Cinetopia out to make Detroit film festival destination

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

Cinetopia International Film Festival organizers are set on making Detroit a destination on the national and international film festival circuit.

"Every major city and many smaller cities around the world have film festivals," says Cinetopia festival director Russ Collins. "It just seemed to be kind of a missing piece in the Detroit cultural puzzle, so we thought, 'Well, let's give it a try.' "

The festival returns Friday at multiple venues in Detroit and Ann Arbor, running through June 14. Although it's only in its fourth year, Cinetopia has grown remarkably since its inception. This year the festival will present nearly 90 films over 10 days in 11 venues, up from 70 films over five days in 10 venues last year. This year's event will also be the first to include a trio of legendary local movie houses: the Redford Theatre, the Senate Theater and the Maple Theater.

Festival director Elliot Wilhelm, curator of film for the Detroit Institute of Arts, says the festival's partnership with the Maple arose out of a concern one might not expect when bringing an 84-year-old filmmaker's work to the screen. Wilhelm wanted to screen legendary French "New Wave" director Jean-Luc Godard's latest film, "Goodbye To Language," at the festival. But Godard, still an innovator in his twilight years, shot the film in 3D, which previous Cinetopia venues were unequipped for.

"That's where having a partner that can project 3D comes in mighty handy," Wilhelm says. "That film would not be the film that it is if you weren't seeing the experiments in depth that Godard engages in."

Rapturously received at the Cannes Film Festival, "Goodbye To Language" is just one example of Cinetopia's approach to featuring the cream of the crop from other festivals around the world.

"These are films that are curated out of those festivals because they're exceptional," Collins, who's also the executive director of Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater, says. "They're award-winning films. They're films that got the biggest buzz. Many of them you're going to see before they get released into the theaters."

One such film is "The Tribe," a Ukrainian drama about a school for the deaf that has won accolades from numerous film festivals and is considered a contender for next year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

"The whole movie is done silent with sign language, but no subtitles," Collins says. "But they're not needed. It's a really amazing piece, that these kids are so communicative that you can follow along without the typical kind of spoken dialogue that you would expect."

Many films will feature an unusual twist in the presentation. The festival will open Friday with a screening of "The Prophet," an animated adaptation of Kahlil Gibran's classic book of poetry, on the lawn of the Detroit Institute of Arts. The screening will be preceded by a jazz concert. Other unusual presentations include a screening of Michael Jackson videos with a sing- and dance-along party Wednesday in Campus Martius, and a symposium on the works of Orson Welles Monday and Tuesday at the University of Michigan.

Wilhelm says most screenings will include "something extra," even if it's just a moderated post-film discussion. That's the result of strong audience response to such presentations in previous years, and Wilhelm sees that audience interaction as an integral part of Cinetopia's growth towards a place in the ranks alongside events like the Telluride Film Festival and the New York Film Festival.

"All of those (festivals) have personalities, and those personalities were not ordained by the people who designed the festivals," he says. "They grew. They became the festivals they are and took on a life of their own based on the kind of yin and yang, give and take, that audiences and festival directors responded to. And I assume that's going to happen with Cinetopia. It already is."

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer



Film Festival

Friday-June 14

■Arab-American National Museum

13624 Michigan, Dearborn

■Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History

315 E. Warren, Detroit

■Cinema Detroit

3420 Cass, Detroit

■College For Creative Studies

201 E. Kirby, Detroit

■Detroit Film Theatre

5200 Woodward, Detroit

■Maple Theater

4135 W. Maple, Bloomfield Township

■Michigan Theater

603 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor

■Redford Theatre

17360 Lahser, Detroit

■Senate Theatre

6424 Michigan, Detroit

■State Theater

233 S. State, Ann Arbor

■University of Michigan Modern Languages Building

812 E. Washington, Ann Arbor

Individual tickets $9-$12; festival passes $50-$150

(734) 668-8397