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Cinema Chat: Ann Arbor Theater Reopening Plans, International Oscar Submission Showcase, And More

Michigan Theater
The Michigan Theater

A New Year has arrived, and the Michigan Theater and State Theatre plan on reopening their doors to the public.  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair talks to Michigan Theater Foundation executive director Russ Collins about the reopening plans and the new flicks you can check out through the Michigan Theater's Virtual Movie Palace.


The State and Michigan Theaters in downtown Ann Arbor were given permission by the State of Michigan to reopen on December 21, 2020.  The management of these historic theaters, for reasons of safety, decided to delay the theaters opening for regular public screenings for three reasons:

  1. The rise in the infection rate due to post-Christmas/New Year holiday friends and family gatherings.
  2. Consumer concerns about a new, more infectious strain of the COVID-19 virus.
  3. A paucity of current film releases making programming the theaters of limited appeal.

By the end of January, the theater’s management believes the uptick of COVID-19 infections in Washtenaw county due to holiday gatherings will be declining and the vaccine implementation rate will be accelerating.

The Michigan and State theater’s management is confident that, even now, because these historic venues implemented and tested safety protocols when the theaters briefly reopened in October, that customers will be as safe as possible when they come to and are in these lovely historic theaters.

Consequently, Individuals and Organizations Can NOW Rent the State or Michigan Theaters

Currently, the theaters are available for private rental use by any interested person or organization who agrees to abide by government, health department and the theater’s own established health and safety guidelines.


Starting in late January, the State and Michigan theaters plan to reopen gradually with special film screenings and programs for the general public.  The first public event will be January 30 or 31, pending final confirmation.  It will be a screening, presented with live musical accompaniment, of A HERO FOR A NIGHT, a rare opportunity to see the film that opened the Michigan Theater 93 years ago.  In February and March, occasional cinema and performing arts events will be presented at both the State and Michigan.  Examples of the types of occasional programs which will be presented are:

  • Special and limited screenings, especially of movies expected to be nominated for Academy Awards.
  • Concerts, lectures, educational programs.
  • Most of these occasional events will be open to the public (ticketed or free with sponsor support).
  • Some events will be by invitation only for members, sponsors, etc.
  • Programs may also celebrate holidays and historic events; e.g., Michigan Theater 93rd anniversary, Valentine’s Day, Black History Month, President’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, State Theatre’s 79th anniversary, Golden Globes, Oscars and other movie awards.

After April 1, 2021, the theater’s management expects to host a regular program of public movie screenings and other special events.  These regular programs of events will continue throughout the Spring and Summer.

Looking towards later this year, specifically in September or October of 2021, it is expected “herd immunity” could be achieved and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated that movie and performing arts venues like the State and Michigan theaters should be able to return to nearly normal operations.

As mentioned above, the theaters are currently available to individuals and organizations for private rental use.  Private rentals can take the form of movie screenings at the theater, group video gaming, a special date, celebration or “pod” gathering, rehearsal, video or audio recording and so on.  The State and Michigan theaters are willing to be flexible to renters’ needs to the extent allowable by State of Michigan and Washtenaw County regulations and technical capabilities.

Even now, with the theaters being closed, the Michigan’s renowned popcorn and other concession items will be offered 1-2 days per week.  Also, the Virtual Movie Palace, which is available online at “michtheater.org,” will continue.  The Virtual Movie Palace currently features over 30 movies and online programs, and new programs are added weekly. For example . . .

Virtual Movie Trivia TONIGHT Thursday, January 14 at 7 PM!

Tickets are $5 per team.  Sign up now and make sure to play each week in January as the highest overall score wins their name up on our Michigan Theater marquee.

Curbside Concessions returns Fridays in January!

Order in advance and pick up at the Michigan Theater between 5-7 PM.  Walk-ups also welcome.


Let’s talk Oscars.  Last Friday we launched a virtual series showcasing a new international feature every week that’s been officially selected to represent its home nation at the 2021 Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film.

