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Cinema Chat: Ann Arbor Film Festival Continues And Michigan Theater Movies Go Online During Shutdown

Michigan Theater
Junfu Han
Michigan Theater Facebook

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected so many industries worldwide, and the movie business is no exception.  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair and Michigan and State Theater executive director Russ Collins discuss how movie theaters, especially those found in Ann Arbor, are adapting to this difficult situation.

ANN ARBOR FILM FESTIVAL – Online through Sunday      

Visit aafilmfest.org, and there will be a button on the front page to watch the live stream.  Each program is different.  Films are not rated.  All programs are intended for mature audiences, unless otherwise noted.  Some films have imagery of a stroboscopic nature.



"INTERROGATING THE PAST: the collaborative work of Lisa Steele + Kim Tomczak"

A juror for the 58th AAFF, Lisa Steele is a pioneer in video art, educator, curator, and co-founder of the Toronto-based organization Vtape, an award-winning media center and distributor of video art.  She has collaborated with Kim Tomczak since 1983, producing videotapes, performances, and photo/text works. Currently, Steele teaches at the University of Toronto as part of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.


Faire-part - On the eve of postponed Congolese elections, two Congolese and two Belgian cineastes work on a film about Kinshasa and its resistance against the legacies of colonialism.  The four filmmakers want to tell a story together, but having grown up on other sides of history, they have different views on how to tell that story. Through filming artistic performances in public space, they paint a provocative picture of Kinshasa and its relations with the rest of the world.  Directed by Anne Reijniers, Nizar Saleh, Paul Shemisi, and Rob Jacobs.

Presented with short in competition Memoirs (Aaron Zeghers).


"Why Can't I Be Me? Around You"

Albuquerque’s Rusty Tidenberg, auto mechanic and drag-racing aficionado, shocked friends and family by coming out as trans. Followed for eight years by filmmaker Harrod Blank (son of Les Blank), Rusty guides us through the aftermath of her transition, as growing acceptance among her straight-talking Southwest community still doesn’t ease her romantic and professional woes.  Interwoven with lively tales of gender non-conforming individuals on the art-car circuit, Blank’s film is a sensitive and unpredictable love letter to people who fight to be unapologetically themselves.

Presented with short in competition Framing Agnes (Chase Joynt and Kristen Schilt)


Programmed by Sean Donovan, the Ann Arbor Film Festival’s 19th celebration of queer cinema spotlights recent experimental films with LGBTQ themes: Happy (Seyed Ahmadreza Mousavi), Lesbian Farmer (Carleen Maur), Shannon Amen (Chris Dainty), A messy story about oak and (Maria Bang Espersen and Emilý Æyer), Goodbye Fantasy (Amber Bemak and Nadia Granados), and When Night Falls (Alexandre Lechasseur-Dubé).

Performance (pre-recorded): Two Steps on The Water (Angelo Madsen Minax)


This program of recent experimental, documentary, and animated films includes Split River (Ava Zeichner), Últimas Ondas (Emmanuel Piton), Blue Honda Civic (Jussi Eerola), Vever (for Barbara) (Deborah Stratman), Take it Down (Sabine Gruffat), and Colors & Shadows (Andreas Hadjipateras).

Performance (pre-recorded): Presents/Presence (Pat Oleszko)

Programs continue through Sunday. Go to aafilmfest.org.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Cinetopia Film Festival Moved to August 

Like many of our film festival colleagues around the world, we are closely monitoring the growing health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 virus.

Under the guidance of The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Michigan’s Governor Whitmer to limit any mass gatherings in a community-wide effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, we have made the difficult but necessary decision to reschedule the 2020 Cinetopia Film Festival (currently scheduled for May 8-17) to August 21-30, 2020.

The festival is happy to report that our announced special programming will move with us. The Cinetopia-Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival programming is now scheduled for Sunday August 23 through Thursday August 27. The A2 Tech Film Showcase is now scheduled for Friday August 28. The special screening of Eleven P.M. in collaboration with the Senate Theater in Detroit and the Detroit Historical Society is TBD.

We will also be extending the submission period for our Detroit Voices Short Film Competition through June 15. We encourage and welcome all Michigan filmmakers to submit!

In light of this move, the festival will be extending Advance Pricing for this year’s passes through June 30th. All passes and tickets already purchased will be honored for the rescheduled dates. If you have any questions or concerns, please email us at info@cinetopiafestival.org.

Cinetopia Film Festival Director Sarah Escalante says: “We are very appreciative of all the support we have received from our partners and sponsors as we made this difficult decision, and we understand how lucky we are to be able to reschedule Cinetopia.

