By: Kirsten McIlvenna, A&E Editor
The independent music and film scene makes its way to Downtown Bay City this weekend.
Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival is in its sixth year. It is a weekend-long event filled with indie music and independent films: narratives, documentaries and shorts.
This three day festival attracts about 2,000 guests who can view more than 10 full-length films and many more short films. The films show at various times at The Masonic Temple, The State Theatre and Delta College Planetarium & Learning Center in downtown Bay City.
“I think it is one of my favorite festivals, and I’ve been to hundreds of festivals,” said Gorman Bechard, writer and director of “Color Me Obsessed.”
Shaun O’Banion, producer of “Girlfriend,” said he enjoys coming to smaller cities without a lot of access to indie films.
“It feels like people are hungrier for that kind of content,” he said.
More than 100 films were submitted, and the event programmers had to narrow them down to fit into one weekend, said Alan LaFave, festival director.
LaFave said that about a dozen of the directors, producers and actors will be present to discuss their experiences.
“It takes you past the experience of just screening the film,” he said.
Bechard will teach two workshops on how to make a quality film on a low budget and how to make a living off it.
Saturday, music from The Crooked Trees of Bay City and Empty Orchestra of Flint will start off the night. Leslie Sisson, a singer from New York will follow. She was at the festival last year as part of Matt Pond PA.
“She’s a great person and a great artist,” LaFave said.
Her new album for release in October will be for sale at the festival.
The One AM Radio from Los Angeles will be the headliner.
“To me it has a Death Cab for Cutie feel, but more electronic,” LaFave said.
Concert tickets are $10 in advance (purchased online at hhmfest.com) and $12 at the door. Doors open at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 1, at The Masonic Temple, Bay City.
For schedule of events, movie trailers, ticket sales and more information, visit hhmfest.com. Among the films playing are:
“The Lake Effect”
Filmed in Michigan, “The Lake Effect” is the story of a man whose second wife wants to get pregnant and whose 18-year-old daughter shows up on his doorstep after a two-year absence and is nine months pregnant.
“He has to figure out how to be a father before he can be a grandfather,” said Tara Miele, writer and director.
The title of the film originates from the way the storm grows as it comes across the lake.
“It reminded me of when family comes to this lake house, everything is heightened,” she said. “When you put your whole family together, things are bound to get crazy.”
The daughter, Celia, is played by Kay Panabaker of “Fame” and “Nancy Drew.”
Miele said that a lot of college aged students might identify with Celia, not because she is pregnant, but because she realizes that it is her last summer as a child.
“It can seem like you need all the help in the world to get through,” she said. “I think Celia is definitely in the middle of all of that.”
Additionally, Miele said that people will be drawn in because it was filmed in southwest Michigan. She said they might recognize a number of locations such as Bell’s Brewery and Heritage Guitar Inc. (formerly Gibson Guitar) in Kalamazoo.
“I’m excited to come back to Michigan and have a bit of encore to show more Michigan people,” Miele said.
Although she said she used to be an “ocean snob,” she said she really liked filming in Michigan.
“When I saw Michigan, I was so blown away,” she said. “I absolutely loved being on the lake. The people in Michigan were super friendly and very helpful.”
During the writing and production, Miele was pregnant.
When she was about four months along, she got an email requesting a script and director. She wanted to direct but couldn’t find a script that she wanted to use that would fit in the budget, so she ended up writing one herself.
Her producer wanted to shoot the film in August, but Miele said she had a conflict because her baby was due then, so she asked to move it to June.
“She was crazy enough to believe that I could do it, and we did it,” Miele said.
The filming was such a short time slot that Miele still was writing the script while they cast the film.
After finishing in Michigan, she did a pick-up shoot in Hollywood. The next morning, her water broke.
Miele graduated with a film degree from University of California at Santa Barbara. She started school for theatre, but fell in love with the idea that film lasts forever.
After interning and getting a job in development, Miele decided to dedicate herself full time to screen writing which she has been doing for six years.
“Selling a script and getting a movie made are two different things,” she said. “I don’t want to just develop movies and have them sit on shelves.”
Miele said she would advise any students looking to get into the film business to move to Los Angeles.
“Don’t quit your day job until you have to,” she said. “Until you have three studios telling you that you owe them drafts.”
Miele said she is excited because “The Lake Effect” will be available on DVD through Amazon.com and Netflix.com on Oct. 18. She said that most movies that come out of the really large festivals don’t even have that opportunity.
For more information on the film visit http://thelakeeffectfilm.com/index.html.
“Color Me Obsessed”
Gorman Bechard, winner of 2009 festival favorite with “Friends (with benefits),” returns to Bay City this year with “Color Me Obsessed,” a documentary about the love for music.
It is about The Replacements, Bechard’s favorite band. He wrote and directed the film.
“I truly believe that they optimize what rock ‘n’ roll is,” he said, “which is complete chaos.”
Bechard didn’t use music from The Replacements in his film and for a good reason.
He said that he came up with an idea that people believe in God without hearing God, so why not the same with The Replacements?
He said he became obsessed with the idea. He used interviews from more than 140 rockers, journalists and fans to make the documentary come to life.
Viewers can substitute any band they love to understand the film because, he explained, when you fall in love with a band they are with you for life.
“That person becomes a part of your family. No matter what they do, they stay with us the rest of our lives,” he said. “If anyone has been passionate about music, come and see this.”
Bechard said he makes his film for himself without the commercialization.
“That’s what makes art,” he said.
He said that people interested in making films should buy a camera, watch all the great films, read every book about filmmaking and skip film school.
He said the best way to learn is by making mistakes on your own.
He will teach workshops at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 1, about how to make microbudget films. These are free and open to the public. The locations will be announced at hhmfest.com.
For more information about “Color Me Obsessed” and other Bechard films, visit www.WWWTfilms.com.
“Girlfriend” is about a young man named Evan who has Down syndrome, lives with his mom in a poor working class town and unexpectedly acquires a large sum of money. He chooses to give this money to Candy, a single mother who is about to be evicted and still seeing her abusive boyfriend, in hopes that he can earn her love.
Justin Lerner, writer and director, said he built his film around Evan Sneider, a high school classmate with Down syndrome.
Lerner said that he wanted it to be fictional, but would stay true to Sneider’s personality.
Shaun O’Banion, a producer of the film, said that script affected him emotionally, something that rarely happens.
Sneider, who plays the lead role, is not hindered by his disability, O’Banion said.
“Evan is pretty extraordinary,” he said.
“He is able to change people’s perceptions of what they think Down syndrome is,” he said.
Also in this movie are Shannon Woodward of Fox TV’s “Raising Hope,” Jackson Rathbone of the “Twilight” saga, and Amanda Plummer of “Pulp Fiction.”
O’Banion won the “best fest” award for “Dakota Skye” last time he was at the festival. He said he was amazed by the amount of support that goes into this program.
“I’m really glad that festivals like that exist,” he said.
For more information about the film, visit girlfriendmotionpicture.com.