“We’ve been wanting to launch an international film festival for over ten years,” says Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater.
There are already 4,000 “international film festivals” around the world, some as nearby as Traverse City, Saugatuck, and Cleveland. So what took the Michigan so long? Collins cites money and timing. “We wanted to make sure it was a sound financial decision,” he explains, “one that wouldn’t put our ongoing theater restorations and other programs at risk.” The theater also didn’t want to overshadow the Ann Arbor Film Festival, especially as it celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in March.
With the Film Festival over, and AT&T and a half-dozen supporting sponsors in place, the Michigan in April announced its own four-day blowout. “Cinetopia,” running from May 31 through June 3, will screen more than thirty films at the Michigan and State theaters and U-M’s Angell Hall.
The lineup includes everything from Harold Lloyd silents and modern classics (Bonnie and Clyde) to 3-D films old and new (The Stewardesses, Hugo). But it is strongest in recently released dramas (Bullhead) and documentaries (The Queen of Versailles).
“There are thousands of films made every year, but we only get a smattering of them as part of our regular programming,” says festival director Amanda Bynum, the Michigan’s director of programming and education. “Cinetopia is a great way to showcase dozens of the great films that southeastern Michigan residents may never see … We culled really wonderful films that haven’t played in our area because they haven’t yet received theatrical distribution, never got distribution and probably never will, or may have received distribution but haven’t yet played in the area.”
“It’s been long overdue, and much needed,” Collins says. “There are lots of great films that deserve to be seen by an audience, ones that may not reach mainstream movie houses.” With digital video it’s easier than ever to make independent films, but traditional distribution channels haven’t kept up. “Sure, maybe someone will stumble upon a unique film on the Internet, but the chances for distribution or for securing an audience—the way films, as with any art form, should be experienced—aren’t that likely,” Collins says. “The international film festival circuit opens opportunities for filmmakers to get their films shown and audiences to see great films they may have missed.”
Collins says if this first festival goes well, he hopes to see Cinetopia grow over the next five to ten years into an eleven-day event. “It’s a perfect time of year,” he says, “just before the end of the public school year and before Michigan faculty leave for summer vacation. And the weather is glorious.”