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Cinema Chat: 'Blaze,' 'A Star Is Born,' 'Night School,' And More

Michigan Theater
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A big thanks to everyone who contributed to our fall pledge drive!  Let's celebrate with a trip of the movies!  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair talks to Michigan and State Theater executive director Russ Collins about the latest movie news and all of the new films to check out in theaters this weekend.


"NT Live: Julie" plays Sunday, September 30 at 7:00 PM.  Broadcast live in HD from the National Theatre in London and presented in partnership with UMS, this new version of August Strindberg’s play Miss Julie, written by Polly Stenham, remains shocking and fiercely relevant in its new setting of contemporary London. Wild and newly single, Julie throws a late night party.  In the kitchen, Jean and Kristina clean up as the celebration heaves above them.  Crossing the threshold, Julie initiates a power game with Jean — which rapidly descends into a savage fight for survival.  Tickets available at UMS.org.



At the State: Directed by Ethan Hawke. Written by Ethan Hawke, Sybil Rosen.  This film is inspired by the life of Blaze Foley, the unsung songwriting legend of the Texas outlaw music movement that spawned the likes of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson.  The film weaves together three different periods of time, braiding re-imagined versions of Blaze's past, present and future.  The different strands explore his love affair with Sybil Rosen; his last, dark night on earth; and the impact of his songs and his death had on his fans, friends, and foes.  The braided storyline terminates in a bittersweet ending that acknowledges Blaze's profound highs and lows, as well as the impressions he made on the people who shared his journey. 

"A Star is Born"

At the State: In this film, this new take on the tragic love story, Bradley Cooperplays seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers--and falls in love with--struggling artist Ally (Lady Gaga).  She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer... until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight.  But even as Ally's career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.  Screenplay by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters.  Also starring Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron.





"In the Last Days of the City"

Special screening Sat., Sept. 29 at 4:00 PM with Director Tamer El Said attending for a post-film Q&A!

In the film that takes place in Downtown Cairo in 2009 where Khalid, a 35-year-old filmmaker, struggles to make a film that captures the soul of his city while facing loss in his own life. With the help of his friends who send him footage from their lives in Beirut, Baghdad and Berlin, he finds the strength to keep going through the difficulty and beauty of living in Cairo.  Also plays Friday, September 28 – Sunday, September 30 at the State!

"Everybody Wants Some!!"

Closing out this month’s $8 Midnight at the State features will be this film.  In 1980 Texas, a college freshman (played by Blake Jenner) meets his new baseball teammates, an unruly group of disco-dancing, skirt-chasing partyers.  This will play Saturday, September 29 at 11:59 PM.

"Mildred Pierce"

On Monday, October 1 at 7:00 PM, this film will follow up in the Fatally Yours film noir series.  In this classic, a hard-working mother inches towards disaster as she divorces her husband and starts a successful restaurant business to support her spoiled daughter.

"Nights and Days"

This film plays Wednesday, October 3 at 7:00 PM as a part of the Polish History in Film Masterpieces Film Series presented by the Polish Cultural Fund.  Free and open to the public!  Against the backdrop of World War I, a Polish matron (played by Jadwiga Baranska) recalls her turbulent marriage to an unfaithful spouse (played by Jerzy Binczycki) as well as her life’s triumphs and hardships.  Directed by Jerzy Antczak.


"Life Itself"

At the Michigan: A young New York couple goes from college romance to marriage and the birth of their first child, the unexpected twists of their journey create reverberations that echo over continents and throughout lifetimes.  Director and writer Dan Fogelman ("This Is Us") examines the perils and rewards of everyday life in a multigenerational saga featuring an international ensemble including Oscar IsaacOlivia WildeAntonio BanderasAnnette BeningOlivia CookeSergio Peris-MenchetaLaia CostaAlex Monner, and Mandy Patinkin.  

