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Cinema Chat: State Theatre Update, Sundance Lineup, And More

Michigan Theater
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In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair talks to Michigan Theater executive director Russ Collins about the movie business and all of the new and returning films you can catch on the big screen this weekend.  Plus, get the latest on next week's grand re-opening of the State Theatre!

State Theatre Marquee to be Re-lit, Friday, December 1 at 6:00 PM

On December 1, during Midnight Madness Downtown, the restored State Theatre marquee will be re-lit after its extensive restoration.  This will foreshadow the theater’s planned opening to the public a week later on Friday, December 8.  In 2012, the State Theatre’s marquee was recognized as among the 'Most Distinctive' in North America according to “The Atlantic” magazine’s list of North America's Most Distinctive Theater Marquees.  The State Theatre’s marquee was the first one featured in a slideshow that also includes Detroit's Fox Theater marquee. Both theaters were designed by architect C. Howard Crane. To see the re-lighting of the State Theatre marquee come to the Michigan Theater a bit before 6:00 on Friday for some hot coco and warmth and then be there as the State Theatre’s neon and chasing light bulb light up the corner of State and Liberty streets!

State Theatre Opening Planned for Friday, December 8

Pre-opening events for donors planned for December 6 and 7.  Although opening night will be for members only, if your interested you can become a member anytime between now and December 8.  Members will have the an opportunity to buy tickets in advance.  Go to “michtheatter.org” to become a member.  

Films playing opening week include:

  • "The Square" – Cannes Palm D’Or (Golden Palm) winning Swedish film by writer-director Ruben Östlund("Forced Majeure") delivers an unforgettably film that is sensual with thought-provoking dividends.  Stars ElizabethMossand Claes Bang.  Loved equally by critic and audiences!
  • "Destined" – Divergent destiny of talent young man are played out in a film set in Detroit, shot in Detroit and directed by Qasim Basir, an Ann Arbor native and graduate of Huron High.
  • "Human Flow" – An epic documentary directed by the internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei, gives a powerful visual expression to this massive refugee migration in many parts of our globe.

And that’s just week one!!!
All seats at the State Theatre will be reserved seats.  You are encouraged to buy your seats online before screenings.  Tickets for members are on sale now.  Tickets will go on sale to the general public the first week in December.

Ann Arbor Native Qasim Basir’s New Film “A Boy, A Girl, A Dream” to Premiere at Sundance

QasimBasir’s film “Destined” was featured at Cinetopia and will play opening week at the State Theatre his new film, “A Boy, A Girl, A Dream” will premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival!  Qasim will be at the screenings of “Destined” opening weekend at the State Theatre.  Come welcome him home and congratulate him on his Sundance success!!

Writer-director Qasim Basir set out to make a light romance and what he ended up with is “A Boy, a Girl, a Dream,” a romantic drama set on the night of the 2016 presidential election playing in the Next section. The film stars Omari Hardwick and Meagan Good with a small role for “black-ish” creator Kenya Barris.  “We were creating a fun love story, then the election happened,” Basir said in an interview from Los Angeles this week. “And then it hit me so deeply. I just really have such a strong feeling about what’s happening in this country right now. So I just called my producer and said, ‘What if it’s set on election night?’  So then my attempt at making a light love story became something serious and intense again.”

Sundance Film Festival Unveils Full 2018 Features Lineup

Women's issues and black lives matter in diverse lineup of independent films that speak to contemporary concerns

Brace yourself.  In a break from previous years, when the lineup was divided up and revealed section by section over several days, the Sundance Film Festival has unveiled its entire feature program in a single announcement, touting 110 films — 99 of them world premieres — set to screen in Park City next month, where the festival will unspool from Jan. 18-28.  While that may sound like a lot of a movies, it’s actually a few smaller than the previous edition, which included 118 features, just as the pool of submissions shrunk slightly (to 3,901, down 4% from 4,068 a year earlier), although the difference will be more than compensated for by the addition of a new “Indie Episodic” TV section, to be announced next Monday.  In the meantime, there’s plenty to digest among the features, which cover a wide range of genres and styles, while demonstrating conversation-setting engagement with a number of contemporary themes, from police brutality (day one premiere “Blindspotting,” multi-perspective “Monsters and Men”) to sexual abuse (pedophilia survivor’s story “The Tale,” homosexual conversion therapy memoir “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”).

