000 cash prize and option for a theatrical run and premiere party at Celebration! Cinema, and hotel accommodations courtesy of Amway Hotel Corp.

Short film, public vote award: "Dissonance," directed by Bryan Fox, produced by Carly Chaikin, Bryan Fox, Bree Pavey and Andrew W. Chan. $1,000 cash prize and option for a theatrical run and premiere party at Celebration! Cinema, and hotel accommodations courtesy of Amway Hotel Corp.

Best film, juried award: "T-Rex," directed by Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper, produced by Drea Cooper, Zackary Canepari, Sue Jaye Johnson, Gary Kout and Bianca Darville. Option for a theatrical run in the Celebration! Cinema Indie Film Series, premiere party and hotel accommodations courtesy of Amway Hotel Corp. 

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