Inaugural Cinetopia International Film Festival will make the Michigan Theater a 'movie land'
The Michigan Theater will become “movie land” for four days, beginning May 31, when its inaugural Cinetopia International Film Festival showcases new documentaries and narrative films from all over the world, culled from some of the biggest-name festivals around.
How long has this undertaking been in the works?
“That’s a more complicated question than it appears,” said Michigan Theater CEO Russ Collins. “We’ve been thinking about it literally for about 10 or 15 years. But I suppose we really got started with our regular attendance at the Sundance Film Festival these past few years. Getting to see the inside of that operation, and getting to know the festival director and the programming staff, and seeing how festivals work, and how audiences dig them, and what special experiences they are.“ There just seemed a deficit in Southeast Michigan, not having a story-based feature film festival in our neck of woods. If you look around, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland, etc. all have these international feature film festivals. And they’re different from the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which focuses on short, edgy, non-story based films. So while seeing this glaring deficit in our part of the world, we thought the Michigan Theater could lead out the charge. And we hope people will eventually flock to our film festival from all over Michigan.”
Because it’s Cinetopia’s first year, though, Collins and his crew are primarily looking to plant the seed and get people excited and talking about the festival.
“People have really latched onto fact that it’s happening,” said Collins. “ The thing that’s clear is that in Southeast Michigan, most people don’t really know about festival dynamics—how a festival works and runs. So not surprisingly, there’s going to be a learning curve for all of us as we go through this first festival experience. But they’re a lot of fun. It’s not just going to a movie; it’s being part of the festival energy.”
Collins, Amanda Bynum, and Brian Hunter worked hard to pack Cinetopia’s lineup with some of the best new work on offer at Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, and more.
“4000 films are submitted to each one of those festivals, and of those 4000, about 120 get programmed,” said Collins. “So we’re selecting from best of those 100 or so films that played at these international film festivals—wonderful films that just don’t, for whatever reason, get distribution.”
To give you an idea of the range of films available at Cinetopia, the first full day of programming offers a documentary about an Irish dancing competition (“Jig”); a “performance journalism” documentary, done in the spirit of Sasha Baron Cohen (“The Ambassador”); a documentary about Detroit’s Grande Ballroom (“Louder Than Love”); a Russian thriller (“Elena”); an Australian musical (“Bran Nue Dae”); a Cuban zombie picture (“Juan of the Dead”); and an Emily Blunt/Mark Duplass drama (“Your Sister’s Sister”), among others.
But how did Collins arrive at the festival’s name?
“We wanted a name that’s distinctive, easy to remember and to pronounce,” said Collins. “And one day, I came into the office and said, ‘I think I’ve got it.’ For a long time, we all called it Cinema Celebration—we called it that for years in-house. But late one night, I thought of the word Kinotopia. ‘Kino’ is a Germanic Slavic word that means cinema, and ‘topia’ means place.”
After trying the name out on staff members, a final tweak made the festival Cinetopia. So the Michigan Theater will indeed become “movie land” for those in the area who want to sample a movie here and there, or see multiple films in a single day.
“That’s part of the festival experience,” said Collins. “If you’re going, you can do that. And then, in our really walkable downtown, with all our restaurants, we’re perfectly set up for a good film festival experience.”
For more information, see the Cinetopia website. Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.