Michigan Film Festivals

Screenings, Competitions, Panels, Demonstrations

Ann Arbor Film Festival in the historic Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor (2008)
Photo © Geoff George

Michigan has its fair share of film lovers. In fact, Michiganders like films so much that we paid productions to come here to film -- at least for a while. While the Michigan Film Incentives helped spur the creation of a few new Michigan film festivals in recent years, the state already hosted several. In fact, the Ann Arbor Film Festival has been around for decades.

To help you get started, here is a list of Detroit and Michigan Film Festivals organized by city/community:

Ann Arbor in March: Ann Arbor Film Festival

Focus: Film as an Art Form

Special Emphasis: Avant-Garde and Experimental Films

Submission Categories: Experimental, Animation, Documentary, Narrative and Music Video

The Ann Arbor Film Festival dates back to 1963. Over the years, screenings included films by now-notables Andy Warhol, Gus Van Sant and George Lucas. Each year, the festival screens over 150 films over six days from over 20 countries. In addition to the screenings, the festival hosts panel discussions, surveys and artist programs. After the projectors are turned off and the crowds disperse, the organizers take the short films from the festival on the road to tour within the state.

Ann Arbor in June: Cinetopia International Film Festival

Focus: The Cinetopia International Film Festival provides a showcase in Michigan to screen 40 of the best films, comedies, and documentaries from those other film festivals.<br/>
In addition to the screenings, the Cinetopia Festival hosts discussion panels and presentations honoring Michigan screenwriters. Past venues include The Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor and The Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Bay City in September: Hell's Half Mile Film & Music Festival

Focus: Student Films from local and national film programs.

Special Emphasis: Independent films and Live Indie Music

Submission Categories: Full-length Features, Documentaries, Animation, Shorts, Foreign Language, Late-Night Genre and Music-Focus Feature.<br/>
The Hell's Half Mile Film & Music Festival was first organized in 2006. The “Hell's Half Mile” references the name given to Bay City's riverfront back in the 1800s. The festival typically runs over four days with screening venues -- The State Theatre, Delta College Planetarium -- located within a block of one another. In addition to screenings, the festival has panel discussions, receptions and musical performances.

Dearborn in January: Arab Film Festival

The festival is hosted by the American National Museum. Eight films are shown over three days in the museum's 156-seat Auditorium.

Detroit and Windsor in May: Media City Film Festival

Focus: Film and Video Art

Special Emphasis: Foreign, Films, American Independents, Documentaries and Overlooked Films

The Media City Film Festival was first organized in 1994. The festival typically ran over four days and included artist discussions and exhibitions in addition to screenings at venues like the Capital Theatre in Windsor and the Detroit Film Theatre in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Note: It is unclear whether the film festival will continue in 2013.

Detroit and Windsor in June: Detroit-Windsor International Film Festival

Focus: Finding Common Language Through Film

Special Emphasis: Exploring new Technologies and Film-making Processes in an Urban Environment.

Submission Categories: Documentaries, Children's Films, Animation, Music Videos, Narrative Features and Shorts. Award categories in 2012 included Zomedies and Spirit of Detroit Awards.

The Detroit-Windsor International film Festival was founded in 2008, the same year Michigan introduced its Film Incentives. Since the festival's beginning, its been associated with Wayne State University. In addition to using several venues on the WSU campus, the festival incorporates the university's student film festival.

In addition to screenings, the festival includes a tech fair, forums, demonstrations, panels, social events and the Home-Grown Challenge. The challenge sorts contestants from the Metro-Detroit area and Windsor into teams, who then compete in creating a film within 48 hours. Note: It is unclear whether the festival will continue in 2013.

Detroit in November: Detroit DOCs International Film Festival

Focus: Non-Fiction Documentaries

Special Emphasis: Experimental and Modern Techniques

The Detroit DOCs International Film Festival was organized in 2002 and invited both local and international filmmakers to submit traditional and/or experimental documentaries. The festival typically runs over four days. Note: In 2012, organizers announced that the festival would be postponed until spring 2013 as they awaited a remodel of Corktown's Cinema for the event.

East Lansing in November: East Lansing Film Festival

Focus: Foreign and Independent Films and Documentaries

Special Emphasis: The Lake Michigan Film Competition limits entrants to films produced or financed in the states that border Lake Michigan.

Submission Categories: Five Short-Film programs, a Student-Film program, Features and Documentaries

The East Lansing Film Festival was first organized in 1997 to expose the community to foreign and independent films and documentaries. It has traditionally been affiliated with Michigan State University. While it is arguably the state's largest film festival, it is almost certainly Michigan's longest film festival, calendaring in at nine days. In addition to screenings, the festival hosts panel discussions and parties. Past visitors have include Michael Moore, Bruce Campbell and Oliver Stone.

Lansing in April: Capital City Film Festival

Focus: Student and Independent Filmmakers

Special Emphasis: Homegrown Talent and Michigan-Made Films

Submission Categories: Narrative Features, Documentaries, Student Films, Non-Student Shorts, Music Videos

The Capital City Film Festival takes place over four days in April and provides a showcase for over 70 films. The screenings and musical performances take place in venues across Lansing. The festival also hosts a Fortnight Film Contest with 30 teams.

Port Huron in September: Blue Water Film Festival

Focus: Michigan and Ontario Films or Filmmakers

Special Emphasis/Mission: To bring the art of film making to the Port Huron area.

The Blue Water Film Festival was first organized in 2009 and focused on Michigan as the state's film industry took off. Michigan's film incentives may have changed since then, but the Blue Water Film Festival is still bringing the art of film making to the Port Huron area. The main venue is the McMorran Place Theatre. The festival's awards often include prize money, and the winners are determined by judges with Michigan ties and Hollywood credentials. Past participants at the festival have included Timothy Busfield and Dave Coulier.

South Haven (or Thereabouts) in June: Waterfront Film Festival

Focus: Independent Films

Special Emphasis: Non-Competitive

Submission Categories: Any, including Features, Shorts, Documentaries and Animated Films

The Waterfront Film Festival was organized in 1999 in Saugatuck, a community along Michigan's west coast. The festival was organized to give independent films Midwest (or "Middle Coast") exposure. The four-day festival is now one the most nationally renown of Michigan Film Festivals. It showcases over 70 films and has been named by SAGIndie (The Screen Actors Guild magazine) as one of the top five film festivals in the nation. In fact, several documentaries that premiered at the festival went on to win Academy Awards.

In addition to screenings at both indoor and outdoor venues, the festival includes a Michigan Showcase, seminars, workshops, and panel discussions with directors and actors. Past attendees include Daryl Hannah, Ruth Buzzi, Wendie Malick, David Deluise, and Erik Palladino. Note: Beginning in 2013, the festival will be hosted by different communities along Lake Michigan.

Traverse City in August: Traverse City Film Festival

Focus: Features and Shorts from around the world

Special Emphasis: Foreign Films, American Independents, Documentaries, and Overlooked Films

The Traverse City Film Festival was co-founded by Michael Moore back in 2005 and has steadily grown to cover 6 days and the screening of almost 150 films. The festival also hosts classic movies in the park, discussion panels, film classes and a Kids Fest. The festival's Board of Directors include several well-known directors and actors like Christine Lahti. Past venues include The State Theatre, Lars Hockstad Auditorium, Dutmers Theatre (for experimental films), and Open Space Park on the Waterfront.


Still More Michigan Film Festivals

Organizing a film festival is always a good idea, but sometimes Michigan Film Festivals don't take off as annual favorites. The following festivals may or may not have a long run:

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