The upcoming Freep Film Festival (April 11-15) is loaded with sports-themed documentaries.
The lineup includes a film that goes behind the scenes at Michigan Stadium on a game day Saturday, another that explores Michigan State’s role in integrating college football with its championship teams of the ’60s and two movies that go center ice with the Red Wings.
In addition to the films, Free Press sports staffers will be leading post-screenings conversations that will feature star athletes, team brass and the filmmakers.
Details are below; the full lineup, more information and links to buy all tickets can be found at freepfilmfestival.com.
‘All Sports Shorts: Shorts Program 2’
Move over Pistons, Tigers and Lions. Under-the-radar Michigan sports are the focus of this program that features a legendary motorcycle hill climb, canoe-racing legends, a group of women divers attempting a distinctly Great Lakes feat and a southwest Detroit community keeping hockey alive in Hockeytown.
2:30 p.m. Fri., April 13, Marvin and Betty Danto Lecture at the DIA. Buy tickets here .
3 p.m. Sun., April 15, Welcome Center, Wayne State University.Buy tickets here.
After the films: On Friday: Free Press staff photographer and videographer Eric Seals will lead a panel with filmmakers Elizabeth Kaiser, Andrew Morgan, Nick Nummerdor, Troy Anderson and Steven Stark.
On Sunday: Freep Film Festival screener Inney Prakash moderates a panel with filmmakers Kaiser, Morgan, Nummerdor, Anderson and Stark.
‘The Big House’
This documentary eschews gridiron grandeur to look closely at everything — from the cooks to the cops to the cleaners — that goes into hosting more than 100,000 people for a football Saturday at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The film’s observational approach avoids interviews or narrative in favor of capturing many smaller stories that occur on game day. Metro Detroit premiere.
8:30 p.m. Fri., April 13, Community Arts Auditorium, Wayne State University. Buy tickets here.
7 p.m. Sat., April 14, Emagine Royal Oak. Buy tickets here.
After the films: On Friday, “The Projection Booth” podcast host Mike White talks to co-directors Terri Sarris, Sean Moore, Hannah Noel, V. Prasad and Vesal Stoakley. On Saturday, White talks to co-directors Sarika Tyagi, Sarris, Noel, Prasad and Stoakley.
‘I Like to Hurt People’
This bonkers vintage wrestling documentary shot entirely in Detroit was originally conceived as a schlock horror film. Touches of the initially planned fictional film join little-seen footage of prime ‘80s personalities like Andre the Giant, Bobo Brazil and Michigan native Ed (the Sheik) Farhat enthralling audiences at Cobo and carousing around the streets of a bygone Detroit. “I Like to Hurt People” achieves an absurd synthesis of historical document and meta cultural parody.
6:30 p.m. Sun., April 15, Cinema Detroit. Buy tickets here.
After the film: Free Press sports writer George Sipple talks to Bryan Greenberg, producer, director of photography and co-editor of the film.
Joe Louis Arena was the home of the Red Wings from its opening in 1979 until the team’s move to Little Caesars Arena in 2017. Filmmaker Evan Neel captures the events of that time – including some of the franchise’s most glorious moments – along with the spirit that ties Detroit to its sports teams and their homes. World premiere.
5:30 p.m. Sat., April 14, Emagine Novi. Buy tickets here.
7 p.m. Sun., April 15, Emagine Royal Oak. Buy tickets here.
After the films: On Saturday, director Evan Neel will chat with Free Press assistant sports editor Ryan Ford. On Sunday, Neel will talk with former longtime Free Press sports editor Gene Myers.
‘Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself’ and ‘Paper Lion’ (Double feature)
This double feature at the Redford Theatre pairs a documentary about famed participatory journalist George Plimpton with a 50th anniversary 35mm screening of “Paper Lion,” an Alan Alda-starring adaptation of Plimpton’s best-selling book about going undercover as a rookie Lions quarterback for Sports Illustrated.
2 p.m. Sun., April 15, the Redford Theatre. Buy tickets here.
Between the films: Free Press Lions beat writer Dave Birkett talks to Tom Nowatzke, a Lions fullback from 1965 to 1969 who is in “Paper Lion”; Toby Barlow, an executive producer of “Plimpton!”; and sports historian and Free Press sports contributor Bill Dow, who co-organized the 2003 “Paper Lion” reunion.
‘The Pretender’ and ‘Rocky III’ (Double feature)
Eye of the tiger! This double feature at the Redford Theatre pairs the third installment of the Rocky franchise with a documentary (“The Pretender,” directed by Sterling Heights resident Jim Toscano) about a Rocky impersonator who is as relentless as the boxer he idolizes.
4 p.m. Sat., April 14, The Redford Theatre. Buy tickets here.
Between the films: Free Press staff writer Jim Schaefer talks to Mike Kunda, director Jim Toscano and editor Danny Gianino.
Bring your appetite: Cheri Baby Cafe will be on hand to sell Philly cheesesteaks on rolls straight from Amoroso’s Bakery in Philadelphia.
‘The Russian Five’
This is the dramatic story of the five Russian hockey stars who helped propel the Detroit Red Wings to two Stanley Cup championships and created one of the most memorable chapters in Motor City sports history. World premiere.
6:30 p.m. Wed., April 11, The Fillmore Detroit. Sold out.
8:30 p.m. Thu., April 12, Emagine Royal Oak. Sold out.
4 p.m. Fri., April 13, Detroit Film Theatre at the DIA. Buy tickets here.
After the films: On Wednesday, Free Press columnist Mitch Albom talks to director Joshua Riehl, Jimmy Devellano, senior vice president of the Red Wings, and former Red Wing Darren McCarty.
On Thursday, Free Press sports editor Christopher Thomas talks to Riehl, producer Keith Gave, a former Free Press hockey writer and author of “The Russian Five: A Story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage”; and Joanne C. Gerstner, a former hockey beat writer who is a sports journalist in residence at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism.
On Friday, Gene Myers, the Free Press’ sports editor for more than 22 years, talks to Riehl; Daniel Milstein, executive producer and NHL player agent; producer Jenny Feterovich; and Free Press hockey beat writer Helene St. James.
‘Through the Banks of the Red Cedar’
The daughter of Michigan State University football legend Gene Washington uncovers the Spartans’ key role in integrating college football in the ’60s, a Duffy Daugherty-led effort that resulted in one of MSU football’s greatest eras — and changed the game forever. As director Washington peels back MSU’s story, she develops a newly formed appreciation for the game and a deeper connection to her father, just in time to witness the Spartan football team ascend to national prominence 50 years later. World premiere.
1:30 p.m. Sat., April 14, Detroit Film Theatre at the DIA. Buy tickets here.
1 p.m. Sun., April 15, Emagine Royal Oak. Buy tickets here.
After the films: Free Press sports columnist Shawn Windsor talks to director Maya Washington, and College Football Hall of Famers and Michigan State University legends Gene Washington and Clinton Jones. At Saturday’s screening, former MSU quarterback Jimmy Raye II will also be part of the panel.
Freep Film Festival
More than 75 events, centered in greater downtown Detroit
Full lineup, tickets links at freepfilmfestival.com
Most events $10 advance, $12 at the door
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that former Lion Tom Nowatzke appears in “Paper Lion.”
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