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Cinema Chat: 'John Lewis,' 'Denise Ho,' 'Mr. Topaze,' And More

Michigan Theater
The Michigan Theater

Celebrate America's birthday with a good flick!  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's Mat Hopson and Michigan and State Theater executive director Russ Collins discuss the latest films and special screenings that you can enjoy at home this 4th of July weekend.




"Denise Ho: Becoming The Song"

In Sue Williams’ uplifting documentary, the filmmaker chronicles Denise Ho’s career from pop star to activist and the parallels to Hong Kong, a city in constant transformation.  In 2014, at the height of her career, she started to publicly support the students who were demanding free elections during the Umbrella Movement (protesters held up umbrellas to fight off tear gas).  Her influential involvement at the forefront of the pro-democracy uprisings led to her arrest during a clearing of protest camps.  The financial and social cost to her was enormous.  She was blacklisted by Mainland China, her music banned.  As a result major commercial and luxury sponsors like Lancôme dropped her, colleagues feared to be associated with her, and venues around the world to this day are afraid to allow her to perform.

In 2017, director Sue Williams began to follow and film Denise as she toured the UK and North America as an independent artist, attempting to rebuild her career while continuing to take to the streets with protestors and remaining vocal about freedom of speech and protecting civil liberties.  She has also recently addressed both the United Nations and the US Congress, pleading for international help and making it clear that Hong Kong’s struggle is a universal fight for freedom and democracy.

"John Lewis: Good Trouble"

Using interviews and rare archival footage, this film chroniclesLewis’ 60-plus years of social activism and legislative action on civil rights, voting rights, gun control, health-care reform and immigration.  Using present-day interviews with Lewis, now 79 years old, Porter explores his childhood experiences, his inspiring family and his fateful meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957.  In addition to her interviews with Lewis and his family, Porter’s primarily cinéma verité film also includes interviews with political leaders, Congressional colleagues, and other people who figure prominently in his life.

Immediately following the feature, there will be a pre-recorded discussion between Representative Lewis and Oprah Winfrey, filmed last month and being made available exclusively for virtual cinema and in-theater engagements of the film.  This is a wide-ranging, informal, 16-minute conversation that’s a perfect follow-up to the documentary, and could not be more relevant.

"Love In Suspenders"

Part of Cinetopia-AAJFF's A Summer of Film series.  When absent-minded widow Tami accidentally hits 70-year-old widower Beno with her car, the last thing on her mind is love and romance.  But will their budding relationship survive the scrutiny of their children?

"Ursula Von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own"

An artistic biography of one of the few women in the world working in monumental sculpture, this is the story of Ursula's struggle to overcome the hardship of her upbringing and to become an artist.


"Mr. Topaze"

A curiosity for cinephiles!  Newly restored from the last surviving 35mm prints, this film is the lone directorial effort from comedy icon Peter Sellers.  Unwilling to sacrifice his principles, Albert Topaze (Peter Sellers), a poor but proud French schoolmaster, loses his job after he refuses to alter the failing grades of one of students.  Seizing the opportunity to exploit his well-known honesty, actress Suzy Courtois (Nadia Gray) convinces her lover, the corrupt city council member Castel Benac (Herbert Lom), to hire Topaze as a managing director for one of his shady businesses.  But when Topaze learns he is being used, he cunningly turns the tables on Benac and makes off with all the money.

Sellers’ first and only credited directorial feature, the film displays the British comic genius at the peak of his powers alongside his future Pink Panther nemesis Herbert Lom and a stellar supporting cast that includes Nadia Gray, Leo McKern, Billie Whitelaw, and Michael Gough.  Long considered a “lost” classic, the film was digitally restored at the request of the British public from the last known surviving 35mm prints held in the BFI National Archive

4th of July Weekend Organ Concert with Andrew Rogers -- JULY 3-5

Organist Andrew Rogers will play a virtual concert on the Michigan Theater’s Barton Organ celebrating the 4th of July weekend and those “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer!”  Like a typical pre-show before a film in the Michigan Theater’s historical Main Auditorium, the music will be varied and is sure to bring a smile to your face.  Expect to hear everything from the classic sounds of “Carousel” to patriotic favorites, and a march written for the Michigan Theater.  Recorded live at the Michigan Theater.