"Love, Gilda"

2018 Cinetopia Film Festival Official Selection!  In this film, comedienne Gilda Radner looks back and reflects on her life and career, in her own words.  Weaving together her recently discovered audiotapes, interviews with her friends (Chevy Chase, Lorne Michaels, Laraine Newman, Paul Shaffer and Martin Short), rare home movies and diaries read by modern-day comedians inspired by Gilda (Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Cecily Strong).

"Pick of the Litter"

This film follows a litter of puppies from the moment they're born and begin their quest to become guide dogs for the blind.  Cameras follow these pups through an intense two-year odyssey as they train to become dogs whose ultimate responsibility is to protect their blind partners from harm.  Along the way, these remarkable animals rely on a community of dedicated individuals who train them to do amazing, life-changing things in the service of their human.  The stakes are high and not every dog can make the cut.  Only the best of the best. The pick of the litter. 

"The Wife"

This film follows Joan and Joe Castleman (played by Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce), who are complements after nearly forty years of marriage.  Where Joe is casual, Joan is elegant.  Where Joe is vain, Joan is self-effacing.  And where Joe enjoys his very public role as the great American novelist, Joan pours her considerable intellect, grace, charm and diplomacy into the private role of a great man's wife.  As Joe is about to be awarded the Nobel Prize for his acclaimed and prolific body of work, Joan starts to think about the shared compromises, secrets, and betrayals. 


At the State: Set in the Pacific Northwest of 1983 AD, this film follows outsiders Red Miller and Mandy Bloom, who lead a loving and peaceful existence.  When their pine-scented haven is savagely destroyed by a cult led by the sadistic Jeremiah Sand, Red is catapulted into a phantasmagoric journey filled with bloody vengeance and laced with fire.  Stars Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache.

"Fahrenheit 11/9"

Filmmaker Michael Moore predicted that Donald Trump would become the 45th President of the United States.  Traveling across the country, Moore interviews American citizens to get a sense of the social, economic, and political impact of Trump's victory.  Moore also takes an in-depth look at the media, the Electoral College, the government agenda and his hometown of Flint, Michigan.

"White Boy Rick"

Set in 1980s Detroit at the height of the crack epidemic and the War on Drugs, this film is based on the moving true story of a blue-collar father and his teenage son.  Rick Wershe is a single father who's struggling to raise two teenagers.  Wershe sells guns illegally to make ends meet but soon attracts attention from the FBI.  Federal agents convince his son, Rick Jr., to become an undercover drug informant in exchange for keeping his father out of prison.  When young Rick gets in too deep, he finds himself seduced by the lure of easy money and becomes a drug dealer himself. 

"Crazy Rich Asians"

This film is based on a global bestseller and follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu accompanying her longtime boyfriend, Nick, to his best friend's wedding in Singapore.  She's also surprised to learn that Nick's family is extremely wealthy and he's considered one of the country's most eligible bachelors.  Thrust into the spotlight, Rachel must now contend with jealous socialites, quirky relatives and something far, far worse - Nick's disapproving mother. 



An animated adventure for all ages, with original music and an all-star cast.  This film turns the Bigfoot legend upside down when a bright young Yeti finds something he thought didn't exist -- a human.  News of this Smallfoot throws the simple Yeti community into an uproar over what else might be out there in the big world beyond their snowy village, in an all new story about friendship, courage and the joy of discovery.  Stars voice talents of Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common, LeBron James, and Danny Devito!  Opens in theaters on Friday, September 28!

"Night School"

This film stars Kevin Hart as Teddy Walker a successful salesman whose life takes an unexpected turn when he accidentally blows up his place of employment.  Forced to attend night school to get his GED, Teddy soon finds himself dealing with a group of misfit students, his former high school nemesis and a feisty teacher who doesn't think he's too bright.  Opens in theaters on Friday, September 28!


