By Max Johnston
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter
A quick glance at The Capital City Film Festival’s website may lead some to believe the festival has been a prominent staple of the Lansing film scene for decades.
The truth is that the festival has achieved a meteoric rise in 5 years, a small time frame for a film festival, and according to Co-Director Dominic Cochran, was thrown together by optimistic filmmakers pooling their cash for some friendly competition.
“We were all in Lansing, the people on the board live and work downtown, so we’ve had a lot of experience making films in Lansing and we wanted more outlets for people to see the work that was being done here,” Cochran said. “That’s the reason we started The Fortnight Film Contest, we’ve all participated in this kind of contest at other festivals, and they’re a lot of fun, but we wanted to have a contest where we give away serious cash, that’s why we made the prize $10,000.”
Eventually, Cochran said, the contest expanded to include more filmmakers, became a staple of the Lansing film scene, and a great way for filmmakers to network while having some fun.
“The Fortnight Film Contest was kind of cool for people because it’s student and professionals alike, and maybe a year where the professional filmmakers don’t have films to submit, they’ll still enter the contest just for fun. It’s a good chance for everybody to network,” Cochran said.
Despite it’s independent roots, The Capital City Film Festival is one of the fastest growing film festivals in the state. The schedule of the CCFF shows far more than just indie films. Between screenings of foreign, experimental, and silent films, are performances by a symphonic Orchestra, punk bands, and avant-garde singer songwriters. Cochran says promoting diverse films and acts was one of the reasons behind creating the festival.
“The entire group that started this film festival and was on the board were people that enjoyed to do those kind of things, so instead of just complaining about it we decided to make an event that was like that,” Cochran said. “So it’s been kind of a guiding principle when we started 6 years ago. A somewhat selfish desire to have this kind of thing going on in Downtown Lansing.”
However, Professor of English and African Cinema at Michigan State University Kenneth Harrow says that at the end of the day, film festivals are there to aid films and filmmakers.
“The whole notion of festivals, whether they are enormous projects like Sundance or small like the Capital City or East Lansing film festivals, is to subsidize the making of films.”
Film Festivals like the CCFF are becoming more important for Michigan filmmakers after the State Senate voted to end film incentives and funding to the Michigan Film Office last summer. Harrow said that small local festivals like the CCFF are more important now than ever for opportunistic young filmmakers.
“The retrograde legislature cut that funding, and that’s short sighted because it was actually growing in revenue,” Harrow said. “It’s enormously important because for many local people and many students, this is an opportunity for them to move into the industry that’s been undercut by the legislature that has cut the funding. That’s really a terrible shame.”
Opportunistic young filmmakers like comedian and Michigan State University student Chris Ryan. Ryan, whose documentary “Gay from Gaylord” recently won Best Student Documentary at The Detroit Free Press Film Festival, said that his film’s success is partially attributed to small to mid sized film festivals like the CCFF.
“I think that small to mid sized film festivals are more beneficial to aspiring or new filmmakers because more of their films are accepted into things that provide a launchpad or platform onto more learning opportunities and expansions of their careers,” Ryan said. “For example we might not succeed at Sundance but we could succeed at the Traverse City Film Festival or the Capital City Film Festival which then gets us the recognition we need to launch from there.”