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Posted on Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 3:40 p.m.

Michigan Theater plans major new international film festival

By Jenn McKee

The Michigan Theater has announced that it's planning the inaugural Cinetopia International Film Festival—May 31-June 3—which will feature 30-40 movies from all over the world.

At a press conference Monday, the Theater’s CEO and executive director, Russ Collins, mentioned that at last count, there were about 4,000 film festivals worldwide each year, with the biggest being Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, and Venice, among others.

“There is no festival like that in Southeastern Michigan, and what we want to do this year is put together a festival that’s a test market to see if our market in our area might be able and interested in supporting that kind of a festival,” said Collins. “This year, we’ve put together a four-day festival … that’s going to have story-based films and documentaries that are culled from the world’s best festivals. We’re also going to do a little feature on 3D films—both state of the art digital 3D, as well as the classic celluloid 3D.”

In addition, lectures related to Cinetopia and its programs are being planned at the Ann Arbor District Library, and at the screenings—happening at the Michigan Theater’s main auditorium, one auditorium at the State Theater, and Angell Hall Auditorium A on U-M’s campus—scholars, directors, and actors will offer their insights.

“This first film festival is not going to rival Toronto, or Berlin, or Venice—hate to tell you,” said Collins. “Ann Arbor likes to go right to the top at the beginning. … We want to grow our festival organically. … We hope over the next 5 to 10 years, that this festival grows in a scale that’s similar to some of the larger film festivals. … In terms of attendance, somewhere between 20 and 80 thousand people tend to go to these larger film festivals. We hope to get that kind of number in the years to come.”

In addition to showcasing what’s new and exciting in independent and foreign film, Cinetopia will also take a look back at film’s rich history.

“The Michigan Theater was built as a silent movie theater, so this year, we’re going to feature a silent movie artist, Harold Lloyd, and we’re going bringing Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd,” said Collins. “She’s a curator of his work. She’s going to talk about his work and bring some special stuff.”

Finally, with Cinetopia, Collins aims to put one element of filmmaking regularly in the spotlight.

“We would like to, every year, salute screenwriting—the great, extremely important but underappreciated dynamic of filmmaking,” said Collins. “The University of Michigan has had a long history of being the source of great screenwriters, and that’s probably the largest contribution that Michigan has made to the film industry worldwide.”

Collins cited Dudley Nichols (“Stagecoach,” “Bringing Up Baby”), Arthur Miller (“The Misfits”), Lawrence Kasdan (“The Big Chill,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark”), and Adam Herz (“American Pie”) as examples of influential screenwriters who attended U-M.

This year’s inaugural Cinetopia will celebrate the work of Hopwood Award-winning U-M grad and screenwriter David Newman, best known for “Bonnie and Clyde,” “What’s Up, Doc?” and “Superman.”

Amanda Bynum, director of programming and education at the Michigan Theater, is overseeing the festival’s lineup.

“We are doing quite well on confirming films for the festival,” Bynum said. “Festival programming often comes together at the very last minute, so having about 26, 27 of our 33-ish films already confirmed—we’re in really great shape.”

Among the films confirmed are this year’s award-winning Sundance opener, “Queen of Versailles,” as well as “Five Broken Cameras,” “Putin’s Kiss,” “Teddy Bear,” “Headhunters,” “Brand New Day,” “Juan of the Dead” (a Cuban zombie movie), “Your Sister’s Sister,” “28 Hotel Rooms,” and “Beyond the Black Rainbow.”

During Monday’s press conference, a representative from AT&T, the event’s presenting sponsor, presented Russ Collins with a check for $25,000. Other event sponsors include Zingerman’s, Dickinson Wright, Money Source Financial Services, Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia, Whole Foods, and the Ann Arbor Observer.

Collins hopes that Cinetopia will eventually have the same cultural and economic impact as local events like the Art Fair; Arts, Beats and Eats in Royal Oak; and the Detroit Jazz Festival. Furthermore, he hopes that the festival will, down the road, become an 11-day event that expands to include Detroit venues.

But if you’re thinking that Ann Arbor already has a long-established film festival - which just celebrated its 50th anniversary in March - you have to consider the clear distinction between the events’ content, according to Collins.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is a great festival,” Collins said. “It’s focus is experimental film. … They don’t typically focus on the story-based kind of format that people are most familiar with when they go to a movie. So this festival is going to have a completely different kind of content focus than the Ann Arbor Film Festival. We’ve also developed a strong relationship with Sundance over the last few years. … That allows us to have a nice relationship with the larger film world, and allows us to land some of these exciting films we’re going to have.”

Check out this brief video preview for Cinetopia.

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



Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 3:44 a.m.

It's obvious you haven't been in years or kept up with on of the few remaining long time local arts institution with international recognition. 2800 submissions from 66 countries. More than 40 visiting filmmakers. More than 200 films in juried competition. Daily free events involving more than 50 local businesses. More than $20,000 in awarded prizes. Six days of presentations by festival jurors and acclaimed filmmakers. The AAFF is one of the most successful non profits in town. It has an endowment fund and attendance has risen every year for the last four. The packed opening night gala attracted many new young people interested in the arts. You just have not kept up with the times.


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 3:31 a.m.

This is good news. Hopefully it can come to overshadow & trump the pretty much irrelevant and insular and fossilized Ann Arbor Film Festival by showing movies that audiences actually want to see. The A2 Film Festival is just a little in-club for nobody filmmakers to watch each other's unwatchable films and pat each other on the back.

Ron Granger

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 11:08 p.m.

This seems like an attempt by the theatre to piggy-back on what the A2 film festival has built-up, and compete with it.

Ron Granger

Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

@Goofus: "I sure hope it is nothing like the A2 Film Festival....which seems on the brink of insolvency every year anyway." -- Hah! You mean their priority isn't to maximize PROFITS? The Horror!


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 3:49 a.m.

I guess an endowment fund is a sign of insolvency. Oh, I guess MPAA (OSCAR) grants are a sign of lack of interest from the national film scene. Four paid employees with health care. Yeah that really a business down on it's knees.


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 3:31 a.m.

I sure hope it is nothing like the A2 Film Festival....which seems on the brink of insolvency every year anyway.


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 12:35 a.m.

Maybe. Although experimental film is very different than narrative. Experimental has its own niche. Narrative is much more accessible to a general public and will draw bigger crowds.

Simone Cromer

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8:59 p.m.

This is great! I have gone to the Toronto Film Festival for the past 9 years and I would love to support and be a part of this new film festival here in Ann Arbor! I'll be out of the country for its first event, but I will certainly look forward to helping it grow in the future!