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Posted on Fri, May 31, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Expanded Cinetopia International Film Festival bringing best of big film fests to Ann Arbor and Detroit

By Jenn McKee


"Big Sur" is one of the attractions at the Cinetopia International Film Festival

The 4-day Cinetopia International Film Festival—which brings together more than 40 of the best new movies screened at the world’s biggest film festivals this past year—is only marking its second year, but already, the fest is growing in terms of venues and reach.

That's thanks to The Michigan Theater’s new partnership with the Detroit Film Theatre, housed at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Films will also, like last year, be screened at Ann Arbor's State Theatre and the University of Michigan’s Angell Hall.

This growth was part of the plan.

“The idea for Cinetopia, which we started last year with a test market in Ann Arbor, was to grow it organically into a metropolitan Detroit festival that would be right up there with some of the biggest festivals in the country,” said Russ Collins, CEO of the Michigan Theater. “ … I was a juror at the Cleveland Film Festival, … and I worked with the Traverse City Film Festival, and I thought, you know, we need to get some Detroit-area folks together and see if we can put together a festival that would celebrate cinema in our great part of the world. Especially since Detroit has such an illustrious history as a film center.


Cinetopia International Film Festival

  • What: Four-day film festival that screens more than 40 of the best dramas, comedies and documentaries that premiered at this past year’s biggest film festivals (Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, Venice, etc.).
  • Where: The Michigan Theater (603 E. Liberty St. in Ann Arbor), as well at the State Theater (233 S. State St. in Ann Arbor), U-M’s Angell Hall (435 S. State St. in Ann Arbor, and the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts (5200 Woodward Ave. in Detroit).
  • When: June 6-9.
  • How much: $12 per screening, with a voucher book (with 10 vouchers) available for $108. Spotlight Pass ($250) and Mogul Pass ($500) also available. For more complete information, visit
“Believe it or not, in the '50s and '60s, Detroit was the second city of cinema. There were so many industrial films and commercials that were shot in Detroit, as part of the automobile industry, … that next to Los Angeles, Detroit was where the most celluloid film was shot in the country. It’s a legacy not many people are aware of. The film industry and auto industry grew up at the same time.”

This fact, and the year-round art house and foreign film programming at DFT, seemingly make the partnership a perfect fit.

“One thing we’ve always tried to achieve is to give the people of this region what is, in a sense, an ongoing, year-round film festival,” said Elliot Wilhelm, who’s been director of the DFT since it opened its doors in 1974. “One in which they could see everything. And they could come week after week, and see some of the most interesting new films, and some of the great classics from around the world. But despite the success of the DFT over all this time, the one thing that we always wished we had was the electricity that an actual, bona-fide film festival can provide, and that has to do with trying to see as many films as you possibly can in a short time. It’s a great and exciting thing. And those of us who travel to film festivals in other cities know that’s a good deal of the fun.”

Some films that will be of great interest, most likely, are: the world premiere opening night film, “A Tribute to Ron Asheton featuring Iggy and the Stooges,” a concert film shot at the Michigan Theater; “Dear Mr. Watterson,” a documentary about the impact that the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes has had, and continues to have, on its readers; “I Am Divine,” a documentary about the drag queen star of John Waters’ early films; “Big Sur,” a drama depicting Jack Kerouac’s retreat to a remote cabin while processing the overwhelming success of “On the Road”; and “Haunter,” a ghost story starring Abigail Breslin.

In the spirit of the world’s best-known film festivals, lots of special guests (directors, producers, actors) will appear at Cinetopia screenings this year—full details will be released soon—and among the special programs are a Mary Pickford shorts program; a Robert Altman tribute (with screenings of “Nashville,” “Tanner ‘88” and the Nixon film shot at U-M, “Secret Honor”); and screenings of U-M screenwriting professor Jim Burnstein’s movies, “D3: The Mighty Ducks” and “Renaissance Man.”

The DFT will show 9 Cinetopia films (most of which will also be screened in Ann Arbor) over the course of 3 days, and Wilhelm, at a press conference, highlighted a couple of his favorites: “Pieta,” a drama about a ruthless loan shark’s who’s surprised by a woman claiming to be his long-lost mother; and “The Painting,” an animated film which focuses on three types of creatures within an unfinished canvas.

“These are not films that are the result of focus groups,” said Wilhelm. “These are individuals with vision, with stories they have to tell. And that passion comes through all of these Cinetopia films.”

For a full listing of movies, times, locations and more, visit

Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.