Lovers of film unite!  The third annual Riverside Saginaw Film Festival kicks off Thursday, August 20th, and runs through Sunday, August 23rd.  Designed to "celebrate, explore, and screen great movies," the festival will feature independent films, panels, and discussions.  And, for the second year, it will also feature a short film contest.  

Many of Riverside's board members are most excited about the contest.  Kelly Coffey explains, "We are thrilled about it.  Entries doubled from last year with news of the event spreading word of mouth, and we received several films from other countries, including Romania and India."

Out of the forty entries, they will be screening nineteen, with the winners announced on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Castle Museum.  A number of the filmmakers will be present for a Q & A session.

The festival offers a wide variety of films, from documentaries, to an animated feature, to Spanish-language films, to a sing-along version of Mary Poppins.  Janet Martineau is looking forward to Afghan Star, a documentary on the Afghan version of American Idol.  "It gives a really interesting perspective.  During a time of war people are voting with their cell phones and risking their lives."

She is also excited about The Horse Boy, a film that has not yet been released on dvd.  The documentary, which won awards at Sundance, Sarasota, and South by Southwest Film Festivals, focuses on an autistic boy who seems to connect with horses and the trip his family makes to Mongolia.  

Other festival highlights include Sugar, a feature about a Dominican baseball player trying to make it to the American big leagues; Sita Sings the Blues, an animated film that tells two stories at once and is set to 1920s jazz vocals; and Paper Covers Rock, a mumblecore film about a suicidal woman trying to get her life together and regain custody of her child.

There are also four films of local interest: Locked Away, produced by Saginawian Timothy Rooney, is a zombie flick about a soldier returning home from Iraq.  Raised Alone, filmed in Michigan and associate produced by Saginawian Jerry Seward, is a short film about strained relations between a violin prodigy and his workaholic dad.  The film recently won an award at the Detroit Windsor International Film Festival. Carnivale, by SVSU English professor Judith Kerman, is a short documentary featuring mask and costume traditions in the Dominican Republic. And Dinner at 8, a 1933 film rated by the American Film Institute among the top 100 movie comedies of all time, includes Marie Dressler, who spent some years in Saginaw, in its all-star cast.

When it comes to selecting which films to screen, Coffey says there is a lot of research involved: "We are always looking at the New York Times, the L.A. Times, and film magazines.  And we look at the other festivals, like Sundance, Toronto, South by Southwest, Sarasota, and Traverse City, and we see which films take the people's choice awards."

The festival itself was born out of frustration with what felt like a lack in Saginaw. Irene Hensinger explains, "I wondered why it was that I had to drive an hour or more to Ann Arbor or Detroit to see the movies I wanted to see.  I asked, 'Why don’t these movies come to Saginaw?'"  That question sparked the idea for the festival.

In the future, the board hopes to expand the festival and draw from an even wider and more diverse group of films to become the premier mid-Michigan film festival.  These plans include bringing in more directors, producers, and actors to talk about the films and the film industry.  

They also hope to strengthen appreciation for film as an art here in Saginaw, and so far they have been successful.  “We want people to know that just because these films aren’t playing in the big box theaters, doesn’t mean they are of diminished quality,” Hensinger says.  “Each year we get a lot of thank-yous and feedback from people in this community.”

The Riverside Saginaw Film Festival takes place at Pit & Balcony, the Court Theatre, the Castle Museum, the Temple Theatre, and Hoyt Library.  The festival closes with the free screening of The Visitor at the Lawnchair Film Festival.  

For the full-list of movies, the schedule, and locations, visit http://riversidesaginawfilmfestival.org.  

Tickets are available in Saginaw at the Red Eye, dawn of the new day, Magic Bean, and the Castle Museum.  If purchased by Wednesday, August 19th, festival passes, which grant access to all events, cost $25; after the 19th, festival passes will cost $30. $5 grants single admission into all showings.