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Cinema Chat: Latest On Cinetopia, 'Amazing Grace,' 'Penguins,' And More

Michigan Theater
Wikipedia Media Commons

More news is coming out of Cinetopia, and there's a lot more going in the movie world as well.  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair and Michigan and State Theater executive director Russ Collins sit down to discuss the latest movie news and all of the new films hitting the big screen this weekend.


The Cinetopia Film Festival is an annual, curated festival in metro Detroit, featuring more than 50 of the best feature-length dramas, comedies, and documentaries from the world’s best film festivals (Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Berlin, SXSW, Tribeca, and more).  This year, Cinetopia includes the Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival and the Arab-American Museum Film Festival.  It takes place over the span of 10 days with venues in Detroit, Dearborn, Bloomfield Hills, Royal Oak and Ann Arbor.  Created in 2012 for the people of Southeast Michigan, Cinetopia honors the rich heritage of cinematic culture and Michigan’s proud legacy of outstanding cinema artists through special pre- and post-film events, including presentations, discussion panels, and Q&A sessions with directors, writers, and actors.  The 2019 Cinetopia Film Festival comes with major support by Michigan Medicine and the Knight Foundation. For more information, visit cinetopiafestival.org.

Highly anticipated local documentary comes to Cinetopia Film Festival:

Sneak Preview of "Welcome To Commie High!"

On May 12, a special sneak preview of the almost finished work in progress, "Welcome to Commie High," a new documentary that brings to life the evolution of one of Ann Arbor’s most beloved educational institutions, Community High School.  The screening, in the Michigan Theater’s main auditorium, will also help provide funds needed to finish the film, as well as giving supporters and the local community a chance to see this important and timely documentary on the big screen in a festival setting.  "We can't imagine a better way of sharing this sneak preview of our film than at the Michigan Theater with our local community!" states the film's director, Donald Harrison.  "For almost a half century, Community High has done school differently, attracted a unique cross-section of Ann Arbor and made impacts well beyond.  Our film explores the "Commie High" model and how it serves as an alternative mirror for understanding cultural, social, political, and philosophical dynamics in American as they have evolved over decades."  The screening will take place on Sunday, May 12th at 6.30pm at the Michigan Theater’s Main Auditorium, followed by a Q&A session with director Donald Harrison and crew/cast.  A jazz ensemble from Community High School will perform preceding the program in the grand foyer of the theater.

About Donald Harrison:

Donald is an independent filmmaker and lead producer of 7 Cylinders Studio, a custom video production company in Ypsilanti, MI, which he launched in 2012.  He’s taught film & video courses at the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University and The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor.  Donald served as Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival from 2008 – 2012, growing the organization through its historic 50th season.  He currently serves on the Cultural Economic Development Committee for the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and helps program the Ypsi Experimental Space (YES).

Opening Night Film – BEFORE YOU KNOW IT

Stage manager Rachel Gurner still lives in her childhood apartment—along with her off-kilter actress sister, Jackie; eccentric playwright father Mel; and deadpan preteen niece Dodge—above the tiny theatre they own and operate.  Level-headed and turtleneck-wearing. 

Rachel is the only thing standing between her family and utter chaos.  Then, in the wake of a sudden family tragedy, Rachel and Jackie learn their presumed-deceased mother is actually alive and thriving as a soap-opera star.  Now the sisters’ already-precarious balance turns upside down, and Rachel must figure out how to liberate herself from this surreal imbroglio.

Director: Hannah Pearl Utt  Notable Cast: Judith Light, Alec Baldwin, Mandy Patinkin

Closing Night Film - AUTONOMY

Celebrated journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell leads the first comprehensive documentary look at self-driving cars.  The film is a cinematic exploration of the world of automated vehicles — from their technical history to the personal narratives of those affected by them to the many unanswered questions about how this technology will affect modern society.  Autonomy features interviews with industry pioneers and scenes with cutting-edge “AVs” in action around the world. Inspired by a special issue of Car and Driver, Autonomy reinforces the context of where the “car” meets the coming revolution in mobility, presenting an essential primer on the subject and how it will affect you.  Followed by a LIVE Q&A with Director ALEX HORWITZ and EDDIE ALTERMAN, Chief Brand Officer of Hearst Autos.

The Closing Night Party will be at M-City – the U of M’s state-of-the-art automated test track area.  There are 3 ways to buy!  Just the film, film + party, or just the party!  VIP and Festival passholders get in FREE.


