East Lansing Film Festival Celebrates 25th Year With Michigan Flavor

The 25the The East Lansing Film Festival is almost here, with films featuring Michigan at both ends. It will be:

− Open Thursday (November 3) with a film about a Cambodian family trying to have a restaurant in Bad Axe, despite COVID-19, prejudice and more. “It sold out completely” at the Traverse City Film Festival, said ELFF founder Susan Woods. “He’s had the most buzz in ages.”

− Close Nov. 10 with a film about Jim Hoffmaster, a former stage actor from Lansing who found success (by most standards) on television. “It’s been a really long time coming,” Hoffmaster said.

After wrapping principal photography three years ago, director Jane Rosemont (also formerly of Lansing) had well over 100 hours of film. “It’s like putting together a puzzle,” she says.

Between these Michigan moments, the festival will travel the world. Of the five scripted films, one is Belgian, another Portuguese and a third centered on a Syrian refugee in Memphis. There are shorts from Australia, England, France, Iran, Ireland, Russia and Spain.

The festival has always had a global approach. Most other things, however, have changed; for starters, the East Lansing Film Festival is no longer in East Lansing.

The entire festival will take place at the Studio C theaters in Okemos, which has some advantages, Woods said. “There are comfortable seats and all that good parking.”

And there’s screen size; this is what Rosemont remembers of the first screening of his film at a festival, where it won a prize: “What a giant screen! I had never seen it on the big screen before.”

In the beginning, ELFF was in Wells Hall at Michigan State University, with a varied projection and sound. “We used to carry VHS tapes everywhere,” Woods said. Now, films are submitted and released digitally.

What has been lost, she concedes, are MSU students. At first, they made up the majority of the audience; now they are rare, they are part of a generation that spends less time in theaters. “It’s all on their phones.”

Instead, older audiences (strong with college graduates and professors) see movies that often match their tastes.

This year’s harvest partly reflects the COVID era; for example:

SCRIPTED FEATURES: These have been quite rare lately; the three that were available for preview all tend to be an indie/artistic mode, with lots of low-key conversation. These are “The Sisters Karras”, the Portuguese “Just Let Me Go” and “Jacir”, which has a showy supporting role for Lorraine Bracco (who had four Emmy nominations as Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist) as bitter neighbor of a Syrian refugee.

The two others? “This is My Black” is a musical comedy formed by teenagers in a Pennsylvania academy; “It’s so powerful,” Woods said.

And “Playground” has won numerous awards at festivals (including Cannes) and is Belgium’s entry for the Oscars. The Rotten Tomatoes website gave it a 100% rating from 60 reviews. “For a feature, it’s almost unheard of,” Woods said.

SHORTS: Unlike feature films, Woods said, there are more of these than ever. ‘I think people had more free time’ when the movie world was on lockdown

ELFF picked 21 for three packages, she said. “We had to eliminate a few good ones.”

DOCUMENTARIES: These are on the rise, Woods said, increasing in quantity, quality and material.

Some cover a wide area. “Anonymous Sister” encompasses 30 years of family film, ending with the opioid crisis. “Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time” used 40 years of home movies. Others range from “Honk” (a friendship between a woman and a goose) to Michigan films that will open and close the festival.

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