“One of the things we observed this year was the ongoing awareness — by audiences and the industry and the press — of the need for alternative voices and points of view in this medium,” observed festival director John Cooper. “That has long been a hallmark of independent film, but it’s really the increase in the number of personal stories [from those who didn’t have a voice before] that we’ve noticed the most over the last couple of years as we program the festival.”

This year’s edition includes films from 47 first-time directors, representing 29 countries, including two debuts from actors-turned-directors: Paul Dano’s “Wildlife” and Idris Elba’s “Yardie,” both adapted from novels, and Rupert Everett’s Oscar Wilde biopic “The Happy Prince” (not counting Ethan Hawke, whose third narrative feature, “Blaze,” is the actor-director’s first to debut at Sundance). But even Hawke isn’t the most experienced helmer in U.S. dramatic competition. That honor goes to Chile’s Sebastián Silva, whose “Tyrel” marks his sixth film to play Sundance.

Meanwhile, starrier films by veteran helmers land in the Premieres section, where the Zellner brothers offer their eccentric spin on the Western (starring Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska), Claire McCarthy offers an alternate perspective on the Hamlet story in “Ophelia” (with Daisy Ridley in the title role), and Wash Westmoreland directs his first film following the death of life partner Richard Glatzer with “Colette” (featuring Keira Knightley as the novelist forced to publish under her husband’s name).

According to Cooper and Sundance director of programming Trevor Groth, such films offer especially rich roles for their leading ladies — a trend they observed across the selection, citing Maggie Gyllenhaal’s star turn in “The Kindergarten Teacher” (an English-language remake of the Israeli film) and Kiwi newcomer Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, the latest discovery of Debra Granik (who effectively launched Jennifer Lawrence’s career with “Winter’s Bone” eight years earlier at Sundance).

Among major international festivals, Sundance has long featured one of the most balanced lineups in terms of films directed by and starring women, though in light of recent revelations about sexual harassment in the independent film world (from the Harvey Weinstein bombshell to last year’s Casey Affleck controversy), Cooper and Sundance director of programming Trevor Groth are looking forward to the positive conversations on the subject at this year’s festival.  “I think the artists and the storytellers and the filmmakers have always been responsive and out in front of the issues facing our times and trying to engage with them,” Groth says.  “Then, depending on what’s happening in the world and the zeitgeist, it’s the audience’s reaction to those issues that shifts. We felt that last year with Trump.  We’re feeling it this year with a lot of the women’s issues, such as sexual assault.”

Strong women also play a prominent role on the documentary side, which will see the launch of new films about actress-cum-activist Jane Fonda, power attorney Gloria Allred, justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, pop icon Joan Jett, and British rapper M.I.A.

According to Cooper, it typically takes filmmakers about two years to react to current events, making it still a bit early for commentaries on the Trump presidency, whereas audiences can expect to see other movements addressed in diverse and provocative ways at this year’s festival.  “I think Black Lives Matter had a real effect on us all, and you see many more films about the African-American experience in America, especially the male experience,” he says.

Likewise, the 2018 lineup features an unusually strong representation of LGBT characters — “The Catcher Was the Spy,” “The Happy Prince,” “Hearts Beat Loud,” “Skate Kitchen,” “White Rabbit” and Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot” — and even one film, “A Kid Like Jake,” from a trans director, Silas Howard.

The upcoming festival features a new screening venue, between the Holiday Village and the Yarrow (now called “Park Ave.”), where the Sports Authority store used to be.  Sundance will use the basement of this new space to host most of its virtual reality program.

