The Detroit Film Theatre is one of the venues participating in the 2016 Freep Film Festival. Sponsored by the Detroit Free Press, the festival features documentaries on all things Detroit and Michigan.
Unless otherwise noted, all films take place in the Detroit Film Theatre auditorium. Here is the lineup:
The festival opens Thursday, March 31 at 7 P.M. with the documentary “T-Rex”, which chronicles the journey of Flint boxer Clareesa Shields’ quest for gold in women’s boxing at the 2012 Summer Olympics. We see is a confident champion whose strength belies her youth. She brings the same determination to the boxing ring as she does to her dream of using her success to help her family escape from poverty. Following the film, Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley leads a discussion with Shields, director Zackary Canepari and participants in the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program.
8 P.M. “The Goat Yard”. In the shadow of a former east side Detroit brick factory lies the Detroit Boat Works, a.k.a. The Goat Yard in honor of a bearded Billy goat that once guarded the place. More than just a place to dock and sail boats, the property is home to a decommissioned Detroit fire engine, a tugboat, the remains of a sunken schooner and dozens of castoff sailboats waiting for new owners to refurbish – and a wild cast of distinctly Detroit characters. The movie focuses on the rabble-rousing Hume and the eccentric sailing community that formed around him. The film is comprised of recent footage and vintage material stretching back to the club’s formation in the 1950s, including Hume’s attempts to challenge former Mayor Coleman Young in both recall and election campaigns and the creation of a homemade Aqua-Car that was meant to jumpstart vehicle manufacturing in the Motor City. Following the film will be Q&A with directors and producers Kimberly Stricker and Michael Pfaendtner moderated by the Free Press’ Jim Schaefer.
At 7:30 P.M. in the Marvin and Betty Danto Lecture Hall is the timely film “Requiem for a Running Back”. In his 10-year playing career, running back Lewis Carpenter won three world championships with the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. When he passed away in 2010, he was among the first NFL veterans officially diagnosed, postmortem, with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) – the degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blunt force trauma to the skull. In Requiem for a Running Back, director Rebecca Carpenter – Lewis’ daughter – conducts a retroactive personal investigation into her father’s life and death. Through archival footage and intimate family photos, the filmmaker examines her father’s professional career and her family’s stormy past. We’re invited to wonder along: To what degree was CTE responsible for her father’s depression, forgetfulness and temper? The film addresses the public health issue that is CTE through a deeply personal lens, including interviews with scientists, doctors, former teammates and other families affected by CTE. We also meet with NFL greats like Mike Ditka and James Lofton, as well as Dr. Bennet Omalu, subject of the recent Will Smith biopic Concussion. After the film, Free Press Sports Writer Shawn Windsor leads a discussion with director Rebecca Carpenter, Dr. Julian Bailes (chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the North Shore University Health System and co-director of the North Shore Neurological Institute) and others.
5 P.M. (also Sunday at 2 P.M.) “Accidental Activists”. Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer were simply looking to overturn the law that would allow them to adopt their children. But on the recommendation of a federal judge, the Hazel Park couple’s lawyers launched a frontal assault on the legal barrier that prevents them from jointly adopting — Michigan’s constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex couples from marrying. The case, which Free Press photographer/videographer Mandi Wright has been following from the outset, became the accelerant that would result in the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage across the country in June 2015. The film follows the three-year battle that would turn these unassuming moms into the most unlikely of activists. After the film on Saturday, Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson leads a discussion with Rowse and DeBoer, attorneys Dana Nessel and Carole Stanyar, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman and director Mandi Wright. On Sunday, Between the Lines Publisher Jan Stevenson leads a discussion with director Wright, Rowse and DeBoer.
2:30 P.M. in the Marvin and Betty Danto Lecture Hall “The Great Alone”. Lance Mackey is a four-time winner of the Iditarod, the grueling, 1000-plus-mile dog sled race between Anchorage and Nome, Alaska that takes about nine days. The movie captures the contradictions in the life of a man that filmmaker Greg Kohs (a metro Detroit native) calls “Alaska’s answer to Kid Rock,” from struggles with substance abuse and cancer to his strained relationship with father Dick Mackey, who in 1978 won perhaps the most fabled edition of the race. After the film is a Q&A with director Greg Kohs.