Cocktail Cinema -- TUESDAY, JULY 7 7:00-8:30 PM

Like cocktails?  Like to talk about classic movies?  Hosted by Russ Collins, Deb Polich, and Alan Collins

This Premium Tuesday cocktail party will celebrate classic films from the 1970s!  Russ and Deb will join you, with cocktails mixed by Alan Collins, Bar Artist and Sommelier for Paesano Restaurant, broadcasting via Zoom from the wonderful Art Deco lobby of the State Theatre.

Admission is FREE for all members and non-members, but you must sign up in advance.  May your spirits be lifted as you watch the films and, then on Tuesday, lift the spirits in your cocktail glass and join in on the lively discussion!  Participating in Cocktail Cinema is easy and fun!

  • Step 1 – Watch"Sideways" and "Amélie" on your own time, convenient to your schedule, before the Tuesday’s start of Cocktail Cinema.  Both films are available to rent online.
  • Step 2 – RSVP online via Zoom.
  • Step 3 – On Tuesday, July 7 at 7:00 PM, mix up classic cocktails in your own home and be open to discussing these film classics with Russ and Deb.  Dressing up is like the era is encouraged but not required!  Want to just join the discussion?  Pop into the Zoom call between 7:30-8:30 PM.

About Our Hosts

Russ Collins is the long-time Executive Director of the Michigan and State Theaters.  Deb Polich is the President and CEO of The Arts Alliance and Artrain.


“Ella Fitzgerald: Just One Of Those Things”

Tracing the story of Ella Fitzgerald’s life, this documentary film explores how her music became a soundtrack for a tumultuous century.

“One Small Step Shorts”

Embark on a roller coaster of imagination and possibility in this https://vimeo.com/shortstv" style="box-sizing: border-box; color: rgb(22, 141, 217); line-height: inherit; background-image: initial; background-position: initial; background-size: initial; background-repeat: initial; background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial;">ShortsTV-presented compilation of twelve new and acclaimed, family-friendly animation short films.


Presented by the Cinetopia Film Festival and Ann Arbor Jewish Film Festival.  Director Boaz Yakin’s dreamy film, with choreography from a former member of Israeli dance company Batsheva Dance Company, tells a story that is timeless, universal, and yet up-to-the-moment.

“Pioneers of Queer Cinema”

Celebrate Pride Month with this newly restored trio of classics from the early days of queer cinema, each far ahead of its time.  Rent each film separately, or purchase a pass for all three for $15.00!

Black Voices, Black Filmmakers

Three great documentary films:

Quarantine Cat Film Festival


This compilation reel from over 1,200 submissions brings together the cutest, funniest, bravest and most loving of these videos, exclusively filmed during the pandemic.  The purpose of this festival is to raise money for independent movie theaters, with the help of everyone’s cats.

"Mama Africa: Miriam Makeba"

Miriam Makeba was one of the first African musicians who won international stardom and whose music was always anchored in her traditional South African roots.  Mika Kaurismäki’s documentary traces fifty years of her music and her performing life.  Through rare archive footage of her performances and through interviews with her contemporaries we discover the remarkable journey of Miriam Makeba.


Renowned horror writer Shirley Jackson (Elizabeth Moss) is on the precipice of writing her masterpiece when the arrival of newlyweds upends her meticulous routine and heightens tensions in her already tempestuous relationship with her philandering husband.  The middle-aged couple, prone to ruthless barbs and copious afternoon cocktails, begins to toy mercilessly with the naïve young couple at their door.


For more information on virtual screenings and content available, visit michtheater.org/screenings.  Stay safe.  Stay strong.

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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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