Cinema Chat: State Theatre In Ann Arbor Opens Friday, Michigan Theater To Open Sunday!

Oct 8, 2020

Inside the State Theatre in Ann Arbor
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons /

For the first time in seven months, the Michigan Theater and State Theatre will open their doors to the public!  In this week's "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair and Michigan Theater Foundation CEO and executive director Russ Collins discuss the reopening and the first round of films available to you.  


Great movies!  Limited screenings.  Lots of work and concern about customer (and staff) safety!


Having been closed since March 16th, nearly seven months, the historic Michigan Theater and State Theatre in downtown Ann Arbor will begin a safe and carefully thought-out reopening process on Friday, October 9th, in accordance with (and above and beyond) State of Michigan orders and regulations. 

Both theaters will open for one screening per day (to allow for special cleaning) with 100% fresh heated or cooled (as needed) outside air, socially distanced and strictly limited seating capacity (limited to 20% or less of capacity), no-touch ticketing, and temperatures taken as movie goers enter the buildings.  Masks will be mandatory at all times and concessions (including their renowned popcorn) will only be available as patrons leave the theater.  Starting Friday, October 9, movie lovers and Michigan Theater Foundation members can see acclaimed first-run films on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Tuesdays. 

The State Theatre will open Friday, October 9 with a screening of Trial of the Chicago 7, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin.  The Michigan Theater opens Sunday, October 11 with screenings of the acclaimed The Personal History of David Copperfield starring Dev Patel and The Forty-Year-Old Version, a hit from this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  For more information and screening times, visit

Customer health and safety before, during and after each film screening, are the theaters’ top priority.  With funding support from Toyota Motor North America, Research and Development, new health and safety systems and procedures are being implemented to maximize public health in the new movie-going reality during the current pandemic.  These safety systems and procedures include: dynamic ticketing allowing family, couples or “pods” to sit together AND ensure safe social distancing inside the theaters; enhanced cleaning procedures; safety shields at all points of public contact with staff; and updated HVAC systems to guarantee 100% fresh air flow.  An extensive COVID-19 Safety Plan that will guide the community through the new procedures and answer questions that might arise is available at  Questions and concerns can be sent to

Russ Collins, Executive Director & CEO of the Michigan Theater Foundation says: “We’re excited to reopen and welcome back the community to these beloved and historic theaters.  Over the past six months we have had many thoughtful conversations about how we can safely reopen to ensure the health and safety of our guests and staff.  With the help of Toyota, we have put in place equipment and procedures to ensure everyone's safety and comfort as we reopen again as a community space.  We are so happy to be able to reopen on October 9th and encourage any and all to provide feedback and express their concerns. 

On behalf of the entire Michigan Theater Foundation, I’d like to express how grateful we are for the extraordinary support and enthusiasm we have continued to receive from our donors, sponsors, and community members. It is because of you that we are able to open our doors again, to safely bring back the “normal” joys of cinema and getting out of the house to Ann Arbor’s Downtown."


"The Trial of the Chicago 7"-- OCTOBER 9 & 10 AT THE STATE THEATRE

Aaron Sorkin’s film is the rare drama about the 1960s that’s powerful and authentic and moving enough to feel as if it were taking place today.  Sorkin doesn’t just re-stage the infamous trial, in which a motley crew of anti-war leaders were charged with plotting to stir up violence at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.  He jumps into the trial, goes outside the trial, cuts back to the demonstrations, and leads us into the combustible clash of personalities that was going on behind the scenes — the way, for instance, that the Yippie ringleader Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), with his viper’s grin and showbiz-ready revolution-for-the-hell-of-it bravura, and Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), the buttoned-down, furrowed-brow cofounder of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), neither like nor trust one another, in part because they have a deep rift: Do you work to change the system from within, or jolt the system with shock therapy? (The movie’s answer is: both.)

The Chicago 7 trial was a circus, an outsize burlesque of a trial, yet it was also a deeply serious battle over who can say what — and how — in America.  And that’s the level of import that Sorkin keys into. Early on, John Mitchell (John Doman), the U.S. attorney general under Nixon, summons Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Thomas Foran (J.C. Mackenzie), the ’50s-straight-arrow prosecutors he has chosen to handle to case, to his office, and tells them that a Justice Department investigation concluded that the Chicago demonstrations violated no federal law.

The performances are rich, avid, juicy, and, in several cases, memorable.  Sacha Baron Cohen may be a head taller than the real Abbie Hoffman, but he catches the exuberance of Hoffman’s rascal Jewish charisma — the haughty Boston accent and fun-loving literacy, and the moral gravity that centered everything he said.  Eddie Redmayne, pale with gravitas, makes Tom Hayden the slightly uptight soul of the New Left, and John Carroll Lynch, as Dellinger, has one of the most moving moments in the film when he lets down his pacifist guard and slugs a court official.  A delectable actor I won’t name plays Ramsey Clarke, the previous (uncorrupt) attorney general, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II invests Bobby Seale with an incendiary awareness of how a rotting legal system is out to railroad him.  The 82-year-old Frank Langella, as Judge Hoffman, does something uncanny.  With his shiny reptilian eyes and lordly scowl, he digs into this grumpy old man, full of bitter decorum, and makes him the embodiment of a world that will do anything to hold onto its power.

