The Uptown Film Festival returns with three days of thought-provoking films

A world-premiere film and several others making their Michigan debuts are among the highlights of the second annual Uptown Film Festival (UFF), which begins Thursday at the Palladium 12 and Birmingham 8 theatres in Birmingham.
 
Brothers on the Line, the story of the Reuther brothers and the history of the United Auto Workers as told by Frank Reuther’s son, is making its world premiere.
 
Bully, a documentary that addresses the emotional and psychological tolls of bullying, is among several films premiering during the Uptown Film Festival, which celebrates both Michigan-based filmmakers (and films shot in Michigan) as well as other domestic and international films of significance.
 
“There are a host of significant and entertaining films,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said. “The Uptown Film Festival is fast becoming an important destination for moviegoers and the film community.”
 
Oakland County Film & Digital Media is the presenting sponsor of the festival.
 
Kirk Miller, co-executive director of the festival (along with Jeffrey Spillman) and president of Kinetic Post, Southfield-based media and post-production company, said the festival evolved from conversations he and Spillman had in the aftermath of the film tax incentives being all but decimated.
 
“We got involved with the Michigan Film Festival which is an organization that promotes the industry within the state,” says Miller. “[Jeffrey and I] had a conversation about continuing the economic impact of the film industry outside of direct production work and … to have a film festival that in part highlighted Michigan-made films, but also domestic and international films.”
 
The inaugural festival was pulled together in 86 days and they still had over 3,500 attendees. It partnered with the Detroit Independent Film Festival (DIFF) on the Michigan Film Awards, which honors numerous different technical and artistic categories in Michigan filmmaking.
 
 “The theatre was packed with people, there was a line out the door,” Miller said. “It was an incredible day!”
 
This year’s Uptown Film Festival has been expanded from two days to three days and received over 120 submissions from nine different countries. Uptown also absorbed the DIFF (after the festival lost its primary venue in Detroit), which has enabled them to combine their efforts and resources to strengthen the programming.
 
Filmmaker Robert Joseph Butler, who is Uptown’s programming director, started the DIFF three years ago but recognizes that the combined efforts of both festivals is a tremendous advantage. “Uptown had the commerce but not the programming and we had the programming,” he said. “We decided to merge our resources after the Burton Theatre closed down… there are [so many] festivals in the state, it made sense to end one. If you want to build a strong infrastructure [to support and independent film festival], you need to make it more central.”
 
Butler cites other well-known festivals in the state that have a strong draw and consistently sell out screenings as being perhaps too niche for a wider audience – the Traverse City Film Festival tends to be very political; the Ann Arbor Film Festival is strictly experimental. But something like Uptown is much more open in theme, with a specific emphasis on Michigan films.
 
“Filmmakers didn’t go away and the quality of movie-making didn’t go away [after the incentives ended],” Butler said. “I’ve actually seen an improvement in quality in the last year in both the shorts and the features. I’m curious to see what will happen in the next few years.” “All of the films are very, very good. I’m very impressed with the overall production quality of these films,” Miller said
 
Sixty-one films were selected and all will be screened over the three days, with each day having different coordinating events:

  • Thursday is Michigan Filmmakers Night, a ticketed event at which three films by Michigan filmmakers will screen
  • Friday is a Charity VIP event benefiting Gleaners Food Bank and Defeat the Label with heavy hors d’oeuvres from MotorCity Casino and beverages from Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. followed by a screening of Machine Gun Preacher (a major film shot in Michigan and starring Gerard Butler);
  • On Saturday, workshops and panel discussions will be held during the day followed by the Michigan Film Awards presentation at night. The UFF has partnered with several local businesses on coordinating events, including afterglows at popular Birmingham hotspots South Bar, What Crepe?, and Barrio, to make this a true community event.

“There is a lot of synergy that can happen here,” says Kristie Everett Zamora, Arts, Culture & Film Coordinator for Oakland County.
 
The Uptown Film Festival is screening an impressive assortment of films this year, including several world and Michigan premieres. Some films of particular note include:
 

Bully (Michigan premiere) – A documentary that addresses the emotional and psychological tolls of bullying. In light of the rash of recent suicides of teens across the country fueled by an epidemic of bullying, the anti-bullying foundation Defeat the Label was formed. The UFF is proud to list Defeat the Label as one of their benefitting charity organizations, and will follow the screening of Bully with a panel discussion of educators, victims of bullying, and counselors to discuss the devastating impact bullying has on our kids and culture.
Screens Saturday 2 p.m. at Palladium 12

Brothers on the Line (world premiere) – The story of the Reuther brothers and the history of the UAW told by Frank Reuther’s grandson (the filmmaker), featuring never-before-seen archival footage.
Screens Thursday 8 p.m. at Birmingham 8 and Saturday 8 p.m. at Palladium 12
 
Dirty Energy (Michigan premiere) – A documentary from a Michigan filmmaker who traveled down to the Gulf after the massive oil spill in 2010 to document the aftermath for those most affected by the spill.
Screens Thursday 8:30 p.m. at Birmingham 8
 
Restitution (Michigan premiere) – A narrative thriller filmed in Michigan starring Mena Suvari and William Sadler.
Screens Friday 8:30 p.m. at Birmingham 8
 
Machine Gun Preacher (Charity VIP Event Screening) – A feature film inspired by the true story of Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), a former drug dealer who undergoes an astonishing personal transformation to form Angels of East Africa and become a savior of kidnapped and orphaned children.
Screens Friday 9 p.m. at Palladium 12
 
Mooz-Lum (Michigan festival premiere) – A feature film in worldwide distribution that was shot in Michigan, Mooz-Lum tells the story of an Arab-American youth confronting violent prejudices and his own Muslim upbringing post-9/11.
Screens Saturday 1:30 p.m. at Birmingham 8
 
Otelo Burning – A feature film from South Africa which tells the true story of three Zulu boys growing up during apartheid who escape the harsh realty of their world through surfing.
Screens Saturday 11 a.m. at Birmingham 8
 
In Yours Hands – A documentary that focuses on two young parolees attempting to reintegrate into society.
Screens Saturday 4:45 p.m. at Birmingham 8
 
For more information about the films and show times, visit www.UptownFilmFestival.com. View the complete program here.