On the opening night of the East Lansing Film Festival (ELFF) Silver Anniversary, community members packed Studio C! Celebration Theater for the local tradition.
Festival director Susan Woods hosted an opening party where she was surrounded by festival-goers from the past 25 years. She sees these community members as very dear friends.
“I saw so many familiar faces and it was so awesome,” Woods said. “I love this place.”
One of the annual festival enthusiasts, Martha Couretas, sees ELFF as a cultural oasis in her small community. Each year she sees movies she couldn’t see anywhere else and finds Michigan filmmakers insightful.
“We have different perspectives as people who aren’t considered part of the culture of filmmaking and not considered part of Hollywood filmmaking,” Couretas said.
Couretas especially looks forward to the post-film conversations with the directors or actors to add perspective to the viewing experience.
“It tells us about parts of the world that we don’t experience ourselves, such as B. how other people live and situations they have to deal with that are different from our lives,” said Couretas.
Festival sponsor Leonard Zuckerman attended ELFF for the first time this year, eager to hear what local tradition has to say about international communities.
“It’s culture,” Zuckerman said. “They don’t want to just think locally and focus everything on what’s happening here. One has to branch out and be more worldly.”
The opening film was Bad Ax, which takes its name from the rural, conservative Michigan town where it was filmed. The film follows an immigrant family in the depths of the pandemic as they run their family business as they struggle against economic hardship, racism in their small town and an attempt to keep their family ties strong. David Siev, the director, made the film as a love letter to his family and hometown.
The autobiographical documentary has already had a successful film festival run, with awards from the Detroit Free Press and the South by Southwest Film Festival. It has won 17 awards and has been projected as an Oscar contender.
“The trajectory of this entire film is something that I obviously never could have imagined when I first picked up this camera,” Siev said during his directorial interview.
Siev held a screening in Bad Ax when the film was first released and received overwhelming praise from everyone, including skeptics who thought it was a bad portrayal of his hometown.
“I feel like I’ve just lived my own American dream,” Siev said. When I have a film that deals with the American Dream, I take a moment to really think about it. I am so thankful to be able to be a filmmaker and to travel the country with my family.”
Julia Field, a viewer, found the film heartwarming but also representative of the plight of the pandemic.
“It makes it more real,” Field said. “No location is perfect, so it did a good job of showing both parts of Bad Ax and rural Michigan.”
Field felt that the one-on-one interviews with family members after the film added more depth and made viewers feel like they knew the cast personally.
The second film of the opening night was “Jacir”, a feature film depicting the main character Jacir and his journey from Syria to America. It showed the struggle to assimilate US culture as Jacir intertwined his life with his neurotic neighbors and colleagues.
As a law student at MSU, audience member Andy Haftkowycz saw the realities between the film and immigration law. He said that the portrayal of Islamic hospitality and the government’s treatment of immigrants is spot on.
Haftkowycz said that “Jacir” and ELFF as a whole help share the perspective of immigrants with a community that may otherwise be unfamiliar.
“It’s important to understand that there is culture across the Canada-US border, and we have to understand that these people are here…they are here like everyone else and they deserve to be here, just like we do deserve to be here,” Haftkowycz said.
ELFF runs until November 10th. View a schedule of films here.
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