Soo Mich. Film Festival boasts 78 offers for its ninth year

Thirteen blocks made up of feature films and genres allow moviegoers to snack or binge

Get in tune with the movies – the ninth annual Soo Film Festival runs Wednesday through Sunday, September 14-18, at the Bayliss Library and Soo Theater in Sault Ste. Mary Michigan.

“This is our biggest festival yet,” said festival president Jason Markstrom. “We have 78 films, ranging from four-minute music videos and animated shorts to five feature films. The aim of the festival is to showcase films and filmmakers from the Great Lakes, primarily from the United States and Canada. Most of this year’s entries fill that bill.

Can even the most hardened movie buff see all 78 movies?

“Theoretically, yes,” Markstrom said. “We have blocks made up of short film categories as well as unique blocks for each feature film. And none of them overlap, so, yes, you could binge for nearly 30 hours. Depending on your tastes, passes for each block (approximately) of two hours can be purchased for $7 each. Day passes for $20 are also available, with $50 getting you into the entire festival – $80 for a couple.

The good thing is that the first two days of Soo Festival are free and hosted in the Bayless Library Community Hall.

Wednesday is foreign film night, with 11 short films from Spain, Iran, England, Germany, France and Ireland screened together for just over two hours starting at 6.30pm.

“Word is spreading about the festival,” Markstrom said. “We couldn’t say no to some overseas gems as starters.”

Free screenings continue at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Bayliss when the festival packs up in Michigan with five documentary shorts. The evening is anchored by a 40-minute film of cyclists documenting their journey around the circumference of the Upper Peninsula. Another 35-minute film explores a filmmaker’s grandfather who was an undertaker in 1920s Detroit.

The festival kicks into high gear on Fridays when it moves to the Soo Theater on Ashmun Street. This is also when admission is charged per block, per day, or for full access until Sunday evening.

Friday begins at 3 p.m. with nine short interpretive fiction films ranging in length from six to 18 minutes, shot at a Great Lakes location or produced by regional filmmakers. Three of the shorts are by filmmakers from Sault, Ontario.

Two feature films begin the evening at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. America, You Kill Me is a documentary that traces the legacy of Michigan activist Jeffrey Montgomery and his work throughout the 1980s and 90s for LGBTQ+ rights in Michigan and the Midwest. Next is Hideout, a crime drama produced and shot in Taiwan. Admission to each is $7.

“The Taiwanese movie is kind of an offbeat movie that I think might be a sleeper,” Markstrom said. “It has many cultural quirks that have recently made Asian films like Korea’s Parasite very popular in America.”

The next two days, Saturday and Sunday, fill the mornings with short films followed by feature films in the afternoon and evening.

Saturday opens at 10:30 a.m. with a 90-minute block of 13 eclectic student-produced shorts, including four music videos. The afternoon starts at 1 p.m. with even more fictional shorts and music videos made strictly in Michigan. The block includes a 37-minute murder mystery set on a train carrying vets home after World War II.

Saturday’s feature at 4 p.m. is a documentary, Imagining the Indian, which examines an ongoing movement in hopes of ending the use of sports mascots that stereotype Native Americans.

Two comedies that involve food complete Saturday, starting at 7:30 p.m. with the 14-minute Friday Night Fish and the 95-minute The Dinner Parting.

“Dinner Parting is a great comedy about a dinner party where nothing goes right, with a twist,” Markstrom said. “It was shot in New York with actors from Los Angeles by a filmmaker from Michigan.”

Sunday, the last day of the festival, begins at 11 a.m. with an offer of 16 animated shorts. A 104-minute afternoon block titled “Sunday Screams” features eight horror shorts. The festival ends on Sunday with two feature films, Driftless at 4:30 p.m. and Iron Lady at 7 p.m.

Driftless is a drama that revolves around national park rangers on a busy weekend that coincides with a government shutdown. It shows how rangers, on short notice and sometimes single-handedly, keep visitors away from each other while working without pay during the shutdown. The film was shot in West Michigan by director Harper Philbin, who teaches filmmaking at Grand Valley State University.

Philbin will answer questions from the audience after the screening.

Iron Lady is a documentary filmed entirely in Marquette and Iron River. It’s about Jazmine Fairies, a 32-year-old woman with Down syndrome who writes, produces and directs short plays for six summers that grow to involve her family and community. Festival organizers hope to bring the fairies in for a Q&A after the film.

“Filmmakers will receive audience awards throughout the festival,” Markstrom said. “People will be given ballots to fill out after the movies. We will compile the comments and award the laurels. It’s entirely a viewer-driven experience.

Markstrom sees many facets going in and out of the festival.

“Filmmakers tell stories, and this is their opportunity to hear what the audience has to say,” he said. “They can also discuss crafts with each other. Then there are the moviegoers who attend as many festivals as they can and can’t get enough.

Point your browser to soofilmfestival.org for a full schedule and description of each film. Ticket packages can be explored and purchased online or at the Soo Theater during festival hours.

“Come experience films and the film festival lifestyle,” Markstrom advised.

About Monty S. Maynard

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