Jessica Sieff: A familiar sanctuary for a hopeless film buffPublished 9:41pm Wednesday, June 16, 2010
I tune out almost everyone, I get in my car on an early Friday morning and make the drive up to Saugatuck, where the familiarity of the city’s layout is rather comforting.
I head straight for downtown, which is busier than usual – a cluster of blocks filled small businesses, restaurants and galleries – and spend about 30 minutes for a parking space.
I experience a little road rage.
Car parked, I head into Uncommon Grounds, which is by far one of the best coffee houses in southwest Michigan and – as routine dictates – I order a “Racehorse” – four shots of espresso and some skim milk, and I charge up.
I can remember the first movie that ever really got under my skin. It was a summer afternoon, junior or senior year of high school, and my BFF at the time and I made midday moviegoing a ritual.
Director Joel Schumacher’s “A Time To Kill” was not what you would call Oscar-worthy, but it was affecting. I watched the riot scene which erupted on screen without breathing.
And I signed up for video production at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
Alas, that didn’t last, as video production, I found out, does not equal film. But that moment opened up my eyes to everything from the heartbreaking James Dean as Cal Trask in “East of Eden,” the incomparable Bette Davis in “All About Eve” and the legendary Katherine Hepburn in “The Philadelphia Story.”
I fell in love with “Cinema Paradiso,” related to the imagination of “Amelie” and was forever changed by “Life is Beautiful.”
I pretty much love movies.
So getting to the Waterfront Film Festival every year and actually getting to write about it as my job in some, way, shape or form is super, super fun.
Back to my routine. Hyped up on espresso, I plan out my screenings and in between I make all of my usual stops: I pick out spices and handcrafted spice rubs at Saugatuck Spice Merchants. The owner suggests I put some of the pumpkin spice I’ve just grabbed (better than anything you’ll find in the store) in my oatmeal. I think she is genius. Then I check out what is new and fun at Hoopdee Scootee and the Tiki Hut. There are many more stops – too many to mention.
I watch a movie, “One Week,” starring Joshua Jackson (“Dawson’s Creek”). It’s about a young writer who wonders what one might do if one only had a short time to live, then gets on a motorcycle and drives across Canada to find out. It’s good. Not like “Into the Wild” good, but decent. I walk back into town.
The city is perfect for this type of festival. You hear a lot about the need for walkable communities and Saugatuck is an example of that. I can get from one venue to another all in a matter of minutes and a refreshing walk.
If I’m daring enough, I’ll pick up something deliciously fried at The Annex and eat by the water. If I’m with friends (my dear little brother, a fellow movie buff, is sorely missed at this time of year), I’ll grab a beer at Wally’s, where I once snagged a table right after Jason Lewis (Smith Jared, “Sex and the City”) had finished eating. It’s probably the closest to six degrees of separation I’ll ever get.
I watch another movie.
“Deforce” is a close look at the rise and fall of the city of Detroit. What was once the destination for anyone and everyone looking for work as Henry Ford built his auto empire has descended into blight and hopelessness. Where there were homes, there is now abandoned structures the city is too broke to tear down. Where there are children, there are no schools to educate them. Where there are people, there is crime, drugs and a hard road. The film strikes gasps from an audience of leisure and privilege. That’s the sign of something great.
“Skateland” takes me back to the 80s of my childhood and the director seems to magically capture the color and the feel of four-wheeled skates and limbo at the center of the rink better than anyone has captured the 80s before. The film is OK, but those few moments of nostalgia are enough to make me favor it.
What do I love most about movies? That people always say they aren’t real. And that I know the secret. There are writers behind those films who take everything they see and feel and know and put them onto paper and let others bring them to life.
When the girl next door gets the guy, it’s because some girl next door, somewhere, actually did. When the underdog beats the opponent, it’s because there’s an underdog out there who won.
When the good guys beat the bad guys, you’ll find them among you.
I need a little comfort on the ride home. Uncommon Grounds has cupcakes that look surreal. I skip the temptation and get a “Toasted Coconut” latte, which really tastes like toasted coconut on a marshmallow.
I get home and put my feet up, pop in a movie and dream about building a movie theater into my future home.
Jessica Sieff is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star. Reach her at