50+ films slated to show at this year's Cinetopia

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"Morris from America" is just one of the surprising films scheduled to screen at this year's Cinetopia. - COURTESY SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
  • Courtesy Sundance Film Festival
  • "Morris from America" is just one of the surprising films scheduled to screen at this year's Cinetopia.

Five or ten years ago, if you wanted to see the latest films making the rounds in Toronto, Tribeca, Sundance, and more, chances are you'd rack up enough frequent flier miles to redeem a round-trip ticket to Cannes for good measure.

That’s because you’d basically have to travel to all those places, due to the lack of a serious film festival showing the sorts of trailblazing films they specialize in. Until the arrival of Cinema Detroit a few years ago, the only theater helping fill that void was the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

And so it’s no surprise that the DFT’s program director, Elliot Wilhelm, has a hand in the five-year-old festival called Cinetopia. Working with Cinetopia founder Russ Collins, the goal is to bring the international film experience to the Detroit area, where we can enjoy the sort of groundbreaking new films making waves elsewhere, sans airfare.

The fest has already won such a following it earned Best Local Film Festival in our readers’ poll two years in a row. That’s probably because the programming covers quite a lot of ground, literally and figuratively. The films have included dramas and comedies, features and documentaries; and the screenings aren’t just at the DFT — in past years, in years past, the fest divided itself between Detroit and Ann Arbor.

This year, the Cinetopia people are after the same goals, and it has only gotten bigger and more sprawling. For 10 days in June, films will be screened in Detroit at not just the Detroit Film Theatre, but at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the College for Creative Studies, Cinema Detroit, the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, and the Redford Theater. Films will even be shown at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, and at the IMAX theater at Dearborn’s Henry Ford museum. In Ann Arbor, the movies will take over the screens at the Michigan Theater and the State Theatre.

The list of films, released yesterday, is also impressive: All in all, more than 50 films will be screened, with more than 120 chances to see them. Film fans can also expect an excellent schedule of post-film events, such as panel discussions, question-and-answer periods, and special appearances. There will even be a special open-air screening of a family-friendly film, Only Yesterday, on the north lawn of the DIA.

The international flavor of the fest is evident. Films include Sonita, the award-winning documentary about an undocumented teenage Afghan immigrant in Iran, and her dream to become a rapper. Another aspiring rapper is at the center of Morris from America, a coming-of-age comedy about a 13-year-old American whose family moves him to Germany, where he pursues his hip-hop dreams in Heidelberg. Then there’s Tyrus: The Tyrus Wong Story, featuring the 103-year-old Wong and chronicling how the illustrator helped create the film Bambi, which, in fact, will receive a rare theatrical screening as well.

But there will be local content as well. The “Detroit Voices” project will select winning videos and screen them during the festival, and the 87-minute drama Operator was written and directed by Ann Arbor natives. Also, the film showing Iggy Pop in concert has a well-known Ann Arbor-Detroit connection as well in performer James Osterberg.

But many of the local viewers will come to see the international-level novelties on the silver screen, including Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, the latest from Werner Herzog, or De Palma, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s documentary about the director, or Maya Angelou and Still I Rise, a documentary looking at the poet’s life and work.

Cinetopia runs June 3-12; to learn more about the festival, buy a festival pass, or just peruse the schedule, see cinetopiafestival.org.


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