Available Now!

"Blizzard of Souls"- Latvia’s Official Submission

After losing his mother and his home, Arturs finds some consolation in joining the army.  However, war is nothing like he imagined. this is the highest grossing Latvian film in decades and the first narrative feature from documentary director Dzintars Dreibergs.  Based on the novel by Aleksandrs Grīns describing his experience as a rifleman in World War I, and later in the Latvian War of Independence, it’s a film that tells the expected “war is hell” narrative but expands beyond that to explore a story of growth, both in its protagonist and in the greater Latvian people. 

"Another Round" - Denmark’s Official Submission

Four friends, all high school teachers, test a theory that they will improve their lives by maintaining a constant level of alcohol in their blood.

"Collective"- Romania’s Official Submission

This film is a gripping, real-time docu-thriller that follows a heroic team of journalists as they expose shocking corruption in the Romanian national health-care system.

Opens Friday, January 15

"My Little Sister"- Switzerland’s Official Submission

Lisa has bid goodbye to her ambitions as a playwright and the Berlin arts scene and now lives in Switzerland with her husband, who runs an international school.  When her twin brother falls ill, she returns to Berlin.

Opens Friday, January 22

"You Will Die at Twenty" - Sudan’s Official Submission

Shortly after Muzamil was born, the village’s holy man predicts that he will die at age 20.  Muzamil’s father can’t stand the curse and leaves home.  Sakina raises her son as a single mother, overly protective.  One day, Muzamil turns 19.

Opens Friday, January 29

"True Mothers" - Japan’s Official Submission

A woman with an adopted child is contacted unexpectedly by the child’s birth mother.

Opens Friday, February 5

"Two of Us (Deux)" - France’s Official Submission

Starring legendary German actress Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallieras two retired women who have been secretly in love for decades.


"The Reason I Jump"

Based on the best-selling book by Naoki Higashida, this film is an immersive cinematic exploration of neurodiversity through the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people from around the world.  The film blends Higashida’s revelatory insights into autism, written when he was just 13, with intimate portraits of five remarkable young people.  It opens a window for audiences into an intense and overwhelming, but often joyful, sensory universe.  Moments in the lives of each of the characters are linked by the journey of a young Japanese boy through an epic landscape; narrated passages from Naoki’s writing reflect on what his autism means to him and others, how his perception of the world differs, and why he acts in the way he does: the reason he jumps.  The film distils these elements into a sensually rich tapestry that leads us to Naoki’s core message: not being able to speak does not mean there is nothing to say.  

"Some Kind of Heaven"

With this film, first-time feature directorLance Oppenheim cracks the manicured facade of The Villages, America’s largest retirement community – a massive, self-contained utopia located in Central Florida.  Behind the gates of this palm tree-lined fantasyland, the film invests in the dreams and desires of a small group of Villages residents – and one interloper – who are unable to find happiness within the community’s pre-packaged paradise.  With strikingly composed cinematography, this candy-colored documentary offers a tender and surreal look at the never-ending quest for finding meaning and love in life’s final act. 

"Acasa, My Home"

In the wilderness of the Bucharest Delta, an abandoned water reservoir just outside the bustling metropolis, the Enache family lived in perfect harmony with nature for two decades, sleeping in a hut on the lakeshore, catching fish barehanded, and following the rhythm of the seasons.  When this area is transformed into a public national park, they are forced to leave behind their unconventional life and move to the city, where fishing rods are replaced by smartphones and idle afternoons are now spent in classrooms.  As the family struggles to conform to modern civilization and maintain their connection to each other and themselves, they each begin to question their place in the world and what their future might be.  With their roots in the wilderness, the nine children and their parents struggle to find a way to keep their family united in the concrete jungle.  With an empathetic and cinematic eye, filmmaker Radu Ciorniciuc offers viewers, in his feature debut, a compelling tale of an impoverished family living on the fringes of society in Romania, fighting for acceptance and their own version of freedom. 

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

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