Bay City unleashes Hell: Annual film and music festival featured local acts and big-name celebrities

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The spark that is Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival set the town ablaze in the flames of creativity.

The festival, done through a partnership with the Bay Arts Council and run entirely by volunteers, took place this past Thursday through Sunday.

The film “Missed Connections”opened the festival in the State Theatre after the opening night party.

In this comedy, Kenny Stevenson plays Neal, a down-on-his-luck customer service employee who recently saw his best friend cheating with his girlfriend.

Courtesy | Katrina Robinson

From left, actor Rider Strong, producer Alexandra Barreto and director Chris Levitus from the film “Walter Don’t Dance” at Hell’s Half Mile.

All goes amuck when Neal explodes on a customer at his work and quits his job. But two of his friends come to his rescue with a plan to use the Internet to essentially mislead women into sleeping with him.

The plan works until he encounters a woman who is tough to crack.

This film, which drew potentially the largest crowd of the festival, had the audience splitting at the seams with its crazy and sometimes raunchy humor.

After the film, viewers were treated to a question-and-answer session with Stevenson; his wife Dorrien Davies, who plays the female protagonist opposite of Neal; director Eric Kissack and producer Lisa Rudin.

In addition to feature-length independent films, the festival also featured three shorts programs. Two showcased films from current filmmakers and the other played projects of local university students.

Festival favorite Rider Strong, was back for a short film in which he stars.

“Walter Don’t Dance” centers around a lady and a shakeup in search of Walter and a bag which has become very important to two men.

Strong, who plays the silent, sadistic half to the duo of thuggish men, commands a performances where his actions and body movements paint him as a sadistic and evil man, intent on getting back the bag that Walter has taken.

Strong offered tips for those contemplating their first short film.

“Just go for it,” he said to people worried about budget constraints or failure.

He said to lose the apprehension and make the film if you have a good idea.

He suggested submitting the film to genre specific festivals so that it can be better recognized and appreciated.

The problem, however, Strong admitted, is while technology has made it much easier to create short films, it has decreased the quality and increased the competition for those films that are done well.

“Not everyone can tell a story,” says Strong.

Another short, “Homecoming” focused on an Indian middle school student who desired to go to homecoming, much to the chagrin of her strict Indian father.

However, everything changes when the girl sees her father cheating on her mother with his secretary at his office.

This film is as gripping as any feature length film and leaves the viewer very uncomfortable, in the best of ways.

Friday night several local bands got to perform for festival-goers at the local music showcase at Old City Hall.

The music didn’t stop there, as the main showcase took place Saturday night, after another day of independent films.

Both local and national bands played to a large crowd at the Masonic Temple.

The night started off with An American Underdog playing their infectious brand of indie pop-rock that warmed up the crowd that was already forming.

South Carolina’s The Fishing Journal took the stage and rocked the crowd with their unique type of hard rock with clear influences from the likes of Superchunk and Spoon.

The band started out as a solo project for vocalist Chris Powell, expanded into a full band a year later, adding drummer Josh Latham and bassist Chuck Sligh, four months ago.

Their new self released EP, “Ditch,” is due out in December.

Crane Wives, a five-piece folk group from Grand Rapids used their multi-part vocal harmonies from their two female singers to create a type of folk that got guests to sing and dance along.

The band drew the largest crowd of the night so far and its many loyal Michigan fans moving about and singing along.

The headlining duo of Nick Scalise and Gregory Shanahan, known simply as Bestfriends, took to the stage for a late set.

This duo took what is known about post-disco or electronic indie-pop music and throws it in the trash, instead of opting for their own brand of post-disco, which sets them apart from many other bands playing poppy electronic music.