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Posted on Sat, Oct 30, 2010 : 1:12 a.m.

Patrons praise locally shot movie 'Conviction' on its opening day in Ann Arbor

By Jenn McKee

Film Review Convictio_Need.jpg

Minnie Driver and Hilary Swank in "Conviction."

Because so many films have been shot in Michigan in recent years, an experience that's becoming more and more common lately is to hear, while watching a movie at the multiplex, someone in the crowd say, "There we are!"

And indeed, that's precisely what happened at the Quality 16's 9:35 p.m. showing of "Conviction" on Friday — the first day the film was screened in Ann Arbor, despite having opened in Detroit area theaters last weekend and elsewhere the weekend before that.

Shot in early 2009, "Conviction" used locations in Chelsea, Dexter, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor (among other places) as backdrops. Starring Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank, Minnie Driver, Sam Rockwell, and Juliette Lewis, the film tells the true story of a waitressing Boston mother who, when her brother is sentenced to life in a prison for a crime she doesn't believe he committed, spends years earning a college degree and a law degree in order to work toward her brother's release.

Locals are sure to spot familiar haunts in "Conviction" — Ypsi's Sidetrack and Roy's, and Chelsea's Stivers, to name a few examples — as well as professional local actors who've appeared on stages in the area: John Lepard plays a priest, Sarab Kamoo plays a forensics expert witness, etc. But you might even be surprised by spotting someone you know as an extra. (At one point, I thought, "Hey, there's a guy I know from the University of Michigan Marching Band!")

Of course, two extras were the ones who'd exclaimed "There we are!" during Friday's screening: Dexter's Ann and Dan Vencil. Longtime members of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Dexter — where the scene in which they briefly appear was shot — the couple volunteered when someone in the parish announced that the film team sought extras.

And after one long, cold day of filming (the doors of the church were kept open throughout the winter day), and a near-collision with the film's star ("I turned around and she was right there," said Dan Vencil of Swank), the couple was invited back to work as extras on an additional scene.

"It was supposed to be at the admissions office of college, and they filmed it at Dexter High School," said Ann Vencil. "But it was cut. They cut that right out."

Two friends of the couple tagged along to see the Vencils' screen debut, including Ypsilanti's Joanne Marbut, who had nothing but praise for the "Conviction."

"It was so well done," said Marbut. "It was so well paced. I liked it because it doesn’t have that feeling of a fluffy, flip movie, … with a fake emotional moment where the music swells and we’re all supposed to feel something. It’s not forced. It’s just a nice, even-paced story, and we’re allowed to feel what we want to feel as we go along."

Similarly, the movie exceeded the Vencils' expectations. "We just saw snippets, so we weren’t sure how it’d come out," Dan Vencil said.

"I thought maybe it would be a little boring throughout because it’s almost a documentary type thing," said Ann Vencil.

"But it wasn't," said Marbut. "It kept you wanting more."

Friday night's 9:35 p.m. screening at Quality 16 only drew 30-odd patrons, but the Vencils and Marbut didn't think this was necessarily a barometer for the film's future success.

"I think once people hear about it — I think it’s one of those films that, you’re not sure, so at first, it doesn’t get a lot of attention," Ann Vencil said. "But as time goes on and the word spreads, it’ll get bigger audiences."

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



Sat, Nov 13, 2010 : 9:59 p.m.

We just returned home from seeing the new movie Conviction at the Quality 16 in A2. Sure wish we had read this article before going to the theatre. Chelsea's Stivers was in it! (and scenes from Dexter and Ann Arbor)Several locals were used as extras. How fun! Regarding the story itself, it is so good to see such devotion depicted between a brother and a sister. Very heart-warming and worth your time.

Mary Dixon

Tue, Nov 2, 2010 : 8:25 a.m.

My company made a good income on this movie and got screen credit. Every dollar we made got spent back in Ann Arbor, I guarantee you! I am a 26 year resident of Ann Arbor, raised in the city of Detroit (not a suburb). We did all of the animals in the film and got to chat personally with Hilary, Minnie and Peter. They were all pleasant. The director, Tony Goldwyn, was delightful and knew exactly what he wanted. Working with a focused director that is not intoxicated by his own ego is always nice. We recently wrapped on our 13th project (filmed in my hometown of Detroit) and again, every dollar we earn will be spent locally here in Ann Arbor.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 9:37 p.m.

I whole-heartedly agree with Ken about the 'return on investment' with film tax credits. It is becoming more and more widely known and accepted that the arts in general lead, often times immediately, to greater returns within the community on so very many levels. Many of these 'returns' are not initially visible- the second and third, and so on, reverberations of the monies spent by film crews, actors, etc... throughout the communities is so hard to track, but certainly does exist! I haven't seen this particular movie yet, though plan to soon, but I can also say that the other movies I have seen that were shot in part in our area have been such a pleasure to see. As someone who works right downtown in A2, it has also been quite a thrill to see some of the filming going on, and catching sight of the actors involved... the buzz about Richard Gere sightings went on for weeks! This is all part and parcel to our community being alive and vibrant, being totally cool to live in too!


Sat, Oct 30, 2010 : 9:21 a.m.

This was a very good movie that was well paced and a story well told. We go to the movies every week and this was one of the better ones over the last months (other than Secretariat!) that we have been to. I was BLOWN AWAY this morning to discover that the movie was filmed locally! There were times I thought that things looked familiar but it never dawned on me they were local scenes (I can't believe I missed Stivers!) I worry that Rick Snyder wants to eliminate Film industry incentives for the State. The issue shouldn't be do, or not do (as he seems to explain) but rather "what is the return on investment?" If more revenue is returned to the State, than is laid out, then incentives are a good investment. (Don't count the across the board 40% refundable tax credit on Michigan film company expenditures as a "cost" because without the incentive the odds are the filming would NOT be done here, thus resulting in NO revenue versus at least capturing 60% of the tax (by my calcuclations.. 60% of something is a lot more than 100% of nothing!).