During the WEMU Fall Pledge Drive, Russ Collins gave the keynote address at the Filmkunstmesse cinema showcase and conference in Leipzig, Germany.  He talked about the current trends in today's cinema, including competing with digital downloads and keeping the art house industry alive.  The following is a transcript of Russ's address:

FilmKunstMesse18 Keynote:

Art Houses in the USA: “Goliath” (Netflix) is too big to ignore, but “David” (the Art House) is unstoppable

Russell Collins, Founder, Art House Convergence; Executive Director, Michigan Theater Foundation, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA




Thank you for inviting me to participate and speak at the FilmKunstMesse18!  Twelve years ago I started the Art House Convergence – North America’s much smaller and less well funded cousin of Europa Cinema and CICAE. It is an honor to be here because I truly admire the excellent European Art House Cinemas you represent. We in the USA have much to learn from you, our German Art House brothers and sisters. I am so very impressed with FilmKunstMesse. You can bet that the Art House Convergence will be borrowing ideas learned from this conference!


Like many of you, my full time job is being the operator of an Art House cinema.  My two cinemas are purpose built movie theaters, constructed in the first half of the 20th century. My local community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, is a college town that is home to the University of Michigan. My community saved these two classic theaters because the citizens of Ann Arbor have great passion for cinema and the arts. Over the years, the community has raised privately over $19 million to restore and renovate these two theaters plus $2-$3 million each year to fund their diverse programing:

-  MICHIGAN THEATER, is a 1,600 seat, 1920s silent-era movie palace, to which we added two adjacent cinema screens (200 and 68 seats respectively). The Michigan Theater functions as both a cinema and performing arts center.

-  STATE THEATRE is a 1940s art deco cinema-style theater. It was extensively renovated last year into an Art House with four excellent cinemas screens with 133, 100, 78 and 49 seats respectively.

These two theaters are undisputed anchors of our lively downtown, located near the University’s campus. As you might expect films are screened 365 days each year and the Michigan Theater hosts about 100 live-on-stage attractions annually.  Nearly 400,000 customers attend events at the State and Michigan Theater. The majority of our audience is for cinema.


USA Art House Cinemas and European Art House Cinemas Fight Similar Battles


American and European Art Houses both suffer oppression from the “Hollywood” movie machine. We both fight with our local multiplexes for “crossover” Art House films. We both look incredulously at the large crowds that line up at multiplexes to see the mass market comic book movies and hundred million dollar science-fiction fantasy films and other even worse commercial, star driven drivel and, we have to admit, occasionally, we envy the multiplex for some of the good films “Hollywood” makes from time-to-time. Like you, our European colleagues, we struggle to get people to attend American independent films, European, International and documentary films, plus great classic films.  In the USA there is very little money granted to the arts from Federal, State, Regional or local governments. Consequently, we have learned to be effective at raising funds from our local communities. We have become experts at generating contributed revenue. Donated funds, generously given by our patrons, including membership contributions (which also serves as our own kind of “MoviePass”). These voluntary donations, large and small, are given by businesses and individuals, but most donations come from individuals. 


Besides being wonderful cultural institutions, I believe that community-based Art House Cinemas stimulate neighborhood growth, promoting the economic health of the theater’s neighborhood. The State and Michigan theaters drives over $15 million of business activity to our neighborhood. In the aggregate in the USA, the Art House Convergence estimates that Art Houses creates a collective national economic impact of $2.6 billion annually; which creates nearly 40,000 jobs each year.


Why are cinema theaters the heart of films in the digital age?


In this digital age, when Netflix is the obsession of the entertainment media and the Internet Goliath Amazon seems poised to take over the world, can we still believe that seeing a movie in a movie theater even matters?  I say, “Yes,” in fact, I think seeing movies in a movie theater is an unstoppable human need.


Why?  The community-based Art House resonates deeply in the human psyche.  Going to a public cinema to see a movie is great fun, comedies are always funnier with an audience. However, I deeply  believe cinema at a movie theater speaks to a primordial “Campfire Desire” – what I mean by “Campfire Desire” is a deeply rooted impulse to gather together to experience great stories masterfully told by flickering light. This desire, to experience stories shared in a public setting, is seemingly imbedded in our DNA. Public story telling is a 100,000-year-old or more homosapien tradition born of ancient shamans and story tellers who shared oral traditions and their tribal stories around a campfire. These stories both taught tribal culture and heritage, and they allowed a wise story teller to comment on the groups contemporary conditions, follies and foibles. Or sometimes, and just for sheer fun, these same wise storyteller would entertain the tribe, distracting it from the troubles and trials of life. This public story-telling tradition – sitting in a darken space with family, friends and members of our community – reaches deep into our collective consciousness. Which is why, I believe community-based, mission-driven Art House cinemas are an unstoppable cultural force.


