May 30, 2014 at 1:00 am

Cinetopia film festival is all about discovery

Samuel Lange Zambrano stars as a Venezuelan boy who is obsessed with straightening his stubbornly curly hair in 'Bad Hair.' (Cinetopia)

The Cinetopia International Film Festival this year is not so much expanding as exploding, particularly in Detroit.

The festival, which runs June 4-8, started out in 2012 in Ann Arbor, mainly at the Michigan and State theaters, and drew some 5,000 ticket buyers. Last year, the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Art joined in, and attendance jumped to 9,000.

But this year, the festival, even though it still bridges two cities, is taking on more of a community feel. Detroit screenings will be held at two venues in the DIA, at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the College for Creative Studies, and Cinema Detroit. That’s a leap from one screen to five, all within walking distance of one another.

“We wanted to make it a little more, in every sense of the word, festive,” says Elliot Wilhelm, curator of film and performing arts at the DIA. “We’ve created a kind of a festival village, places you can walk to, there will be food carts in the area, all kinds of special events going on.”

In Ann Arbor, the festival will fill both the Michigan and State theaters again, as well as showing films at U-M’s Modern Languages Building. And in between the two cities, the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn will screen films.

As in previous years, the films presented will be a mix of hits from other festivals.

“For the most part, you’re going to see the best films from the world’s best film festivals — Cannes, Sundance, South by Southwest, Tribeca,” says Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater.

More than 50 films from 15 countries will be shown, including “The Skeleton Twins,” with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, “Hellion” with Aaron Paul, “The Congress” with Robin Wright and “War Story” with Catherine Keener and Ben Kingsley.

But the festival isn’t just about stars — it’s also about seeing movies you might otherwise never hear of.

“The thing about a festival is you can knit together things you think you’re going to like with films you might otherwise not go to,” says Collins. “That is where the wonderful discoveries come from.”

And discovery is what film festivals should be about, says Wilhelm.

“(A festival) should not just be a preview of coming attractions of what’s coming to the multiplex, it should be a smorgasbord of really exciting work being done many places in the world,” Wilhelm says. “It’s the reason you make particular festivals a destination, because you discover things. We’re hoping that Cinetopia becomes that.”

In terms of special events, filmmaker John Sayles (“Lone Star,” “Silver City”) will be having a retrospective and answering questions after screenings. Director Spike Lee will attend a 25-year anniversary screening of “Do the Right Thing” that’s invite only for festival pass holders. And there will be assorted panels on subjects such as African-Americans in film, meetings and Q&A sessions with cast and crew members, and a gala opening in Detroit June 4 and in Ann Arbor June 5.

Organizers expect attendance to top 15,000 this year. And, they say, that’s only the beginning.

“We’re in this for the long run,” says Collins. “The expansion this year is just working it through so we can figure out what the community wants, what the region wants, and how to craft the festival so that it’s unique to the Detroit area.”

The Cinetopia International Film Festival

The Cinetopia International Film Festival

June 4-8

Detroit and Ann Arbor

A variety of festival passes, ranging from $75-$1,000, are available

Individual tickets are $12 ($9 for Michigan Theater and museum members)

For a complete schedule of films, venues and events: