Monday, April 9, 2018

Finally, Detroit doc gets Detroit premiere

Last July I wrote about a documentary filmed in Detroit, but which had yet to get a screening here. It’s Andrew James’s Street Fighting Men. Well, after a somewhat long wait, James’s engrossing film will finally be having its Detroit debut April 14 & 15 at the Freep Film Festival, a documentary-laden and mostly Michigan-centric fest, now in its fifth year, and run by the Detroit Free Press in association with community participants (i.e., theatres)…..Street Fighting Men tells the story of three individuals in Detroit’s inner city trying to make the city and/or themselves better. James, the filmmaker, based in Utah, made the picture quite by happenstance. He happened to be crossing the border headed to Toronto’s Hot Docs festival and became intrigued with Detroit. He explored the city and later spent a year living here, meeting the three individuals and filming their stories. In the film, there’s James “Jack Rabbit” Johnson, a community watch volunteer, Deris Solomon, an adult studying, and struggling, to finish high school, and Luke Williams, who is rehabbing a house. The 1.48 - hour film offers no narration but conveys the stories through the characters. Moving back and forth among them, it comes across almost as fictionalized drama, one of James’s goals…..James will be part of a discussion after each of the screenings…..Meanwhile the Freep Film Fest, which runs April 11 - 15, this year is screening more than 25 films, at locations as varied as the Detroit Film Theatre, Fillmore Detroit, suburban Emagine theatres and for the first time, the classic Redford Theatre. A couple of these films you may have seen before, such as Brian Kaufman’s 12th and Clairmount (at last year’s WIFF), and the celebrated and hilarious Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994) …...The festival, while doc-focused, is eclectic, with offerings for people who might not otherwise attend such an event.  For the sports fan there are three films: The Joe (Evan Neel, 2018), all about the nearly 40 year history of Joe Louis Arena and some of the greatest moments which took place inside the former epicenter of Hockeytown, and opening night film The Russian Five (Joshua Riehl, 2018), about the Detroit Red Wings iconic five Russian stars  who helped lead the team to two Stanley Cups. Going further back in history, there’s back-to-back films about legendary 1960s era “participatory” journalist George Plimpton, who trained with the Detroit Lions. Starring George Plimpton as Himself (Tom Bean & Luke Poling, 2012) screens along with Paper Lion (Alex March, 1968), a film based on Plimpton’s book of the same name…...And, for sentimentalists of daytime kids TV, there’s a documentary about Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?  (Morgan Neville, 2018; Neville made 20 Feet from Stardom, shown at WIFF in 2013) …...For more information, go to

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