The 10th Annual Waterfront Film Festival on the scenic shore of Lake Michigan was held June 12-15 in the artsy village of Saugatuck, MI. Midwest premieres and world premieres were among the eclectic selection of full-length feature films offered at the festival. Dozens of film shorts, seminars on various film-related topics, and special events were also sprinkled throughout the schedule. More than 14,000 tickets were sold to regular viewers for the various screenings. Also in attendance were numerous directors, producers, screenwriters, and actors. Following the tradition of many indie film festivals, open Q&A sessions with filmmakers followed most of the screenings.
Named by SAGindie as one of the Top Five Film Festivals, Waterfront's carefully selected movies served as a demonstration of the fact that notable independent film is often where the upcoming talent is found. As a general rule, independent films are created within the constraints of much lower budgets and shot in a fraction of the time frame of their commercial movie studio counterparts. Despite this, the Waterfront films displayed magnificent cinematography and beautiful sets. Many contained celebrity casts, while others showcased new talent.
Though I was not able to attend every film at the festival, there were, in my opinion, a few that stood out from the crowd. Dakota Skye was a clear winner on every level. A coming-of-age story about a teenage girl with the superhero power to know the truth behind the lies people tell, this movie ranks at the top of my list. Amongst the slew of recent superhero films, Dakota Skye managed to add a new spin that made the main character so essentially human. The writing was fresh and intelligent, while the directing invoked the perfect blend of adolescent angst and empathy. The casting was equally impressive and I have no doubt that we will be seeing more from these young talents in the future. A testament to its pure entertainment factor, the young man who sat next to me laughed so hard that he could barely recover between scenes. A complete review and a separate interview with director John Humber, writer Chad Shonk, and actor Ian Nelson will be published soon.
Another of my personal favorites was Kabluey, whose cast included Lisa Kudrow, Christine Taylor, Terri Garr, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Conchata Ferrell. Scott Prendergast, who wrote, directed and starred in the film appropriately described this movie as a "melancomedy" about the struggles of a woman (played by Lisa Kudrow) whose husband was unexpectedly sent away to the war in Iraq for an extended period of time. Kudrow's character was left behind with two ill-behaved young children and a household to support. Kudrow showed viewers that she is more than a successful sitcom ensemble cast member, delivering a solid dramatic performance and displaying the ability to invoke both laughter as well as tears. An interview with filmmaker Scott Prendergast will soon follow.
Among the other popular crowd pleasers at the festival were Bonneville, starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Joan Allen, and Tom Skerritt and directed by Christopher Rowley. Though a few moments were perhaps a bit cliché, this Thelma and Louise for mature women celebrating life certainly boasted a charismatic cast as well as a scenic backdrop for their feisty adventures.
The screening for Bart Got a Room, whose cast included William H. Macy, Cheryl Hines and Steven Kaplan, was completely sold out. Chazz Palminteri and Christine Lahti starred in Yonkers Joe, a story about a group of gambling cons who take on Vegas for a final score. Man on Wire, about a man who balanced on a high wire between the Twin Towers, directed by James Marsh, was also well attended, as was The Flyboys, a family film about two young boys who unexpectedly find themselves in mid-air flying and then landing an airplane.
More films were featured at the festival than could possibly be listed in this article. Suffice it to say, the Waterfront Film Festival is establishing itself as one of the prominent film festivals in the U.S.. The art and entertainment combined with the relaxed casual atmosphere make it an event that serious film-goers and independent filmmakers will look forward to year after year.