L’Max Film Fest returns to warm hearts, bodies

The Lake Maxinkuckee Film Festival is returning for this, its third year, and Uptown Cinema owner — and festival originator — Dan Bickel is already pleased with initial activity around the festival's underlying charitable cause: “The Gift of Warmth.”
"We're very pleased with the financial outpouring so far," says Bickel, "but also we're getting early clothing donations, which has been tremendous."
The festival was launched to great success in 2008, and as in years past, attendees entry "fees" are a clean, gently used coat or item of winter attire, or a financial donation, all aimed at serving residents in the four townships covered by Culver Community Schools' district in need either of winter wear or assistance with heating bills this winter.
Also as in years past, the event takes place the Friday and Saturday of Labor Day weekend — September 3 and 4 this year — with Friday evening slated for a “sponsorship night” gala including a wine and popcorn meet and greet from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., a movie at 6:30 (this year it’s “The Best Man in Grass Creek,” a lighthearted, PG-rated comedy filmed in nearby Fulton County), and says Bickel, “at 8 p.m. we gather under the tent and lights (for dinner), and everything's catered. Richard Ford is again providing an Aria group from the Jacob School of Music at Indiana University; they will sing at 9 p.m.”
Bickel points out Friday evening's festivities aren’t open to the general public, but are reserved for underwriters of the festival.
However, he adds it’s not too late to become a sponsor, and there are various levels of sponsorship to make it feasible for many.
Bickel decided Saturday’s movie selection would focus on comedies this year, including a showing for the general public of “Best Man in Grass Creek,” a children’s offering, and others (see schedule accompanying this article for a complete run-down).
“I thought it would be kind of fun (to feature comedies at this year's event),” Bickel explains. “The economy has been kind of crappy, so this year I thought, ‘Why not enjoy it and do something light?’”
All day Saturday, movies will run continuously at the Uptown on Lake Shore Drive, and beginning at 6 p.m., entertainment will begin in the Town Park across the street, including musical offerings, a light supper and dessert, and of course the capstone to the evening, the “movie in the park” on the giant screen. This year, Bickel says that portion of the event will begin at 8:40 p.m. with a children's offering, the short film, “Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers.” The finale of the evening will be the 1996 musical comedy, “Little Shop of Horrors,” starting at 9 p.m.
Rumors this year had abounded that the movie “Grease” would be the in-the-park feature, but Bickel points out a lesser-known facet of the theater business is the studios occasionally refusing certain films.
“We were going to show ‘Grease,’ but becasue they’re re-releasing it as a singalong they wouldn’t let us have it. “Little Shop of Horrors” is a fabulous musical.”
Attendance to all aspects of Saturday's offerings is free to all sponsors and anyone bringing in the aforementioned freewill offering or article of clothing, either to the Uptown or the park, at which a wristband will be given allowing full access.
Everything, Bickel says, is dependent on weather. Should there be rain or other inclement weather, the outdoor activities will be moved to Culver Academies Multi-purpose Building. Donations, he adds, will continue to be accepted after the festival has ended as well.
Last year's Lake Maxinkuckee Film Festival was a success in terms of its contribution to the warmth needs of area families, he says. "Financially we were able to help out a lot of people. One hundred percent of all cash donations go directly to the cause. Every cost of the festival is covered through donors."
As an aside, those who might not have visited Culver's big screen in recent months will see some notable enhancements in the Uptown Cinema when attending films there for the L'Max. Besides replacing all the carpeting in the lobby and the runners, Bickel points out all of the theater's seats have been replaced, and renovations in the lobby — including replacing the concessions counter with a more managable-sized case — have given the area noticably increased space. Dan and his wife Bonnie hope to renovate the building's facade next spring.
Meantime, Bickel and other festival organizers hope folks from Culver and surrounding areas come out to enjoy what has become “a fun end of the summer event.
“I think because of the way we've handled it, it’s not so much a film fest as an end of summer celebration where everybody can get together and feel good about donating stuff and participating in watching films and a day out in the park. We don’t have visiting artists in here or pick from contemporary, cutting-edge films; I don’t think that would work right now...and we’re keeping it small and locally-directed. I think that goes a long way.”