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Cinetopia film fest hits another growth spurt this year


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Russ Collins did not expect the Cinetopia Film Festival to be an overnight success.

"We undertook Cinetopia as a project that would take up to 10 years to get established," explains Collins, Cinetopia's founder and the CEO of Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater. "I think festivals take on a personality, and you cant' really impose a personality on a festival any more than a parent can impose a personality on a child. But over time you can build something that resonates with the community."

That said, Cinetopia, which drew nearly 15,000 people last year, will be making some of the biggest growth leaps of its history when the 10-day festival launches on Friday, June 5.

Originally an Ann Arbor event, Cinetopia expanded to Detroit in 2012 and this year reaches out even further. The 2015 edition will show films at 18 venues, up from 12 last year, including the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, the Redford Theatre and the lawn of the Detroit Institute of Arts (Kahlil Gibran's animated "The Prophet" on June 4). Cinetopia will also encompass the Arab Film Festival at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, as well as the University of Michigan's Orson Welles Symposium and Detroit Voices, an exhibition of short films about the metro area that will show June 6 in Detroit and June 13 in Ann Arbor.

All that...along with a Michael Jackson Sing-A-Long Dance Party on June 10 in Detroit's Campus Martius Park and a 40th anniversary screening of "Jaws" June 11 on Maynard Street in Ann Arbor.

"We're working with partners that are interested in us and trying to do things both with intent and build organically," Collins explains. "It's about having the vision that if you stick with it and pay attention to the business details and bring in great films and you also pay attention to what works best for the local market you can create a distinct personality for the festival."

Maple Theater managing partner Ruth Daniels says the three-screen venue, which will host five Cinetopia screenings -- starting with the 3D animated French drama "Goodbye To Language" on June 7 -- was only too happy to become one of those partners.

"We were very receptive, of course," Daniels says. "Not only is it cool, but we thought it would be nice for our customers to have an opportunity to go see some of the movies at our place. It's something different and a good way to be part of a larger (film) community."

Collins adds that the Maple's inclusion is part of a long-standing relationship between theaters with similar aesthetic approaches to film. "Art houses talk to each other," he says. "It's complicated; you have to put your regular programming on hold to be part of a festival, and for a commercial art house like the Maple to do that it's difficult. But we were interested and they were interested, and it's great that they can be part of this."

Cinetopia will offer a potent lineup of more than 70 films during its 10 days, including award winners from the Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, Venice, Tribeca and South By Southwest film festivals and the U.S. premiere of the director's cut of "54," a documentary about the famed New York disco Studio 54. Several filmmakers will also attend the festival to discuss their works after they're screened.

"A film festival is much different than just going to a movie," Collins says. "If you go to a movie you're pretty sure you're going to like it before you walk in the door. It's an actor or a director or a genre type that you're familiar with and you like.

"The best way to go to a festival is just to go a festival and see what happens. It's setting aside a day or two or five or eight or 10 days and just dedicating yourself to it and leaving yourself open to new experiences. That's the difficult marketing message; I can tell you, but you won't understand until you experience it. That's why festivals pick up steam over time."

Cinetopia International Film Festival

June 5-14 in Bloomfield Township, Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Full festival passes as well as individual film tickets are available.

Visit www.cinetopiafestival.org for films, schedules and other details.


Five of the most newsworthy films at this year's Cinetopia International Film Festival:

* "Back on Board: Greg Louganis:" The Michigan premiere of the documentary about the four-time Olympic champion diver. Louganis will take part in a Skype chat after the debut screening at 7:15 p.m. June 5 at Detroit's College For Creative Studies. It repeats at 5 p.m. June 13 at the Michigan Theater.

* "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl:" A drama about teenage girls that won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. 7 p.m. July 6 at the Detroit Film Theatre.

* "Danny Says:" The Michigan premiere of the documentary about Danny Fields, the music business impresario who signed the MC5 and Stooges to Elektra Records. 9:15 p.m. June 7 at the Detroit Film Theatre and 7:15 p.m. June 11 at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.

* "To Life:" A French drama about three women who met at the Auschwitz concentration camp reunite 15 years later. 7 p.m. June 10 at the Maple Theater and 1:45 p.m. June 14 on the U-M campus.

* "Pale Moon:" The U.S. premiere of the 2014 Tokyo International Film Festival Audience Award-winning crime drama, whose star Rie Miyazawa was also named Best Actress. -- Gary Graff

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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