2:30 P.M. Freep Film Festival Shorts Program No. 1.
- “Even the Walls” In the name of urban renewal, a public housing project is confronted with gentrification that forces out lifelong residents who built a community in this Seattle neighborhood.
- “Hudson’s Implosion” Detroit Free Press photographer Mary Schroeder recounts the day 17 years ago when she and other Free Press photographers captured Detroit’s most iconic department store’s implosion, which created a dust cloud that coated downtown.
- “Coming Home”A two-story abandoned Detroit house is torn down and moved to Europe as part of an art project by American artist Ryan Mendoza.
- “Ka-dy Comes Home” Retired boxer Ka-Dy King returns to his hometown, Detroit, to revisit childhood haunts — including the original Kronk Gym — and reconnect with his boxing family.
- “The Festival” Many consider the swarms of fish flies that emerge in Michigan lakefront communities each summer to be a pesky nuisances at best. Not the folks in New Baltimore, who’ve been welcoming the winged buggers at the Bay-rama FishFly Festival for more than 50 years.
7 P.M. “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse”, followed by a screening of “Apocalypse Now” at 9:15 P.M. The production of “Apocalypse Now”, the 1979 Vietnam War film based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, is legendary for problems encountered during its shoot in the Philippines. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse chronicles all the horrors of the production, including lousy weather, a heart attack suffered by star Martin Sheen, and the usual problems with Marlon Brando. Way behind schedule and over budget (the six-week shoot turned to 68), the movie nearly scuttled the career (and some say sanity) of director Francis Ford Coppola, who nevertheless delivered an unforgettable film experience for viewers. Filmmakers George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr employ footage shot during the making of the film (much of it supplied by Coppola’s wife Eleanor) to tell a story almost as bizarre as the actual film. The documentary, which debuted at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, enjoys a 25th anniversary celebration in tandem with a rare screening of Apocalypse Now, including an appearance by the doc’s co-director Bahr, a metro Detroit native.
At 7:30 P.M. in the Marvin and Betty Danto Lecture Hall is a documentary focusing on the King of Pop’s early career. “Michael Jackson: From Motown to Off the Wall” To tell the story of Jackson’s first solo album you have to go back to the beginning. This film, directed by Spike Lee, starts with a glimpse into Jackson’s evolution from the early days as a member of the Jackson Five to the point he decides it is finally time to release his first solo album — featuring his own music and with him having ultimate creative control. Lee then offers an in-depth look at each of the tracks on this seminal album, the cultural significance of “Off The Wall” and the impact it continues to have on today’s artists. The individuals interviewed for the documentary include some of today’s most important artists, including John Legend, Pharrell Williams, The Weeknd and Mark Ronson, as well as other cultural icons, such as Lee Daniels, Misty Copeland, Kobe Bryant, L.A. Reid, and Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. It is clear that the influence of The King of Pop and “Off The Wall” continue to be felt today.
11:45 A.M. (also Sunday at 4:30 P.M). “Romeo is Bleeding”. This film stems from a Kickstarter campaign launched by Farmington Hills native Jason Zeldes.The project— which marks Zeldes’ directorial debut — documents a Bay Area neighborhood stricken by violence. Zeldes, who previously worked as an editor on the Oscar-winning music documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, continues his dive into music through this endeavor: Romeo is Bleeding shadows Richmond-based poet and activist Donté Clark, who uses poetry and hip-hop to help heal his ravaged community. With the guidance of his teacher and mentor Molly Raynor, Clark creates a modern-day take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which unfolds in Richmond and tells the revenge-fueled love story through hip-hop metaphors instead. The film also features interviews with young writers of RAW (Richmond Artists With) Talent and several members of the Northern California neighborhood, which is plagued by gang violence, a high murder rate and poverty.
