Monday, 24 March 2014 14:03

April Indie Film: Grand Rapids Film Festival Takes Over Downtown G

Written by  Josh Spanninga
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Grand Rapids is a city known for its love of beer and art, and it looks like its love of movies is starting to catch up. During April 9-13, Grand Rapids Film Festival will screen some of the best selections from a wide array of films, including short films, documentaries, feature films, student films and more.

GRFF originally began in August of 2009, taking place the same week as the Michigan Film Festival. In 2013, the two festivals joined forces to eliminate competition and redundancy, pooling resources and bringing in more than 60 films that screened throughout the downtown area. Jennifer Shaneberger, executive director of GRFF said by screening at multiple locations they are making the festival a more community-centric event.

“The goal is the more downtown stages that we can highlight, the more partners and community collaborators we can bring on board, the more bonds we can build, the more people can be included and the more it will feel festive,” Shaneberger said.

Another benefit of screening at multiple locations is the ability to highlight different types of films at different venues. The Pyramid Scheme will be screening edgier, more controversial films, while more family friendly movies will be shown at Kendall College's Ferris Building.

As for the films themselves, Shaneberger said each selection goes through a series of different judges tiers, comprised of film fanatics up to film professors and industry professionals. Multiple judges are implemented to give a fair shot to any and all films submitted.

“If it makes it all the way to the screen, it's probably been seen by about six judges,” Shaneberger said. "But nothing gets disqualified unless it's been seen by at least 2 judges.”

Judges review films from around the world, from Michigan-made originals to selections from Australia and beyond, and then compile an eclectic schedule of the best selections. Some highlights for this year include the student short film If We Were Adults, the Kalamazoo student documentary aptly titled Moo: A Documentary and the New Zealand feature film 3 Mile Limit. Tickets for screenings of these films and more can be purchased for around $5 a pop. 

But GRFF isn't just about watching good movies – it also wants to inspire people to make good movies. In order to do that, educational programs that highlight every step of the filmmaking process, from conception and storyboarding to filming, were created for 2014. By the end, each group will have their very own short film to show for it.

“One of the good things about [the programs is that they allow] industry professionals for just a short period of time to work with somebody they haven't necessarily worked with before, to make new, deeper connections and create something together,” Shaneberger said. “We saw back in 2010 that the group that worked on it ended up going on in 2011 to make a feature film together.”

As an added bonus, GRFF is bringing in some special collaborators to help with the educational component. One such guest educator will be Kelley Baker, proprietor of Angry Filmmaker, a site dedicated to showing people how to make independent films on almost no budget. Other guest educators are taking part in the festival, and Shaneberger's hope is that these workshops and lectures will help to highlight some of the unsung heroes of filmmaking, from sound designers to costume designers.

“This year's focus, and kind of the focus moving forward, are the economic inputs that the film industry can provide,” Shaneberger said. “A lot of people don't realize all the different jobs that come out of the film industry, so we're trying to highlight some areas that you might not think of.”

For a list of events, screenings, locations and other information, visit

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