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October 28, 2013

Uptown Film Festival makes fall debut next weekend

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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The Uptown Film Festival, now in its third year, will return to downtown Birmingham next weekend with even more movies than before.

BIRMINGHAM — Don’t worry, film buffs. You didn’t miss it.

The third annual Uptown Film Festival, featuring the fourth annual Michigan Film Awards, will return to downtown Birmingham Nov. 7-9.

What many call the state’s premier film festival, traditionally held in early spring, will hit the Birmingham 8 and Palladium 12 theaters next weekend with even more film screenings and special events than before, according to Co-Executive Director Jeffrey Spilman.

“We’ve always done this in March, so we’ve switched seasons. In the spring, people are getting ready for spring-type things. In the fall, people are ready to go out to the movies,” said Spilman. “And it’s worked out for us. This year, we have approximately 100 submissions, which is up about 20 from last year.”

Many of the submissions to be screened at this year’s three-day festival were sent in by filmmakers around the globe. But the roots of the event, Spilman said, are deep within Michigan’s film industry — and that tradition of honoring local talent will continue this year.

“Michigan is a great breeding ground for filmmakers. Whether they come from Wayne or U of M or Specs Howard, or they just come out of somewhere on their own,” he said. “It’s a beautiful state to shoot in. There’s so many different looks.”

Among the films to be shown during this year’s event are entries from Detroit native and NBA star Jalen Rose, local filmmaker Amy Weber and Jessica Golden, whose family owns Birmingham’s SEE Eyewear.

Rose will host a special screening of the film “The Fab Five,” based on his basketball career. A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales to the movie will benefit the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in Detroit.

Weber’s film, “Bully Chronicles,” will give viewers an unprecedented look at the mindset of a bully after a tormented victim attempts suicide. The film will be accompanied by a forum for experts and guests to discuss solutions to many of the bullying problems upon which the movie sheds light.

In addition to screening high-quality films and hosting unique events to complement many submissions, Spilman said, the festival is something of a staple for Michigan filmmakers who want to take their craft to the next level. The learning and networking opportunities at the local event are the best this side of Hollywood, he said.

“We’ve always had a rich film culture here, with the auto industries and the ability to get involved on the commercial side,” said Spilman, adding that the industry only grew with the state’s generous film incentive, instituted years ago, then later scaled back. “It used to be that people came here, got educated (in filmmaking), then they left again because there was no place to take it beyond that. This festival is a tribute to the art, and at the same time, a guide for folks hoping to take the next step.”

More than 5,000 people are expected to head downtown to take in a flick during the annual festival. Many of them will be industry insiders — producers, directors, actors and more — hoping to snag a prize from the adjudicators of the Michigan Film Awards. But that doesn’t mean that the festival isn’t fan-friendly, said Spilman.

“There are so many options — documentaries, features, shorts. And you have the option for a VIP pass for the entire weekend, which gets you into all the VIP events, all the screenings and many afterglows. It’s a wonderful three-night experience. We also have student passes, which are far less expensive. And we also have individual ticket sales,” he said.

The new date this year also lends itself to fan convenience, Spilman said.

“It’s right before the holidays, and that’s really great for Birmingham. This really is Christmas-shopping season, so the Principal Shopping district will be busy,” he said.

John Heiney, executive director of the Birmingham Principal Shopping District, agreed.

“We are excited to welcome back the Uptown Film Festival. We support the event with streetlight banners, information on our website and Facebook page,” he said. “It’s a nice complement to our holiday activities, which start with the tree lighting on Nov. 27.”

With so much happening downtown, the UFF is expected to be even more successful than in years past. After all, there’s no better way to warm up from a busy day of shopping downtown than with a cozy movie theater and a lineup of flicks from the world’s up-and-coming filmmakers.

“We could not be more thrilled about the direction in which this year’s festival is headed,” said Kirk Miller, UFF co-executive director, in a prepared statement. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity to grow this year’s Uptown Film Festival to include more filmmakers and productions from across the globe, and most importantly, to continue to raise awareness of the importance of a thriving film industry in Michigan.”

For more information on the Uptown Film Festival, including a schedule of screenings and prices, visit www.uptownfilmfestival.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.