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Hell's Half Mile-Bay City's Movie & Music Fest

Posted to MichiganNow.org on Monday, October 4, 2010

Yesterday, Bay City finished up its 4 day Film and Music Festival. It’s called Hell’s Half Mile. That was the name of the downtown area during the 1800′s when loggers demanded whiskey and women. This new crowd in town is not rowdy….just artsy. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus finds out how they’re helping revitalize cities.

Fans were eager to hear Matt Pond PA, from Philly and Brooklyn, the only out of state musicians to play Hell’s Half Mile.

“I’m a big Matt Pond fan yes. Huge. He’s outside if you want to see him.”

Pond is in his early thirties, bearded in a flannel shirt. He hung out on the sidewalk in downtown Bay City before he took the stage. Pond and his band play mostly college campuses. They’re used to performing for 19 year olds.

“It’s weird and they’re awkward. They haven’t learned show etiquette yet. They haven’t learned like you can move. They just talk to their friends. Now it’s worse. We played one at BU recently and they just text right in front of you. They’re yelling back at their friend and then they just walk away. They don’t care. And what are you expecting out of this crowd here? Maybe the same. A lot of texts.”

But the Bay City gig broke the mold. Texting fans were few when Matt Pond PA played in the auditorium of the old Masonic Temple. The building is a century old, filled with alcoves, sitting rooms, a billiard room and a ballroom in the basement. The music and movie people mixed. Ben Hickernell directed the film Lebanon PA. He showed it in Michigan in July.

“Michigan is a beautiful state. And both Traverse City and here I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places and warm people who are really receptive. This town, even though the festival is only 5 years old, there’s already a culture developing here.”

So with approval from out of staters, local Michigan self-esteem is building up. Mike Burke is from Grand Rapids. He’s made several films with fellow University of Michigan graduates. Sense and Non Sense, Margaret and Izzy, Rethinking the Rules and Camp Chapel. Mike Burke says Michigan’s woods, water and cities offer a lot of choices for where to shoot films.

“It’s movie magic. You can find these locations and bring in some production designers and you can make a place look like anywhere here. You don’t get that other places.”

One of Burke’s colleagues is Chris Knauer from Missouri.

“So I came up here to go to school and stuck around because now the film industry is here. So I don’t have to go to L.A. or New York because when it’s right in your back door it’s wonder. Ann Arbor is a wonderful town. If I don’t have to move then absolutely I’m gonna do that. It’s great.”

Dan Falconer did go to New York. To NYU film school. He grew up in suburban Detroit. His movie is called Deforce. Falconer made it as a call for justice for Detroiters.

“It’s just a generally accepted fact at this point that every city has that really poor area that you just don’t go to because it’s dangerous there and the conditions there are awful and you don’t want to be there. Yet there are Americans living there.”

Bay City doesn’t have the decay that Detroit does. Many of the old buildings, like the Masonic Temple with it’s red sandstone exterior and wood detailing inside, are well preserved. Some in Bay City want to tear it down. But local drummer Raoul Duran said no. Don’t change a thing, after he finished playing Saturday.

“I think it went great. I like Hell’s Half Mile. I’m with the film festival. I’m with the art. And I’m with the combination of the two. And I think this is actually a really good venue for bands. There isn’t a whole lot of venues for this around here.”

8 Mile wasn’t shown at this film festival. But the Masonic Temple is like St. Andrews Hall in Detroit where Emimem rapped in that blockbuster. People in their ‘20′s and ‘30′s, bored with the suburbs, want a little history and texture for a good time.

This is the band Good Heart from Saginaw. They gave the people what they wanted.

For Michigan Now, I’m Chris McCarus in Bay City.

Epilogue to Film and Music Fest

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