Our current concern is for the health and safety of our local communities and we know this is the right decision. We look forward to presenting this year’s festival in August, when we can once again come together to enjoy film and conversation as a community.”


"Fantastic Fungi" -- Thursday, March 26 – Fantastic Fungi Day!

As we enter into an even vaster understanding of just how interdependent we are and how fast something travels between us all, we can appreciate the power of our interconnectedness.  This can be seen in the thousands of cases in which a virus has impacted so much of our lives from travel, business, wellness and gatherings.

The film is all about our interconnectedness and the common issues that we face as a species.  We know that our biggest defense from these viruses is our own sense of wellbeing, our own immunity and the ability to live from a place of health and wellness both individually and collectively.

The messages of this film could not be any timelier, from the need to reconnect and understand the intelligence of nature, to partnering with fungi and our natural world to shift our consciousness.  How prepared are we to face the pressing issues we have in our world?

We are facing a serious challenge, yet like the mycelium network we are adaptable.  As a response to the worldwide pandemic of the coronavirus, we ask each community to take responsibility for establishing the best practice for them.  We also know that we need to respond as mycelium and provide innovative ways of addressing these new challenges.

Rent $4.99 or Buy the film $14.99

How You’re Supporting the Theater

40% of sales will benefit the Michigan Theater Foundation!

Join the LIVE Q&As with Paul Stamets, filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg and friends

On March 26th, there will be 3 exciting conversations (4pm, 9pm and 11:59pm) throughout the day!  To participate you must register to receive a link to join the conversation.

https://vimeo.com/ondemand/themichigantheater">Watch Online & Register for the Q&A

"Saint Frances"Friday, March 27 at 7:00 PM – Virtual Watch Party!  THIS IS A FIRST-RUN FILM

Flailing 34-year-old Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) finally catches a break when she meets a nice guy and lands a much-needed job nannying six-year-old Frances (played by a scene-stealing Ramona Edith-Williams).  But an unwanted pregnancy introduces an unexpected complication.  To make matters worse, she clashes with the obstinate Frances and struggles to navigate a growing tension between Frances’ moms.  Amidst her tempestuous personal relationships, a reluctant friendship with Frances emerges, and Bridget contends with the inevitable joys and difficulties of becoming a part of someone else’s family. 

Ticket Prices: $12 non-members, $8 members

How You’re Supporting the Theater

This film is provided by our distributor friends at Oscilloscope and 50% of the ticket proceeds will benefit the Michigan Theater Foundation!  This film is not currently available for public rental or sale.

How this Works

Click on the button below to take you to Oscilloscope’s website to purchase a “ticket” to see this film.  They will email you a link to the film, which is viewable on any internet-connected device including laptops, tablets and smartphones.  If you have the appropriate technology, you may be able to stream this to your television at home from your computer or phone.  This link will give you access to the film for 72 hours after it is emailed to you. The charge will appear on your credit card statement as SP Oscilloscope Labs.

Please understand that an Oscilloscope employee is fulfilling these requests manually so you may not receive your link immediately. We may run into some kinks along the way, so we appreciate your patience and understanding.  More than anything, we appreciate your support!

"Snowpiercer"Saturday, March 28 at 9:00 PM – Virtual Watch Party!

By PARASITE director Bong Joon Ho.  Though our Midnight screening of SNOWPIERCER was cancelled, that won’t stop us from gathering virtually to watch it together this weekend!  Join our staff this Saturday, March 27 at 9:00 PM via YouTube Live as we all sit down and press play together to experience Bong Joon-Ho’s gritty, post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller as a community.  We’ll be sharing some insight on the film, movie trivia, and general commentary as the night goes on, as well as take questions and comments from you to participate!


A failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet.  The final survivors board the SNOWPIERCER, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. When cryptic messages incite the passengers to revolt, the train thrusts full-throttle towards disaster.

This virtual event is FREE!

You can watch Snowpiercer on Netflix or rent on any video on demand platform.

"Bacurau"– Open online soon

A few years from now… Bacurau, a small village in the Brazilian sertão, mourns the loss of its matriarch, Carmelita, who lived to be 94.  Days later, its inhabitants (among them Sônia Braga) notice that their village has literally vanished from most maps and a UFO-shaped drone starts flying overhead.  There are forces that want to expel them from their homes, and soon, in a genre-bending twist, a band of armed mercenaries led by Udo Kier arrive in town picking off the inhabitants one by one.  A fierce confrontation takes place when the townspeople turn the tables on the villainous outsiders, banding together by any means necessary to protect and maintain their remote community. 

