Day 3: Waterfront Film Festival

For the past thirteen years, West Michigan has been host to one of America’s premier film showcases: the Waterfront Film Festival. Holland natives and siblings Hopwood, Dana and Dori Depree, along with Kori Eldean and Judy Smith, created the Waterfront Film Festival in 1999 to provide independent filmmakers with a Midwest venue for their work. From its humble beginnings as a local gem, the Waterfront Film Festival has grown into a Michigan staple that attracts thousands of moviegoers and filmmakers from across the country, shows films from all over the world, and was even ranked in the “Top 5 Film Festivals” by the Screen Actors Guild Indie.

Spread out across seven unique venues in Saugatuck and Douglas—including an enormous boathouse-turned-theatre, the Saugatuck Center for the Arts and the Dunes Resort—the festival takes over downtown Saugatuck from Thursday to Sunday during each second week of June. The festival will take place this year from June 9th through the 12th. It is a completely volunteer-based festival, and all proceeds work to pay for next year’s Waterfront.

Saugatuck’s waterside downtown, with its beautiful boardwalk, great food and active nightlife, is the perfect spot for a film festival. So, although films run all day Friday through Sunday –there are over 70 feature length and short films showing this year– there’s still plenty to do once you’ve left the theatre.

Part of what makes Waterfront so great is its laid back nature. It’s no Sundance or Tribeca, and that’s a good thing: cheaper tickets, smaller crowds, and the absence of a “VIP” attitude. Waterfront has still had its fair share of movie stars and Oscar winners, though. Notable past guests include Daryl Hannah, Yeardley Smith and Jason Reitman, and Waterfront has provided films such as March of the Penguins, Man on Wire and Napoleon Dynamite with a Midwest premier.

Films are not all that Waterfront has to offer. Throughout the festival, there are a number of seminars, panels and Q & As. This year’s special events include an “80s Movie Anthem Sing-Along,” a mix and mingle event with actors and directors, and the annual opening night party on Thursday, which is not to be missed.

This year’s Thursday festival kickoff takes place in Saugatuck’s Coughlin Park. Reggae musician Shaggy will be performing at 6PM, followed by an outdoor showing of this year’s best comedic short films. Food will be available in the park from local restaurants, and there will also be a Beer Garden with craft beers, wine and mixed drinks. There is a $10 entrance fee; food and drinks are purchased separately.

Tickets, along with this year’s schedule, can be purchased online at or at the door; all day or all festival passes are also available. Showings and seminars are $10 a piece. ~ Mike Guisinger, Regional Director


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