This weekend, at Studio C Cinema in Lansing, prestigious producers, directors and a multitude of creative projects in film were brought right to our backyard for the 24th year, making The East Lansing Film Festival the second oldest film festival in Michigan.
The East Lansing Film Festival is home to many world premieres of feature films, short films and documentaries from all over the world.
The difference between seeing a movie at the theater and at the film festival is the deciding factor in the creation of film: creativity.
Film experts agree that since film is the mixture of every art, a filmmaker must be well-versed in the literacy of creative works, which smaller filmmakers may need to break into the industry. The film festival proved that within works that are not majorly distributed, creativity is still instilled in storytelling.
One of the films that centered around creativity was the feature documentary, "How Did You Learn Today?" directed by Thomas Grube. It follows Willow Elementary School and their push towards integrating artful thinking, which centers around the teaching of creative framework and harnessing the connections children make through their instincts to create an intellectual sense of the world.
The title is a direct contrast to the often asked question, 'What did you learn today?' with an emphasis on identifying what you see, hear and feel, the Artful Learning method aims to prove that learning shouldn't be about just doing well on a test, learning is an emotional experience.
Artful Learning empowers those who learn and teach differently. By using an interdisciplinary approach, the Artful Learning model aims to increase engagement through a strong emotional connection. Through this growing emotional connection, students begin to understand deeper concepts such as the impact of a subject they're learning.
“The best thing to know a thing is in the context of a different discipline,” the president of Artful Thinking Inc. Alexander Bernstein said.
This progressive model of teaching is being practiced in Dwight Rich School of the Arts in Lansing, MI. Teachers and students from this school district were in the audience at the film festival to support the educational concept and ask the directors about their own experiences in the field.
This creative subject was made by one of the most influential music conductors in American history, Leonard Bernstein, who balanced his passion for music with his passion for education all his life. His son, Alexander Bernstein, continues his father's project by devoting all of his time to adding to the foundation his father created, of finding extraordinary parallels between music and language.
Grube, the film's director, explained why this creative process exists and needs to be covered in the mainstream.
“There is talk in these days of what kind of world do we want to live in, realizing the world we currently live in is coming to certain limitations, frictions, and we question a lot of systematic things,” Grube said.
Patrick Bolek, the executive director of Artful Learning, emphasized that this model is being used by artists and that the idea behind the film was to build awareness of the creativity behind artful thinking.
“The way the whole system works with Artful Learning is encouraging a different citizen, a different way of seeing the world with being able to connect things and to be more critical and creating a more holistic view on the world,” Grube said.
The film was a showcase on what education can do with the use of divergent thinking and demonstrating how the arts and creativity are the pathways to understanding.
The film festival also showcased a series of short films that encompassed the ideal of creative thinking and problem solving within the plot. They also pull from an international perspective such as Japan and Austria.
Todd Walter, a long-time fan of short films and film festivals, explained why short films matter in this local tradition.
“We have supported this (festival) for several years,” Walter said. "I like short films because it gives you a flavor of maybe something bigger down the road."
"FUNNY," directed by Keisuke Sakuma, follows a teacher who gets fired for her habit of making funny faces during a conversation with others. She feels ostracized until she tutors a girl with the habit of chewing and eating erasers when she is stressing about schoolwork. They bond and are able to overcome their fear of judgment together.
While the audiences laughed at the funny faces on the big screen, the film centered around creativity behind the dealing of stress responses and finding creative ways to overcome and make connections in times of stress and insecurity.
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Another short film that encouraged creative responses to adversity was "The Legacy Sessions," directed by William D. Ashton. The story followed a troubled girl working to overcome the grief of losing her mother and forming an unlikely friendship with an elderly woman through a drama club assignment.
The film covers how out of following a creative endeavor such as drama and acting, the girl was able to overcome her internal conflict. She finds herself expressing her emotions through the lens of the elderly woman, allowing herself to be healed through creative means. The main character is also seen expressing herself through punk music, emphasizing the utilization of music when it comes to dealing with mental health and grief.
This series of short films placed an emphasis on mental health and learning to cope with life changes.
This is evident in the final short film of the festival, "Dogwatch," directed by Albin Wildner is an Austrian short film about an older man who loses his lifelong job at an industrial corporation and is forced by the Austrian Unemployment Office to take a quiet, underwhelming position as a night-time security guard. As he learns to accept his current situation, a traumatic incident gets him fired and thrown back into the vicious unemployment scene.
The showcasing of creativity at the East Lansing Film Festival continues to bring in audiences for more of a cultural and diverse experience in film.
“It's nice to have it local. ... diversity and it gives people another opportunity to see a different cultural event in the community,” Walter said.
Film will continue to be an outlet for the most creative, yet accessible form of art, especially with traditions like the East Lansing Film Festival continuing to be an open place for artists to share their work. Film studies sophomore Sierra McIntosh emphasized the importance of innovation and creativity in her studies.
“I would say every filmmaker and producer as well as screenwriter has their own interpretation of what creativity is,” McIntosh said. "I think everyone has their own viewpoint. ... and their ‘creative lens.'"
Combining multiple disciplines, film will continue to serve as a challenging and rewarding experience for adult and student creators alike. Further, as film stands as an accessible and easily digestible experience for all ages, society can continue to put their creative abilities to the test as they watch these indie films critically and analytically. That is what makes this art form an ever-growing creative discipline.
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