Free screenings of Sundance faves to play local venues

By Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

The Sundance Institute is packing its bags and heading to Detroit as it takes a bit of its signature film festival's magic on the road.

The institute's Film Forward program, in its fourth year, will hold free screening and discussion events in Detroit, Dearborn and Ann Arbor Monday through Thursday. The program, produced in partnership with the President's Committee On the Arts and Humanities, aims to foster dialogue through cinema in culturally under-served communities.

"Our target audience is really taking it to audiences that don't get to see independent film," says Film Forward manager Jackie Carlson. "The response is very much like, 'You're telling my story,' or, 'I can relate to this. I didn't know this was happening across the world.' "

Michigan is one of nine destinations for the program this year. Others span the globe, from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Indonesia. Film Forward presents the same eight films in each community, with select filmmakers present for post-screening discussions. The offered films come from around the world, from America to Laos, and their subject matter is diverse. Topics range from the story of an Indian beauty boot camp for young girls ("The World Before Her") to the unlikely success of an unconventional high school shop class in an impoverished North Carolina county ("If You Build It").

Although there may not appear to be a common thread between the films at first glance, Carlson says cross-cultural understanding through post-screening discussions is the key. In Michigan, filmmakers Haroula Rose, Hilla Medalia and Marta Cunningham will appear for the discussions on their films, "Fruitvale Station," "Dancing in Jaffa" and "Valentine Road," respectively.

"Many audience members recognize similarities of identifying and relating to characters in the films," Carlson says. "But also I think the films bring awareness to people where they actually can respect the differences in cultures and communities, and with people."

Russ Collins is the executive director of the Michigan Theater, which will host Film Forward's screening of "Valentine Road." He vividly recalls his own strong reaction to first seeing "Fruitvale Station," a dramatization of the events leading up to the 2009 police shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, Calif.

"That's one of the half a dozen films that I've seen at Sundance that you just go, 'Wow,' " Collins says. "I'm just blown away by what a young artist has created."

Collins says Metro Detroit is an ideal destination for Film Forward, citing the area's "intense interest in cinema." He says he jumped at the chance to work with Sundance on a special kind of movie-going event.

"This is a wonderful opportunity," he says. "Whenever you can get a wonderful film and the filmmaker together in the same space, it's just an outstanding experience."

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Film Forward screenings

"Fruitvale Station" (with producer Haroula Rose)

7 p.m. Tuesday

Charles Wright Museum of African-American History,

315 E. Warren, Detroit

"Dancing In Jaffa" (with director Hilla Medalia)

7 p.m. Wednesday


National Museum,

3624 Michigan,


"Valentine Road"

(with director Marta


7:30 p.m Thursday

Michigan Theater,

603 E. Liberty,

Ann Arbor

All screenings are free