Grand Rapids Film Festival co-stars downtown


The Grand Rapids Film Festival's mission is to increase the production of and access to "quality films" in the region. Photo via

The city’s biggest film festival opens on Wednesday.

Working with a budget of about $75,000, the 4th annual Grand Rapids Film Festival will run from May 15-19, releasing more than 50 hours of screen time for local and internationally made independent films.

The screenings can be viewed in downtown Grand Rapids at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art, at 2 West Fulton St., and Grand Valley State University’s Loosemore Auditorium, at 401 W. Fulton St.

Tickets are $5 for each event.

Film workshops, educational classes and panels also will be occurring throughout the city as part of the four-day festival.

A panel of judges will select winners in the categories of students’ films, shorts, documentaries, features and best of show.

Tamaryn Tobian of Spectacle Creative Media said the festival is putting a greater emphasis on education this year, which could lead to more economic stability in the West Michigan film industry.

“It’s designed for people at all levels of filmmaking. Student filmmakers can learn different aspects of financing, film marketing . . . things like that,” she said. “There’s also going to be a student competition attached to the film festival. They’re really working with the local universities and colleges to give students a platform, and that’s something that’s not really been done before.”

Jennifer Shaneberger, director of the Grand Rapids Film Festival, said her team was excited to receive 200 films submitted for the festival, which is a record for the event.

Shaneberger, the co-owner of Industry Standard Entertainment, a Grand Rapids event production company, also noted a divide between those who’ve received training and those who haven’t.

“Everybody’s a filmmaker these days. With the digital media revolution, anyone can go shoot something and edit on their computers,” she said. “Those who go to school to be filmmakers, they get a little up in arms . . . when those who are novice get in the mix. The Grand Rapids Film Festival is looking for quality films. It’s not for the novice.”

The difference between professional and amateur filmmakers comes out in the storytelling, she said. Novices won’t think about the audience’s perspective, while those who’ve had training are trying to raise the bar and the reputation for West Michigan filmmaking, she said.

That Grand Rapids bar is being raised, she said, thanks to growing attractions such as ArtPrize, LaughFest, the Medical Mile, the evolving downtown entertainment scene and, hopefully, the Grand Rapids Film Festival.

Corey Niemchick, founder of Storytelling Pictures and co-founder of the Grand Rapids Film Festival, said he is expecting about 4,000 to 5,000 people at this year’s festival, which could attract a lot of attention and money for downtown.

The festival was previously held at Celebration Cinema on the East Beltline, he said, and although the movie theater was a terrific partner, the downtown ambience and location will better connect with the festival’s goal of celebrating Grand Rapids.

“The idea is to get people downtown and check out quality, independent films they wouldn’t see in the theaters. If we got people to come down and spend a day downtown, they visit merchants, stay at hotels,” he said. “It’s just to entice people not only to come downtown and take it in, but to combine that with the festival.”

Shaneberger hopes the festival attracts out-of-state film projects that will use West Michigan’s local talent. The two need each other, she said.

“I’m not saying local talent isn’t wonderful, but local talent partnering with outside companies would be the best,” she said. “The outside dollars having an influx in Michigan would be the best. I would also love to see our local talent working on larger-budget films. . . . If we’re only making movies with each other, then we’re not really growing or learning.”

Shaneberger also was one of the founders of the Michigan Film Festival, which focused on local films and workshops. In 2012, at a time when many filmmakers were coming out of the woodwork, tempted by the smell of juicy tax incentives, she said, the two festivals merged.

“Since the film incentives have changed to more of a grant program, we have decided there’s not a need for two. We’re dipping into the same sponsorship pools,” she said. “We decided we’d be better working together. So I came over and brought my people, and now we’re one.”

The festival's full schedule of events is online.

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