The human mind is structured around hearing and seeing stories. Understanding and remembering stories fits with how our brains are engineered to work.  Stories in any form – books, television, online streaming, listened to over an audio device, hearing a tiresome old tale from you least favorite uncle – it doesn’t matter, we just love stories, but stories presented in the public space of a theater fulfills a profound human need for public story telling. For this reason, Art House cinema exhibition is a truly noble and essential endeavor. Noble because celebrating great storytelling, through the voice of well-crafted films, and providing the transformative power of cinema to your community is worthy of all the hard work and dedication required to make our theaters successful. Needed because people and society require significant arts experiences to promote creativity, build true literacy and promote profoundly meaningful personal growth and learning.


The arts challenge the mind, comfort the soul and extend understanding. Cinema is the most significant art form developed in the modern era, which makes you, a local cinema operator, a key community storyteller and the source for this profoundly transformative art form. Your organization is an important community asset which, de facto, makes you a very special person and an important leader in your community.


Looking to the USA: What role do American Art Houses play in showcasing Independent films?


Unfortunately, I know this summer and this year have not been particularly good for movie attendance in much of Europe. However, it has been a good year in the USA. Box office sales are up over 9% and that is especially true for many if not most Art Houses in the USA. On that note, I want to share one of the most encouraging essays I have read recently in the media about the role of independent film and Art House cinema in the United States. It was written by the Chief Film Critic at Variety – the most important business journal of the entertainment business in the USA.  Owen Gleiberman, for many years was the lead critic at Entertainment Weekly. For his current publication, Variety, he covers the major world film festivals and observes USA and international cinema art and business trends. I am also happy to say, with much local pride, that Owen Gleiberman grew up in Ann Arbor, my home town and we both went to our local college, the University of Michigan. In the late summer he wrote the following, which is excerpted here and I believe effectively frames the current role and need for Art Houses and Independent films.


The Summer’s Most Important Movie Trend: People Still Love Going to the Movies!

By Owen Gleiberman, Chief Film Critic, Variety

“Each year, as the summer movie season winds down, we get to hear . . . a who’s-up/who’s-down postmortem of the business of Hollywood. . . Then, of course, there’s the real story . . . [the story] that’s percolating beneath the numbers, . . . this summer tells a fascinatingly noteworthy — and encouraging — story. . . . [which is] the robust slate of independent films that have connected with audiences, in a decisive and passionate way . . . [Movies] on that underlying tier adds up to a thrilling and highly significant story about what audiences now want to go out to the movies to see. . . “Eighth Grade” . . . “Sorry to Bother You” . . . “Hereditary” . . . [the documentary on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg] “RBG” . . . “Three Identical Strangers” . . . the weirdly timely and counterintuitive power of the goodness of Mister Rogers in “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” . . . “BlacKkKlansman” . . . “Crazy Rich Asians”. . .


The success of all these films, in its way, flies in the face of an insidious conventional wisdom, and it’s important that we listen to the message they’re giving us. . . . [that message is] the notion that “small” movies are perfect for the small screen is, in fact, exactly the opposite of the truth. It’s precisely the intimacy of small movies — the human scale of them — that’s rendered large-than-life when you go out to see them at [a movie theater]. That’s the primal beauty of cinema, these days, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that people are going out to the movies as a conscious and thrillingly cultivated entertainment choice. The freshly thriving repertory [film] scene of New York City is [also] a telling example. . .You can now see old movies at home like never before, yet audiences have proved to be stubbornly addicted to going out [to the Film Forum, the Metrograph, and the Quad in New York] . . . to see them.