Ticket Prices: $12.00

Post-film Discussion!

Join Programming and Digital Media Coordinator, Nick Alderink, for a post-film discussion of Bacurau Friday 4/3 at 9:00pm. Sign up by clicking the button below.

This Film Supports the Theater!

This film is provided by our distributor friends at Kino Lorber and a percentage of the ticket proceeds will benefit the Michigan Theater Foundation!  This film is not currently available for public rental or sale.


"And Then We Danced" with comes with a Q&A that the filmmaker

"Slay the Dragon" -- a Cinetopia Film Festival special advance presentation (before the VOD release.)

Will include a Q&A including Katie who’s the main onscreen subject and leader of the anti-Gerrymandering proposal that happened in Michigan.

Also –

Russ will be hosting a live chat film discussion group next week.

Russ and Dr. Henry Aldridge will teach Film 101 and 102 classes on-line




Watch truly great cinema.  Right now.  Wherever you are.  With no ads.  Ever. Cult, classic, and independent films.  A new film every day.

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Music Box Direct

This streaming service platform for Music Box Films and Doppelgänger Releasing is dedicated to curating a diverse repertoire of films and television series from around the world.

Gold members get access to an extended 30-day free trial. Contact Amber for details.


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Special 30-day free trial for all supporters!

Magnolia Selects

Stream top-rated independent movies, television series and award winning documentaries.  Brought to you by Magnolia Pictures.

7-day free trial for all supporters!  Your first 3 months paid subscription will directly benefit the Michigan Theater.


Excerpt of a keynote address given at FilmKunstMesse18 Keynote Address, Leipzig, Germany, September 2018 .  By Russell Collins, Founder, Art House Convergence, USA; Executive Dir., Michigan Theater Fnd.

This address was given in response to the threat of Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services in 2018.  What is similar now is the chatter in the arts and entertainment media suggesting this pandemic will be the “dagger in the heart” for your ability  to see cinema at a movie theater.  Although this pandemic is a monstrous threat to so many and so much, and it will most certainly be a catalyst that will motivate change, the profound experience of sitting in a darkened room, with fellow movie lovers who are your friends and neighbors and with people you have yet to meet who, after watching an outstanding film together, may become your friend, is an unstoppable and premium cultural experience.  Bottom line, human beings are social creatures, we like going out to movies, shows, concerts, sports, dancing, restaurants and bars and much, much more.  Furthermore, being locked in your house for weeks or months at a time will make the memory of going to a movie at a theater, especially when the State and Michigan ultimately reopens, all the more sweet.  Movie fulfill our primordial “Campfire Desire.”

In the USA, there is little money granted to the arts from Federal, State, Regional or local governments. Consequently, American Art Houses have learned to raise contributed funds from our local communities.  We have become experts at fundraising. Donated funds, generously given by our patrons, including membership contributions – which at the State and Michigan Theaters serves as an effective movie subscription service.  These voluntary donations, large and small, are given by businesses and individuals, but most donations come from individuals.  Minimal government funding and generous individual donations is the American Way to support Art Houses and other cultural institutions.

Besides being wonderful cultural institutions, I believe that community-based Art House cinemas stimulate neighborhood economic growth.  The State and Michigan theaters drives over $13 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 movie theaters still the heart of the cinema experience 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 cinema 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 intrinsically profound. For example, comedies are always funnier seen with a live audience. Movies at theaters also speak to the primordial “Campfire Desire.”  What I mean by “Campfire Desire” is a deeply rooted impulse in human beings 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 tribal stories around a communal fire. These stories both taught tribal culture and heritage, and allowed a wise story teller to comment on the group’s contemporary conditions, follies and foibles.  Or sometimes, just for fun, these same wise storytellers would entertain their community, distracting them from the troubles and trials of life. This public story-telling tradition – sitting in a dark, communal 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 your least favorite uncle – it doesn’t matter, we just love stories.  And 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 the local cinema operator an important public storyteller. You are a critical source for this profoundly transformative art form which resonates directly with the primordial and powerful “Campfire Desire.”  Your organization is an important community asset which, de facto, makes you a very special person and an important leader in your community.

Physical movie theaters are the premium location for the film screens

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 streaming 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 modestly 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 the 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.

Netflix, Amazon, and the like are too big to ignore, but Art Houses, creatively managed and anchored in their communities are truly unstoppable.

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU todayto keep your community NPR station thriving.

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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

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Russ Collins is the executive director of Marquee Arts, the nonprofit that oversees the Michigan Theater and State Theater in Ann Arbor.
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