"Amazing Grace"

At the Michigan (Sneak Peak Thu. Apr. 18 and opens for a full run Friday, Apr. 19): Shot in 1972 over a 48-hour period in Watts’ New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, this stirring documentary captured the live recording of the most successful gospel album in history by Aretha Franklin.  This album marked Franklin's thrilling return to her gospel roots after she'd earned 11 consecutive No. 1 pop and R&B singles, won five Grammys and released more than 20 albums.  

"The Brink"

At the State (Opens Friday, Apr. 19): Tracking his moves through the 2018 American mid-term elections, director Alison Klayman’s startling fly-on-the-wall documentary sheds light on Steve Bannon’s efforts to mobilize and unify far-right parties, starting in Europe with controversial figures like Nigel Farage, Jérôme Rivière, Matteo Salvini, Filip Dewinter, and Kent Ekeroth.  After leaving the Trump administration, embattled former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker in an effort to spread his brand of extreme nationalism to the rest of the world.  Directed by Alison Klayman.  EDITED BY Marina Katz, Ann Arbor native!

"High Life"

At the State (Opens Friday, Apr. 19): A staggering and primal film about love and intimacy, suffused with anguished memories of a lost Earth, this is a haunting, thrilling achievement from visionary director Claire Denis.  Monte (played by Robert Pattinson) and his baby daughter are the last survivors of a damned and dangerous mission to the outer reaches of the solar system.  The crew death-row inmates led by a doctor (played by Juliette Binoche) with sinister motives has vanished.  As the mystery of what happened onboard the ship is unraveled, father and daughter must rely on each other to survive as they hurtle toward the oblivion of a black hole.  Claire Denis, a French film director and writer, whose feature film "Beau Travail" (1999) has been called one of the greatest films of the 1990s and one of the best female directed films.  Other acclaimed works include "Trouble Every Day" (2001), "35 Shots of Rum" (2008), "White Material" (2009), and "High Life" (2018).


"Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (The Man Who Feels No Pain)"

This film plays Friday, April 19 at 3:00 PM at the Michigan Theater.  Free and open to the public!  This is a 2018 Indian Hindi language action comedy film written and directed by Vasan Bala and produced by RSVP Movies.  The film stars Abhimanyu Dassani, Radhika Madan, Gulshan Devaiah, Mahesh Manjrekar, and Jimit Trivedi.  The film premiered in the Midnight Madness section of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award: Midnight Madness.  The film’s story follows a young man who has a rare condition called Congenital insensitivity to pain and strikes out on a quest to vanquish his foes.  The film’s producer, Ankur Khanna, will be in attendance and the screening will be followed by a Q&A with him.

"Hot Fuzz"

This film plays Saturday, April 20 at 10 PM at the State Theatre as a part of Late-Nights at the State and as part two of the Cornetto Trilogy.  As a former London constable, Nicholas Angel (played by Simon Pegg) finds it difficult to adapt to his new assignment in the sleepy British village of Sandford.  Not only does he miss the excitement of the big city, but he also has a well-meaning oaf (played by Nick Frost) for a partner.  However, when a series of grisly accidents rocks Sandford, Nick smells something rotten in the idyllic village.

"Children of Men"

This film plays Tuesday, April 23 at 7 PM at the State Theatre as the finale of The Films of Alfonso Cuarón.  A futuristic society faces extinction when the human race loses the ability to reproduce.  England has descended into chaos, until an iron-handed warden is brought in to institute martial law.  The warden's ability to keep order is threatened when a woman finds that she is pregnant with what would be the first child born in 27 years.  Stars Clive Owen and Julianne Moore.


This film plays Wednesday, April 24 at 7 PM at the State Theatre as a part of Wine Down Wednesdays.  You’ve made it halfway through the week, so you deserve half-off a glass of wine at the State, paired perfectly with a film celebrating our love of wine.  Four men will do anything to pass the most difficult test you’ve NEVER heard of… it takes the viewer on a humorous, emotional and illuminating look into a mysterious world – the Court of Master Sommeliers and the massively intimidating Master Sommelier Exam.  The Court of Master Sommeliers is one of the world’s most prestigious, secretive, and exclusive organizations.  Since its inception almost 40 years ago, less than 200 candidates have reached the exalted Master level.  The exam covers literally every nuance of the world of wine, spirits and cigars. Those who have passed have put at risk their personal lives, their well- being, and often their sanity to pull it off.  Shrouded in secrecy, access to the Court Of Master Sommeliers has always been strictly regulated and cameras have never been allowed anywhere near the exam, until now.  How much do you think you know about wine?

