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Adrian International Film Festival brings community together over the love of cinema

Adrian Mi,

While it may have been raining, that didn’t stop the crowds from coming out in full force for Adrian’s first ever international film festival (which took place May 18th and 19th). An idea that sprung as festival president Michael Neal and fellow colleague Scott Westfall passed a note last year in a meeting about how they should start the event. At first, it was kind of a joke and now, after seven months of extensive coordination and planning, the event couldn’t have gone any better. “We’re extremely grateful for everyone involved, we’re already looking forward to next

year” Neal said in a statement.

The festival ran for two consecutive days, screening 38 films from multiple countries - among them Iran, Australia and Japan - starting on Friday night with an opening ceremony that brought Lenawee county together at The Croswell Opera House. Then, depending on your preference, you could head to one of seven venues across town to catch a flick. The 8:30 p.m. scheduled screening of the new documentary “The Perfect Bid” was set for the big screen at Comstock Park, but had to be relocated due to rain conditions. Yet, nevertheless, every seat was filled under the main headquarters tent (across from Huntington Bank on Winter St) and the director did a fun Q and A after. In a roundabout way, it was cathartic.

Many filmmakers came together to help tell their stories, you could see Ted VanDerZalm, the subject of the documentary “Amereki Kum: Escape from Dubai,” walking around town and in good spirits. The film details the unbelievable true story, in which Mr. Zalm shipped himself in a small wooden crate on a plane from Dubai to Amsterdam so he could avoid life in prison, for a crime he did not commit. I had a chance to speak with Mr. Zalm, who made the trip from his hometown in Illinois, and he was excited to be sharing his story with our community (the film was a huge hit among moviegoers that previewed it over the weekend - this critic included, thought it was spectacular.)

All of these films were in contention with each other, with three judges viewing every film in a certain category (feature, documentary, student, and animation) and rating the film based on its plot, editing, soundtrack and, creativity. At the end of the weekend, in a closing award ceremony held at the newly renovated armory center downtown, it was Russell Brown’s family-centric comedy “Search Engines” that took home gold in the Best Feature category. In his acceptance speech Brown was “Thrilled to be here in Adrian,” and went on to say how “impressed” he was with the festival and looks forward to bringing some more of his films back soon. But it was the student-directed 12 minute short “Peak,” that took home the audience prize (the top award of the night which comes with a $1,000 check) while the animated short “iRony” won in the animation category, and “United States of Detroit” won best documentary respectively. Another short film called “Stay Woke” won in the best original short category and the director, Langston A. Williams from Louisiana almost didn’t make it. “He booked his flight at 8 a.m this morning and made it just in time for his film to be screened at 8 p.m.” Neal said. “He wasn’t going to come but he saw the photos online and determined this was where he needed to be.”

Another thing the Adrian Film Festival had? A pedal pub tour courtesy of The HandleBar in Toledo. For those unfamiliar, it’s like a giant bicycle in which about 15 people pedal around the city for a scenic tour, while drinking a cold one. And if folks didn’t feel like doing that, you could hop on the continuous trolley route and take a shuttle to a nearby screening.

My favorite film of the weekend was “The Perfect Bid” which details how Ted Saulson, a math teacher from California, managed to develop an algorithm to beat “The Price is Right.” Other highlights included the “This Is Spinal Tap” Esq comedy “Mock and Roll” and the original animated short “Sea-Tectives.”

Of course, there’s always room for improvement and the planning committee hopes to fix those areas next year to even bigger results. “We’ve already got a meeting booked for early September to discuss where this could go” Neal revealed. For now, he seems ready to relax and enjoy the rest of his summer and then go back to teaching communications at Adrian College in the fall.  

All things considered, the Adrian International Film Festival was an unqualified success, it brought film enthusiasts from all over the globe and showcased the best of what the county can do. It’s not every day you can rub shoulders with some of filmmaking's finest, and unveil bold films that haven’t been seen by a wide audience yet. One thing is for certain, the buzz is sky high.

Let the tradition begin!

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