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EL Film Festival Begins 15th Run

Tonight marks the start of East Lansing’s 15th annual film festival.  Attendees will have the chance to enjoy a selection of more than 75 films that were never shown at their local movie theater.

For 15 years, founder and director of the East Lansing Film Festival Susan Woods has been bringing unconventional films to mid-Michigan. Film connoisseurs and amateurs alike have enjoyed a selection of independent documentaries, cult classics, foreign features and student shorts — and this year will be no different.

Woods promises a diverse lineup that will keep everyone entertained.

“The opening night film “Searching for Sugarman” is probably the biggest film because this is about a Detroit musician,” Woods says.  “It is an astounding story. And it really is truth is stranger than fiction film that one has to see and especially if you live in Michigan.  Then we have wonderful first-time features and documentaries that you know you’ll never get to see anywhere else.”

The East Lansing Film Festival has seen some changes in its 15 years in existence, including a shift from 35 millimeter and 16 millimeter film to digital productions. It’s also seen an increase in college student submissions.

Kris Sundberg graduated from Michigan State University in 2011. He directed one of these student films, “Acheron.”

“It’s inspired by Greek mythology,” Sundberg explains.  “It starts off with our main character James waking up in the middle of a lake and scrambling aboard a nearby rowboat and asking the fishermen on board to take him to some civilization because he doesn’t remember what happened or why he’s there.  And of course things aren’t as they seem and he has to kind of figure out whether or not he even wants to go back.”

Kelly O’Sullivan is another Michigan State graduate who co-directed a student film that will be shown at the festival, “The Case of the Torched Turf.”

“The Case of the Torched Turf is kind of a noir-satire,” O’Sullivan says.  “The movie follows Theo Wilder, who’s a high school student who has adopted this private-eye persona that he kind of projects to everyone around him, which has made him pretty much the outcast among his peers in high school. But the events of the film actually follow him in a shake-up of his normal day-to-day by actually throwing a real-world case his way. Someone has set the high school football field on fire and it’s up to Theo to figure out who done it.”

Detroit-based freelance filmmaker Marty Shea, who was once a student at Michigan State himself, says these students works are one of the most exciting part of the East Lansing Film Festival.

“You get to see the potential,” says Shea.  “You also get to see what is on their mind because you know student films are much more free to do what they really want, what they really feel like making as a opposed to a studio film or even independent films where you have investors that are demanding you target a certain market and you know have to stick to a certain formula.”

Shea has attended almost every East Lansing Film Festival since the annual event began 15 years ago. At this year’s festival, Shea will be showing collaborative film “The Owner,” which he co-directed along with 24 other filmmakers from 13 different countries.

“I think it’s the best film festival in the state,” Shea says.  “My favorite thing about the film festival is Susan’s and the committee’s and the people she works with, their taste in films and their desire to bring really compelling and a different breed of films to an area where you don’t normally get the chance to see that kind of stuff.”

Screenings during the nine-day event will be held throughout East Lansing, at Michigan State University and in Lansing’s Celebration Cinema. The festival closes next Thursday with a showing of the French blockbuster “The Untouchables.”

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