Sundance is also adding two new awards.  The first, to be known as the “Festival Favorite award, will identify the single film from any category that most connects with audiences, to be announced after the festival. Also new is the “NEXT Innovator” prize, to be selected by a single luminary (this year’s award-giver soon to be revealed) to that person’s favorite film in the NEXT category.

Continuing Downtown

"Lady Bird"

This film has set the record on Rotten Tomatoes as the best reviewed movie of all time!  Critics and audiences alike, especially at the Michigan Theater, have come to a consensus in praising the film while it has picked up two Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best Feature and Best Screenplay.  The film is the solo directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, who you may recognize from her roles in Noah Baumbach’s "Frances Ha" and "Mistress America," as well as 2016’s "Jackie," "20th Century Women," and "Wiener-Dog," which all received runs at the Michigan and State Theatre.  Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan  (Brooklyn) stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a strong willed teenager living in Sacramento in the early 2000s, struggling to make her way through Catholic High School while navigating a contentious relationship with her equally headstrong mother (played by Laurie Metcalf).  The film also stars Academy Award nominee Lucas Hedges ("Manchester by the Sea") and Tracy Letts.

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

This film also draws tremendous support from Michigan Theater guests who specifically note FrancesMcDormand’s performance as Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother who challenges local authorities to solve the case of her murdered daughter by purchasing three billboards directly calling out the Chief of Police Bill Willoughby (played by Woody Harrelson).  The film also stars Sam Rockwell as the violent second-in-command who aggravates the already tense situation, and Peter Dinklageas a hopeful love interest to Mildred.  Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post has said, “The film is as dark as they come, a pitch-black, often laceratingly funny look at human nature at its most nasty, brutish and dimwitted”

"Loving Vincent"

This film is noted as the world’s first fully oil painted feature film, exploring the troubled life of artist Vincent van Gogh.

"The Florida Project"

The follow-up from Director Sean Baker to his acclaimed 2015 indie feature Tangerine, which was shot entirely on an iPhone, this film tells the story of a mother and daughter living in a budget hotel on the on the outskirts of Disney World.

Special Screenings Downtown

"Point Blank"

Our 1967 Film Series concludes tonight, (Thursday, November 30) at 9:30 PM.  The film starsLee Marvin as Walter, a ruthless criminal who is left for dead by his partner, Reese, on the abandoned Alcatraz Island after a botched heist.  Years later, Walter recovers and sets out for revenge after getting a lead on Reese’s whereabouts.  In a 1967 issue of The New Yorker, renowned film critic Pauline Kael said that while Bonnie and Clyde romanticized the relationship of the “robbing lovers”, "Point Blank" “put the sting back into death.”

"The Room"

This film returns to the Michigan Theater for the second year in a row tomorrow, Friday, December 1, at 10:00 PM.  This misguided cult masterpiece subverts the rules of filmmaking with a boundless enthusiasm that renders such mundanities as acting, screenwriting, and cinematography utterly irrelevant.  You will never see a spoon the same way again.  This year, the film is screened in anticipation of "The Disaster Artist," which opens at the State Theatre on December 8th.  "The Disaster Artist" stars James Franco as Tommy Wiseau, the peculiar and eccentric writer/director/star of "The Room" in the story of the film’s creation.


Part of the Benard L. Maas Foundation Not Just For Kids Series presented by Toyota, this film returns this Sunday, December 3 at 3:00 PM.  Let it Go and sing along with the two-time Oscar-winning Disney favorite featuring on-screen lyrics, goody bags, special guests, and so much more.  When the newly crowned Queen Elsa accidentally uses her power to turn things into ice to curse her home in infinite winter, her sister, Anna, teams up with a mountain man, his playful reindeer, and a snowman to change the weather condition.

"Miracle on 34th Street"

This film continues our Holiday Classics Film Series this Sunday, December 3 at 6:00 PM.  This series means the film is FREE and open for the public to attend!  This 1947 classic stars Edmund Gwenn as a man named of Kris Kringle who fills in for an intoxicated Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and becomes an instant hit.  However, he soon gets into trouble after he make a claim to be the real Santa Claus, leading to a court case to determine his mental health and authenticity.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

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