And this summer’s run of indie hits tells a comparable story — though, if anything, an even more important one. It might have something to do with the times; these days, who doesn’t want to escape the news? . . . But the truth is that for every viewer who wants to wait until something arrives on the small screen, there’s another who is eager to seek out a movie not merely for spectacle, but to feel the quiet thrill of being in an audience and sharing a space that can encompass that audience and the people on screen. It’s a privileged space — maybe even, in its way, a religious one. And you can only experience it when you go out to the movies. It’s a trend that just might keep an art form thriving.”


Thank you Owen Gleiberman! What an encouraging essay for Art House operators. This essay gives one courage to say, “The State of the Art House is strong.” Indeed it is strong because the Art House is the natural home to experience cinema.  Unlike multiplex theaters, our Art House theaters are not, at their core, a mere outlet or channel for playing movie products?!? What? Not a channel for movies?!? You may now be thinking, “Is Russ Collins crazy??” Although this statement may seem surprising, I contend and say confidently, the Art House is NOT, essentially, a specialized channel for independent cinema, but rather, the Art House is a welcoming and special home for audiences. Audiences who find us extremely valuable, who appreciate and support the art and craft of cinema, especially independent cinema. Art Houses are about our local audiences and that’s what makes the State of the Art House strong – audiences in a geographic community which we have the privilege to serve.


Human beings are intrinsically social animals. Being part of a community is a psychological need.  Art House cinemas exist in communities and if you can make your cinema essential to your community, you will provide a space that fulfills this essential human need – a place to gather and share stories.  You minister to that need by building a culture of cinema love and appreciation in your community. Fulfilling that need is indeed a high calling.


Looking to Germany: How can cinema be strengthened as a premium location for the film?


The panel that follows will consider how the Art House in Germany can be strengthened as a premium location for audiences to experience film. But German audiences, European audience in general, share the love of movies in a theater as much if not more than audiences in the USA.


We cinema exhibitors have been through many tumultuous changes over the last decade. Just a few years ago Art House cinemas all over the world were forced to address digital movie technologies in each of our theaters. We survived that existential crisis, many of us even got better because of it.


Netflix, Amazon, video streaming and subscription television are all trends that impact movie theaters. But I believe emphatically the menace of Netflix can be regarded as essentially background noise.  Why? Because Art Houses are about geographic communities. Netflix and Amazon are not about community. Streaming television or cinema programs to private viewing devices is not about community. They are designed as distribution channels and they are, indeed, fine and efficient distribution channels.  Netflix and cable or online steaming services do indeed impact community-based cinemas. As did Cable and satellite TV before the Internet, and as VCR and DVD players did in the 1980s and 1990s. These technologies disrupted, but came nowhere close to eliminating theatrical movie-going. Change is always scary and hard. However, in a macro-economic sense, a consistent and sizable number of people over last 50 years of technological changes continue to see cinema at movie theaters. This should be no surprise because, as Owen Gleiberman observed, our movie theaters are special, almost sacred places.


Tying social media technologies to online ticketing technologies, and then tying the new and evolving on-line ticketing systems with Customer Relations Marketing tools will provide dynamic new ways for Art House cinemas to reach our audiences.  And, maybe, European cinemas should endeavor to learn techniques of community fundraising from your colleagues in the United States. Fundraising is a HUGE source of revenue for Art House cinemas in the States. Netfilx, Amazon and the like are too big to ignore, but Art Houses, creatively managed and anchored in their communities are truly unstoppable.


Thank you for asking me, an almost stereotypical, over enthusiastic American, to join you at FilmKunstMesse18. It is a honor to join with European Art House colleagues and humbling to be here with so many talented and effective Art House leaders. I hope some of you might be able to join us at the Art House Convergence, January 21-24, 2019 in Utah, USA, just before the start of the Sundance Film Festival. Thank you, again, for the privilege of you company and the opportunity to share my love of Art Houses with you.

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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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