5 P.M. “Farming Detroit”. It’s easy to take for granted, but pay a visit to Eastern Market at the height of summer and you’ll find a multitude of produce grown not just within a 100-mile radius but within Detroit city limits. The city’s precipitous decline over the last half-century led to blight and neglect, yes, but also to great opportunity when it comes to creative land use. With an impressive amount of farming taking place in the city – this A+E Networks-produced documentary puts the number of gardens in Detroit at an estimated 1,500-2,000 – “Farming Detroit” takes a look at six urban-ag efforts in and around the city. From health clinics with community gardens to volunteer efforts aimed at getting college students involved and thinking about the problems (and solutions) of Detroit to small-profit farming, the stories of these growers are varied and their backgrounds diverse. What unites them all is a shared sense that food is a fundamental right and need, and that we can all do well by doing good.
1 P.M. “Land Grab”. Seven years after John Hantz announced his privately funded effort to reclaim 140 acres of vacant and blighted land on the city’s east side, Detroiters are no strangers to the story of how the orderly rows of trees known as Hantz Woodlands in the area came to be. “Land Grab” delves into the political maneuvering required to put roots in the ground, highlighting a divided citizenry – those who viewed Hantz as not much better than a plantation owner looking to make a buck off the poor, contrasted with others that wanted nothing more than a safe neighborhood where regular folks could once again do something as simple as taking a walk without fearing for their safety, no matter who was responsible. It’s easy to see why there was so much skepticism of the businessman, whose oft-repeated response to haters is “I’m just not that smart” when it comes to the accusation of Hantz-as-robber-baron (meaning that he would have to be the only guy in the world to see value in this land). But the overall impact of Hantz Farms has yet to be settled; this is an effort that, like tree growth itself, will be measured in decades, not months. After the film, John Gallagher of the Free Press leads a discussion with director Sean O’Grady; John Hantz, head of the Hantz Group and founder of Hantz Woodlands; local resident Ray Anderson, and others on land use in Detroit.
12 P.M. in the Marvin and Betty Danto Lecture Hall “Treasure”. The national conversation on gender identification is being fueled by groundbreaking transgender celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” as well as shows like Yahoo’s comedy “Transparent” and ABC Family’s reality series “Between Us”. But “Treasure” tells a different story. Subtitled “From Tragedy to Transjustice, Mapping a Detroit Story”, it’s about the death of Shelly Hilliard, an African-American transgender teen who was brutally murdered and mutilated in 2011. The documentary by Detroit writer-filmmaker Dream Hampton is an unblinking look at what happened to Hilliard and the overwhelming pain it caused her mother and sisters. But it also focuses on the efforts under way locally to help young people like her, who often face prejudice from the outside world, rejection at home and poverty that drives them to prostitution. There are interviews with other transgender women, who open up about their lives and share examples of the harassment they endure. And there is footage of the haven of Highland Park’s Ruth Ellis Center, which provides safety and support for runaway, homeless, and at-risk lesbian, gay and transgender youth.
3:30 P.M. An Isle Royale Double Feature showcasing the rugged landscape of Isle Royale National Park, which is accessible by ferries, private boats and seaplanes. “
- “Predator / Prey: The Fight for Isle Royale Wolves” takes a look at the fragile ecosystem of Isle Royale National Park, which is dominated by the predator-prey relationship between wolves and moose. But on the biggest island in the biggest freshwater lake on Earth, things have unraveled. With wolves dwindling and moose booming, the National Park Service must decide how to manage these iconic species in a time when climate change threatens to undermine both. The film is the latest work from the Free Press’ Brian Kaufman.
- “Fifty Lakes One Island” During 2011, Chicago filmmaker George Desort spent 80 nights on Isle Royale. Traveling alone with his camera equipment and as much food as he could fit into his kayak, Desort explores the rugged terrain of the island, capturing vast cinematic imagery (and himself) as he seeks to visit each of the 50 lakes. “The longer I’m here, the closer I’m getting to some great secret,” Desort says in the film. “It’s nothing tangible, it’s nothing I can even really explain.” After the films, Free Press environmental writer Keith Matheny leads a discussion with director Brian Kaufman; Rolf Peterson, research professor at Michigan Tech University; and his wife Carolyn Peterson, a research volunteer. The couple has spent more than 40 summers on Isle Royale.
Tickets are $10 for each film ($20 for “T-Rex”) and are available at the box office, but it is strongly recommended that tickets are purchased in advance, as many screenings sell out. More information and tickets are available here.