Reeling On the River

The first time that I heard of the Millers Creek Film Festival, it struck me as the perfect example of the Michigan Theater as a Public Access Movie Theater.  Here were some local activists in the Ann Arbor area who took the initiative to create a film festival out of their special interest.  And there was the Michigan, ever ready to play its role as a community meeting place.

On Friday, March 13, 2009 I visited the Fourth Annual Millers Creek Film Festival, which has grown from a lightly attended event in the Screening Room of the Michigan to a popular attraction in the main theater. 

As I walked into the Michigan for this 4:30 p.m. event, I saw several tables set up with brochures, booklets, and T-shirts for the Huron River Watershed Council, which sponsors the festival.  The festival takes its name from a creek that runs through northeast Ann Arbor. 

The air was filled with a breezy friendliness that quickly took the edge off of the workweek that was just ending.  The happy feeling continued in the main theater, where a mixture of children and adults settled into their seats. 

“You guys gotta smile,” said a woman taking a photograph of some youngsters sitting in the middle of the theater. Organist Steven Ball played a 15-minute concert, helping give visitors the full Michigan Theater experience. 

A slideshow on the movie screen publicized the mission of HRWC, mixed in with scenic photos of kayakers, swimmers, wildflowers, canoeists, and peaceful settings.

The festival began with opening remarks by Master of Ceremonies Laura Rubin, the Executive Director of HRWC.  She talked about the group’s goal to protect the watershed, and how the film festival was designed to reach a broader audience with this message.  To do this, Laura said the HRWC tried to “engage filmmakers in their connection with the river.”

That engagement takes several forms, allowing filmmakers of all ages and skill levels to participate.  Categories include Student Entries (through grade 12); 30-second Public Service Announcements; and the Adult Category.  The movies (all five minutes or less) were shown in one continuous presentation, letting the audience enjoy a wide variety of approaches to the same message—protect the Huron River watershed.

The tones of the film ranged from serious to funny to irreverent to animated to live action, and all were sincere in their message.  Several movies were created by grade schoolers, and it was fun to hear the outbursts of cheering from the groups of students who came to see their classmates’ work on the big screen. 

Winners included Runoff Lemonade, about some lemonade from polluted water that included fertilizer as an ingredient.  Also winning a glass Millie award (and $500) was You Love Your Dog, a rather graphic account of the effect of canine fecal matter on the Huron River.  Prizewinners got to walk up on stage, Academy Award-style, and thank those who had supported them. 

My personal favorites include two stylish videos that evoked early 90s sitcoms (Phosphorade) and early 60s lounge cool (I Like My Martinis Dirty, Not My River).

The festival was another example of the Michigan Theater giving young filmmakers a chance to show their work in a theater setting to a large audience, which will happen again in a couple of weeks during the 47th Ann Arbor Film Festival.  The Millers Creek Film Festival gave these young movie makers the challenge of presenting a compelling message in a short time period. 

Later that evening, the Michigan showed the new movies The Class and Two Lovers, and who knows what small beginnings and special opportunities led to these two professional productions?

After the movies were shown and the awards handed out, many people gathered on the main floor of the Grand Foyer, where they visited and enjoyed homemade cookies that were donated. 

I soon left the theater.  The beautiful images of the Huron River and the genuine concern of the HRWC and the filmmakers stayed with me on this bright, crisp late winter day that had a hint of spring.

I’ve enjoyed many walks along the Huron River with my family dog Roxie, and the 2009 Millers Creek Film Festival gave me many more reasons to appreciate its beauty.

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Copyright © 2009 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.


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