Hell’s Half Mile is reborn

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Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival celebrated its eighth year by bringing the best of indie music and awarding-winning film to Bay City.

From Sept. 26-29, hundreds of film lovers, filmmakers, actors and producers flocked to Bay City’s State Theatre, Delta College Planetarium and Masonic Temple Red Room to witness the creativity and passions of others, often much like themselves.

Vanguard photo | Logan Mooney

SVSU graphic design students Joey Daniels and Gina Guerrero speak with “Hank and Asha” producers James Duff and Julia Morrison at the Hell’s Half Mile opening night reception.

Joan Willis, a Bay City resident, said she has come to Hell’s Half Mile for the past three years for that very reason.

“I love the energy in the films I see here,” she said. “You don’t see that anywhere else.”

Hell’s Half Mile opened this year with the film “Hank and Asha,” a romantic comedy about an Indian woman studying in Prague and a lonely New Yorker who begin an unconventional correspondence through video letters. The film is the winner of the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival. The film is about identity, longing and the irresistible appeal of entertaining life’s “what-if’s.”

Producers James Duff and Julia Morrison attended the nearly full-house screening of the film Thursday night.

Festival founder Alan LaFave said Hell’s Half Mile is about bringing like-minded people together and sharing a love of the arts.

“Sharing your time is also about sharing stories,” he said. “The reason we do this festival each year is to make you feel, like, ‘Ahh.’”

Duff said they wanted the film to feel “authentic.”

“The unplanned moments in filmmaking are just as important as the planned ones,” he said.

He added that filmmakers rely on their actors to do a lot more than just acting. He said  they help fill in the gaps they, as producers, haven’t taken into account.

“So much of it comes from their own experiences,” Duff said of Asha’s character.

Morrison said they both enjoy the Q&A after the screenings, because they really get to connect with their audiences. She said after a screening of “Hank and Asha” in Brooklyn, N. Y., they were told by an audience member that he sent video messages back and forth to his girlfriend in Korea.

“It is great to be able to connect like that,” Morrison said.

“I hate this movie. I love this movie. It made me angry. It made me happy. Thanks,” said one audience member after the screening.

“Hank and Asha” will hit digital platforms by early next year, including Netflix.

Although it was Duff’s and Morrison’s first time in Bay City, it wasn’t the first time for producers of the Local Shorts Film Program, which was screened at the State Theatre last Saturday.

Among them were short films produced by local filmmakers, including films such as “The Handbag,” “Special Delivery,” “Cellar Dwellers,” “Like Glue,” “Gunned” and “Flip This!”

Each year, Hell’s Half Mile brings together people of like-interests to enjoy the creativity of others, according to LaFave. This year, the festival was supported by the Kathleen Ann Pillars Memorial Fund.

Hell’s Half Mile is named after a certain stretch of Bay City’s riverfront known as Hell’s Half Mile. In the late 1800s, it was lined with raucous saloons and two-bit hotels where turn-of the century loggers and shipmen would go to blow off steam.

Today, the “rough-and-tumble spirit” remains and is reborn each year in the Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival.