Detroit Proper: The World Knows Motown for Its Music but We Do Movies, Too

The city prepares for the Trinity International Film Festival, Aug. 14-18 at the Boll Family YMCA downtown.

Trinity Film Festival

Marshalle Montgomery Favors doesn’t just love to watch movies, she loves to create them. Not only that, she loves to create opportunities for other filmmakers to find an audience in Detroit. For the past 13 years, she’s organized the Trinity International Film Festival, an event that celebrates independent filmmakers from Detroit to Korea and Kazakhstan.

This year, the festival will be Aug. 14-18 at the Boll Family YMCA downtown, and will feature 67 films from 18 countries, culminating with the Trinity Film Honors on Aug. 18. I’m counting my blessings that my short film, The Choice, is an official selection of this year’s festival, but I’m a latecomer to the incredible effort that Montgomery Favors has mounted to bring film festival excitement to downtown Detroit.

“When I was traveling to film festivals in other cities, people would say, ‘There’s a film community in Detroit?’ Last year, I went to the premieres of 14 feature films made by Detroiters. I want people to know that we have talented actors, writers and producers right here,” Montgomery Favors says.

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Her big idea started with a small childhood dream of someday being in the entertainment industry. Finally, in 1999, she decided to spend part of the summer break from her teaching job at the American Black Film Festival in Acapulco, Mexico. “Sand, beach and movies!” Montgomery Favors laughed.

But there was also serious attention to the craft. “John Singleton and Spike Lee were there. Chris Tucker stopped by my class. These were people that I thought were completely unreachable walking around and sharing their insights. It demystified the whole experience for me.”

In the years that followed, she spent her summers “doing any job I could on a movie set” before she pitched an idea for a short film to her friends. Not only did they want to do the movie, they urged her to try her hand at directing it. She did, and from then on making movies became her life’s passion.

She and her two movie-making partners felt they wanted to build a stronger community and the trinity of friends started the Trinity International Film Festival in 2006 with little backing or experience.

“At the time, there was only one commercial movie theater in downtown Detroit,” Montgomery Favors says, referring to the Ren Cen 4 Theatre, which closed in 2015. “But I was determined that the festival should stay downtown. We had to get creative.”

Because of the monumental effort required and the meager resources available, each year was to be the festival’s last. But with the help of her husband, co-director Lazar Favors, and a community of volunteers and partners like The Carr Center, the event has defied the odds and lasted for more than a decade.

Special guests have included executives from Sony Columbia Films and BET, a production head from Saturday Night Live, and actress/singer Deborah Joy Winans of the acclaimed TV series Greenleaf, which airs on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network. 

The festival has also launched the Fearless Tribe of Fanatic Filmmakers, a “tribe” of about 25 of the city’s African-American, independent filmmakers that screens projects year-round in art galleries, college campuses, museums and neighborhoods. Many of the films can now be seen on the City of Detroit’s Neighborhoods cable channel.

Even as she continued to breathe life into the festival, Montgomery Favors has kept her own filmmaking dreams alive as well. Seventeen years after she attended that first festival in Acapulco, she decided to enter a competition at the same festival in 2016 with a 90-second spot about Detroit called Rise Above. It was a finalist.

“For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to have a story that I had written and directed be shown in front of a live audience,” she says. “To come full circle at the film festival that started my journey was an unforgettable moment!”

Thanks to her perseverance, many other emerging filmmakers will get to experience what it’s like to have their work screened in front of a live audience. I asked her if this was going to be the last year of the Trinity International Film Festival, and she laughed out loud. “Absolutely not. We’re just scratching the surface of our potential. Now I’m focused on the next five years.”

Detroit’s Trinity International Film Festival will be held Aug. 14-18 at the YMCA Marlene Boll Theatre, 1401 Broadway St. in Detroit. For a full schedule of screenings and ticket information, visit trinityinternationalfilmfest.blogspot.com.

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