"After So Many Days"

This film plays Wednesday, April 24 at 7:15 PM at the Michigan Theater as a FREE Member and Cinetopia Volunteer-only screening!  A raw personal account of Jim and Sam, a singer-songwriter duo, uprooting their lives in an attempt to play one show every day for a year, putting their music, health, career, and first year of marriage to the test.


"The Public"

At the Michigan: An unusually bitter Arctic blast has made its way to downtown Cincinnati and the front doors of the public library where the action of the film takes place.  At odds with library officials over how to handle the extreme weather event, some homeless patrons turn the building into a shelter for the night by staging an "Occupy" sit in.  What begins as an act of civil disobedience becomes a stand-off with police and a rush-to-judgment media constantly speculating about what's really happening.  This David versus Goliath story tackles some of our nation's most challenging issues, homelessness, and mental illness and sets the drama inside one of the last bastions of democracy-in-action: your public library.  Stars Emilio EstevezAlec BaldwinTaylor SchillingGabrielle Union, and Christian Slater.


Adapted from Anna Segher's 1942 novel, this film transposes the original story to the present, blurring periods to create a timeless exploration of the plight of displaced people.  As fascism spreads, German refugee Georg (played by Franz Rogowski) flees to Marseille and assumes the identity of the dead writer whose transit papers he is carrying.  Living among refugees from around the world, Georg falls for Marie (played by Paula Beer), a mysterious woman searching for her husband--the man whose identity he has stolen. 

"The Mustang"

At the State: This film follows Roman (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), a convict in a rural Nevada prison who struggles to escape his violent past.  As a part of his state-mandated social rehabilitation, Roman is required to participate in an "outdoor maintenance" program.  Spotted by a no-nonsense veteran trainer (played by Bruce Dern) and helped by an outgoing fellow inmate and trick rider (played by Jason Mitchell), Roman is accepted into the selective wild horse training section of the program, where he finds his own humanity in gentling an especially unbreakable mustang.


This is a new nightmare from the mind of Oscar® winner Jordan Peele, writer/director of "Get Out."  Accompanied by her husband and children, Adelaide Wilson (played by Lupita Nyong'o) returns to the beach home where she grew up.  Haunted by a traumatic experience from the past, Adelaide grows concerned that something bad is going to happen to her family.  Her worst fears soon become a reality when four masked strangers descend upon the house, forcing the Wilsons into a fight for survival. Also stars Winston DukeElisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker

"Captain Marvel"

The story follows Carol Danvers as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.  Set in the 1990s, this is an all-new adventure from a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Brie Larson ("The Spectacular Now," "Trainwreck," "Room" – Academy Award for Best Actress) stars as Danvers, alongside Samuel L. JacksonBen MendelsohnDjimon HounsouLee PaceLashana LynchGemma ChanAnnette BeningClark Gregg, and Jude Law.  



Disneynature's all-new feature film is a coming-of-age story about an Adélie penguin named Steve who joins millions of fellow males in the icy Antarctic spring on a quest to build a suitable nest, find a life partner, and start a family.  None of it comes easily for him, especially considering he's targeted by everything from killer whales to leopard seals, who unapologetically threaten his happily ever after.


This is based on the inspirational true story of one mother's unfaltering love in the face of impossible odds.  When Joyce Smith's adopted son John falls through an icy Missouri lake, all hope seems lost.  But as John lies lifeless, Joyce refuses to give up.  Her steadfast belief inspires those around her to continue to pray for John's recovery, even in the face of every case history and scientific prediction.  From producer DeVon Franklin ("Miracles from Heaven") and adapted for the screen byGrant Nieporte ("Seven Pounds") from Joyce Smith's own book, this is an enthralling reminder that faith and love can create a mountain of hope, and sometimes even a miracle.

"The Curse of La Llorona"

Taking place in 1970s Los Angeles, this film follows La Llorona, who is stalking the night -- and the children.  Ignoring the eerie warning of a troubled mother suspected of child endangerment, a social worker and her own small kids are soon drawn into a frightening supernatural realm.  Their only hope to survive La Llorona's deadly wrath may be a disillusioned priest and the mysticism he practices to keep evil at bay, on the fringes where fear and faith collide.

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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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