Waterfront Film Fest hires regional coordinator to add events all year

The Waterfront Film Festival should be more than a June invasion of cinephiles onto the "Middle Coast" beaches of Lake Michigan in In 2015.

Event organizer Cynthia Hagedorn will work to have Waterfront events year-round, and to expand its contact with the wider Southwest Michigan community.

In October the festival hired Hagedorn to its new regional coordinator position. Hagedorn, a Cadillac native and Zeeland resident, is the founding director of Square Peg Events, a company known for organizing art-themed events.

Hagedorn sums up her life's work: "I connect people to fun experiences, and I connect people to people, to help other people benefit with an economic impact."

Founded in 1999, the film festival has been holding Midwest and world premiers of movies large and small, first in Saugatuck, then, for 2013 and 2014, in South Haven. The fest has premiered films from goofy comedies "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," to serious documentaries like "Grizzly Man" and "Blackfish."

A film fan with eclectic tastes, Hagedorn didn't hesitate when asked her favorite movie. "This is really silly.... 'Napoleon Dynamite,'" she says. "What a fun movie."

Since the move to South Haven, actors, directors, producers and fans have all poured into the small "middle coast" town for four days in June. This certainly pleases South Haven Mayor Robert Burr.

"People come for the festival and then return for an extended stay to enjoy our numerous amenities," Burr says. "For instance, I was told that last year, a film producer enjoyed the city so much that he returned later in the season with his family. Another film producer who attended the festival last year returned with his crew -- and a New York City taxi -- to film a scene on the beach. While here, they dined and shopped, adding to the local economy."

No economic impact studies have been done on the festival in South Haven, but the last study concluded that Waterfront brought $1.6 million in business to Saugatuck over four days, festival publicist Patric Revere says.

Not every guest from the West or East Coasts returns to the Middle Coast, but there are residents living along Lake Michigan and in inland cities such as Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo who'd be willing to attend film events year-round, festival organizers realized.

Waterfront founders, siblings Hopwood and Dori DePree, "have always envisioned Waterfront Film Festival growing into a year-round organization featuring various events, seminars and screenings throughout the entire year," Hopwood said in a press release. "Bringing Cynthia on, with her vast experience and connections throughout West Michigan, will make it possible for the nonprofit organization to reach out to an expanded audience base, sponsors and corporate support throughout the region."

"It's been a great fit," Hagedorn says. "All around, we're very excited about everything."

"We want to give a broader reach of events," Hagedorn adds. "But there are so many different things we can do.... Right now we're in strategic planning mode, asking people what they're looking for."

She's just begun her new job, and event suggestions have already been coming in, "everything from panels, film showings, street parties, music, children's programing, things along those lines."

Look for announcements of "big events" between now and the festival in June, Hagedorn says.

Writer: Mark Wedel, Second Wave Media

Sources: Cynthia Hagedorn, Robert Burr, and Waterfront Film Festival