By Ryan Wilson

This week the 6th Annual Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival will again take over the State Theater, the Old Masonic Temple, and Delta College’s Planetarium in Bay City. Here are my picks for the first two days of the festival on Thursday and Friday.

The first two days of this year’s festival bring angst in a variety of forms, from youthful rebellion to middle-aged disenchantment. Most of the characters and subjects from these early festival offerings struggle against the emotional weight of their predicaments, and, like most angst-filled lives, the characters can be presented either seriously or through ironic humor.

The opening night film, Maria My Love, which will be shown at 8:15 at The State Theater, is a realistic treatment of a young woman struggling with her identity after her mother dies. Reeling from her loss, Ana tries to ignore her grief by helping an eccentric older woman, played by screen veteran Karen Black, organize her life. Ana soon realizes that she needs to accept her limitations, as well as the complicated lives of her altruistic boyfriend and her competitive sister. This tender drama doesn’t overcomplicate its believable premise. Instead its understated acting and visual style lets the material sink-in all the more. Two of the lead actresses will be attending the screening.

The Off Hours, which screens on Friday night at 6:00 in the Masonic Temple, is similarly subtle in depicting the quiet desperation of those literally stranded in their lives. Stuck in her mundane existence at a roadside café, Francine dates the local men when not helping her alcoholic boss keep himself together. But when an intriguing truck driver begins to notice her, Amy begins to yearn for more. Beautifully shot, this realistic slice of bleak rural life looks like an Edward Hopper print come to life.

Immediately following that film at 9:00 at the Masonic Temple, The Lie asks us to compare and contrast happiness and contentment. Frustrated with his bourgeois lifestyle and mindless office job, Lonnie snaps one day. Needing a break, he makes up the most outrageous and disturbing lie possible to get a day off work. The consequences change his marriage and his family forever. Based on T. C. Boyle’s short story of the same title, this dramatic film poses serious questions about how to age gracefully and where to compromise while aging.

After watching such serious matters handled so well earlier in the day, the Friday night late show beginning at 11 at the Masonic, Eye of the Sandman, strikes a very different tone. Dithering about her future and her upcoming marriage, Natalie, a one-eyed bride, inherits a vast estate from her departed father. Enter a strange scientist and his even stranger experiment, and her plans begin to change. This over-the-top and hilariously wry take on the traditional haunted house film feels like a Scooby-Doo episode directed by Wes Anderson. The irony, along with the blood, drips in abundance.

And finally, screening on Friday night at 9:00 at the State Theater, Color Me Obsessed profiles perhaps the most angst-fueled rock-and-roll band of all time: The Replacements. This avant-garde documentary not only chronicles the lifespan of the band and its bizarre members, but more interestingly, the film captures the experience of what it was like to be a fan of the band in the 1980s. As one of those angst-filled fans, complete with a Replacements bumber-sticker on my crummy first car, I can say that this film nails everything I once loved about the band. And I’m not alone. Including phenomenal commentary from famous rockers like The Decemberist’s Colin Meloy and The Ramone’s Tommy Ramone, as well as famous actors, this film explores not just an obsession with band but also the importance of what the band represented. Shot and edited in the same nontraditional spirit of the The Replacements, this film is for anyone who experienced even a little bit of the early alternative music movement.

Angst and anguish may abound in the first two days of the Hell’s Half Mile Festival next week, but through the inner struggles of these artists and characters audiences should come away well rewarded for their ticket. For information on all show times and venues, go to

Take 5 on Film is a production of Delta College Quality Public Radio. Join me next for a preview of the Hell’s Half Mile’s Saturday and Sunday film selections, including the closing night film about a high school football team in Dearborn, Michigan.

© Ryan Wilson, 2011