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Cinema Chat: 'A Towering Task,' 'Shooting Life,' 'Transkids,' And More

Michigan Theater
Wikipedia Media Commons

Summer rolls on, and a lot of great movies are coming along with it.  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair talks to Michigan and State Theater executive director Russ Collins about the latest films that are now available for your online viewing pleasure.


Every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday between 5-7 PM (order by 3pm day of). 

Due to weekend street closures, Friday pick-up has been moved to E. Washington, and Saturday is walk-up only on E. Liberty.  An expanded selection of Michigan and State merch now available!


"A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps"

Documentary that celebrates the past and future of the Peace Corps, which was created from an impromptu speech from President John F. Kennedy more than 55 years ago from the steps of the Michigan Union at the University of Michigan. 
Directed by Alana DeJoseph and narrated by Annette Bening, the documentary features indelible interviews of current and returned Peace Corps Volunteers, current and former staff, scholars and journalists, community members, and leaders around the world (including Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf).  Remarkable archival materials and stunning footage from around the globe by cinematographer Vanessa Carr bring to life an agency that represents to the world the American idea.  By expertly weaving together personal volunteer experiences with the political machinations of the time, screenwriter Shana Kelly provides viewers with a visceral experience of Kennedy’s words “what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
"Shooting Life"

Part of Cinetopia-AAJFF's A Summer of Film series.  While helping his war-weary students find their own voices, a high school teacher attempts to start a new life in an Israeli town perpetually in danger, in this teen drama.  Yigal (Mickey Leon), a middle-aged divorcé and unemployed film director from Tel Aviv, accepts a position teaching filmmaking in Sderot, near the Gaza border where air raid sirens and missile attacks are ubiquitous.  Though they’re slow to warm to him, he gains his 12th-grade students’ trust by coaxing them to film their own stories of love and loss.  With their cameras on themselves, they connect with family members, discovering secrets about their lives.  But Yigal’s fervent commitment to honest self-expression leads some kids into conflict with their parents, and puts him at odds with his school principal.  Bolstered by a strong ensemble cast of up-and-coming young actors, this engrossing coming-of-age story ponders, from the next generation’s viewpoint, the shattered dreams and future hopes of the Middle East.


Part of Cinetopia-AAJFF's A Summer of Film series.  Noam, 16, was born as a girl to a religious family in a settlement in Samariah and studied at an all-girl religious school; Ofri, 16, always was the cool girl who played soccer with the boys, but inside he always knew he was a boy.  Romy, 16, was born as a boy to a secular family but as soon as she started playing with dolls, her parents signed her up to a religious school.  Liron, 17, grew up hiding behind different costumes, including a phase of heavy makeup, and shiny dresses, before he was ready to face his true self.  This film sheds light on the personal and social effects of youth gender reassignment in present-day Israel.  It examines the challenges faced by adolescents and their families during the complex yet delicate process of gender transitioning, which entails many fateful and irreversible courses of action. Adolescence years are commonly, and naturally charged.  The gender transformation is not the only challenge in these teenagers lives; common issues, events, and dilemmas that apply to most teenagers are always in the background.


Movie Night

This is an online platform where new films will “screen” nationwide at a set time and be followed by interactive, live-streamed Q&A’s.  Every audience member who buys a “ticket” will be able to select their favorite local independent cinema to receive the net proceeds of their purchase, as well as make a donation, in an effort to ensure the art house theaters we love so dearly live on.

"It's a Disaster" is a 2012 American art-house black comedy film written and directed by Todd Berger.  The film was made by Los Angeles-based comedy group The Vacationeers and stars Rachel Boston, David Cross, America Ferrera, Jeff Grace, Erinn Hayes,Kevin M. Brennan, Blaise Miller, Julia Stiles, and Todd Berger.

Take part in a fun, one night only online screening of the quarantine comedy, plus live stream Q&A with the filmmaker and entire cast including David Cross and Julia Stiles this Friday, July 17 at 8 PM ET.  Buy a ticket for $12 and choose The Michigan Theater to help support us!

Mindfulness Bundle Now Available!

Rent The Mindfulness Movement and receive a promo code to stream the meditative film and MTF Original, The Motions of Stillness, for FREE.

  • "The Mindfulness Movement"--How mindfulness – the state of focusing on the present moment without judgment – is the key to creating a healthier and happier world.
  • "The Motions of Stillness"--AN MTF ORIGINAL.  Watch this original film from Jared Van Eck, Michigan Theater Technical Director, and local musician.  Inspired by the snowfall in March and isolation due to the pandemic, this film aims to encourage the viewer to still themselves, focus on deep breaths, and reflect on the simple beauty of falling snow.


"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. 

“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.

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.

"The Tobacconist"

Part of Cinetopia-AAJFF's A Summer of Film series.  A tender, heartbreaking story about one young man and his friendship with Sigmund Freud during the Nazi occupation of Vienna.  Stars Bruno Ganz as Freud.  The Tobacconist Q&A – Join a Facebook Live Q&A with The Tobacconist director Nikolaus Leytner hosted by the Gene Siskel Film Center on Thursday, July 16 at 6 PM ET.

"Waiting for the Barbarians"

From Director Ciro Guerra ("Embraacing the Serpent," "Birds of Passage") and starring Mark RylanceJohnny Depp, and Robert Pattinson.  The Magistrate (Mark Rylance) of an isolated frontier settlement on the border of an unnamed empire looks forward to an easy retirement until the arrival of Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp), whose task it is to report on the activities of the "barbarians" and on the security situation on the border.

"Guest of Honour"

Jim (David Thewlis) and his daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), a high school music teacher, attempt to unravel their complicated histories and intertwined secrets.

"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.

“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!


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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— 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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