Between the Jewish Film Festivalof Grand Rapids and the return of the Grand Rapids Film Festival, West Michigan filmgoers might have more fun watching films in Grand Rapids than they've had all year.
Local filmmakers Michael Martin and Jeremy Nickerbocker are teaming up with the Avenue for the Arts along Grand Rapids' South Division Avenue to co-produce a series of three online promotional videos that aim to break down barriers not only stylistically, but in the local art community.
"There are a lot of people that have become active in the Grand Rapids art community but are unaware of where these things are happening and unsure of how to approach it," Martin said. "So we want to show people this unique world of Avenue for the Arts' thriving and trucked away community in a media format that's simple and engaging to the average person."
Martin and Nickerbocker wanted to make the short-film series into its own project, combining elements of stylistic experimentation, humor and darkness to tell the story "of this underground world," Martin said, with a point to "make what is underground accessible and seen in a way that it's approachable to an average person."
They'll release the videos in May, with episodes that feature interviews with local artists along the South Division strip on their own creative and general philosophies, and about the community at large – their understanding of how people function together and how people see their artistic selves as part of a larger whole.
"This is definitely a project in our own passion to create something – you know, take a medium that we're familiar with, like short-format TV, and to experiment with it in a way that helps benefit the community at large," Martin said.
The 15th Annual Jewish Film Festival of Grand Rapids brings a whole host of cultural-growth opportunities beginning May 5-9, screening six films for West Michiganders at Celebration! Cinema North – all designed to bring community members together in thoughtful discussion.
"(The festival's mission) is not only to show films inside the community, but to bring it to everybody," said Sari Cohen, programming director for the Jewish Film Festival of Grand Rapids.
The festival is part of the larger Year of Interfaith Understanding, an initiative hosted by a partnership between Grand Valley State University's Kaufman Interfaith Institute, the Grand Rapids Press, WGVU Public Media and the Grand Rapids Mayor's office to "cultivate community interest and engagement of all faith traditions in West Michigan."
Case in point, the German drama Kadish for a Friend, a coming-of-age story about a Muslim teen that explores the deep ethnic and religious divisions between Jews and Arabs that will screen on May 6, wherein Cohen said "the interfaith equation" is pretty clear.
It's Cohen's twelfth year as the festival's programming director – something that started as a volunteer position and blossomed into a long-term passion project.
"Getting the people there and getting the theater that we have is unbelievable, it's really rewarding," Cohen said. "...I have a list of people that request me to send information to them, people that we have never reached before."
Admission is $6 per film, but Cohen said Flex Pass tickets for eight admissions are available for $36 until May 1.
NEW AND IMPROVED
The Grand Rapids Film Festival also returns this month – bigger and badder after its year long hiatus as it absorbs the Michigan Film Festival to screen films throughout downtown Grand Rapids May 15-19.
"The (Michigan) film festival was really known for its community initiative, really involving locals," said Jennifer Shaneberger, director of GRFF. "The Grand Rapids Film Festival's focus has always been wonderful independent films, and that really comes to life with the university involvement."
Kendall College of Art and Design is one of three festival "hubs" that also includes $5 indie film screenings at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts and Grand Valley State University's Loosemore Auditorium, which plays a fitting host for the festival's student submissions.
This year, the GRFF hosts a free educational production workshop, which gives festival goers the opportunity to see the production process from the ground up, at KCAD throughout the entire week.
"Basically, what we want to learn about is how to make film, how to make them better and how everyone else is doing it," Shaneberger said. "It's a comprehensive workshop that pulls together all different aspects of production."
From script writing, to story-boarding, to filming and editing, the workshop will produce what Shaneberger called three "tangible, three-minute shorts," and it's 100 percent free for the public to come and participate.