The trial, as Sorkin presents it, is really about the soul of America — the ability to protest, to question the most fundamental actions of the government.  The overlap between the 1968 Chicago protests and the Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place this year is all too obvious.  Yet the true parallel, I think, is that “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is really about what it looks like when a society starts to treat people speaking freely as if they were doing something dangerous. The movie reminds you, quite stirringly, that the Chicago 7 weren’t attacking America.  They were upholding it.

"The Personal History of David Copperfield"-- OCTOBER 11 & 13 AT THE STATE THEATRE

A fresh and distinctive take on Charles Dickens' semi-autobiographical masterpiece, this film, set in the 1840s, chronicles the life of its iconic title character as he navigates a chaotic world to find his elusive place within it.  From his unhappy childhood to the discovery of his gift as a storyteller and writer, David's journey is by turns hilarious and tragic, but always full of life, color and humanity.

"The Forty-Year-Old Version"-- OCTOBER 11 & 13 AT THE MICHIGAN THEATER 

This Sundance favorite is the rare cinema offerings of something so unique and complex yet so accessible.  The auteur and subject is Radha Blank, who has assembled an amalgam of excellent writing, directing and acting for an autobiographical feature about her experiences as a writer in New York.  Radha is a playwright chasing bigger ambitions, trying to produce a show about gentrification.  But white Broadway manager Josh (Reed Birney) strongly believes she needs to add a Caucasian character, Blank writes a Harriet Tubman musical instead. Whilst the protagonist struggles in the world of theatre despite encouragement from her agent and best friend Archie (Peter Y. Kim), Radha returns to her hip-hop roots, seeking out the help of a DJ named D (Oswin Benjamin).  Both endeavors are keenly supported by her class of young acting students, who love “Miss B” in every way. This indie film within a mainstream framework examines various social and cultural issues from an entirely new perspective.  Radha Blank captures the collateral relationship between hip-hop and theatre, the singular mood of New York and the unstructured life of a 40-year-old Black woman all under one umbrella.  It’s a total original and wonderful to behold.

"On the Rocks"-- OCTOBER 16-18 & 20 AT THE STATE THEATRE

Set in a world of privilege and sophistication, Laura (Rashida Jones) thinks she’s happily married with two daughters.  But when her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) starts logging late hours at the office with a new co-worker, Laura begins to fear the worst.  She turns to the one man she suspects may have insight: her charming and impulsive father Felix (Bill Murray), who insists they investigate the situation.  As the two begin prowling New York at night, careening from uptown parties to downtown hotspots, they discover at the heart of their journey lies their own relationship.  This is a charming father-daughter tale about rekindling fractured relationships and understanding the frazzles life can throw at you.”  Directed by Sofia Coppola.


Whether you see this film as refreshingly unique or simply bizarre will depend on your cinematic adventurousness -- and fans of writer-director Miranda July wouldn't have it any other way.

Two con artists have spent 26 years training their only daughter to swindle, scam, and steal at every turn.  During a desperate and hastily conceived heist, they charm a stranger into joining them, only to have their entire world turned upside down.  Writer/director Miranda July.  Starring Richard Jenkins ("The Last Shift"), Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, DaVine Joy Randolph ("The Last Shift").

"Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something"-- OCTOBER 18 & 20 AT THE MICHIGAN THEATER

Harry Chapin’s life story receives the big screen treatment with a loving documentary.  The release date, October 16, is also World Food Day — a respectful gesture to the late singer, who co-founded the influential hunger non-profit WhyHunger.  Chapin was a songwriter’s songwriter, weaving detailed imagery in his songs, guided by his moral compass.  “Taxi,” “Cat’s In The Cradle,” “Circle” “Remember When The Music” are among the few songs that have become standards worthy of an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  The film includes archival concert footage of Chapin and his band, along with vintage and new interviews with those who knew him best: his wife Sandy, brothers Tom and Steve, along with commentary from Billy Joel, Pete Seeger, Kenny Rogers, Robert Lamm (Chicago), Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Pat Benatar, Bob Geldof, Ken Kragen, longtime bassist John Wallace, and WhyHunger co-founder Bill Ayres.

A2 Quarantine Creature Feature

Cat over the Michigan Theater
Credit Michigan Theater /

Is your cat hilarious?  Is your dog a ham?  Does your marmot love to perform?  Submit your footage to the A2 Quarantine Creature Feature, our own compilation film starring your pets to be released virtually.  Deadline for submissions is October 23, so get recording!


Support young independent filmmakers!

Join us for two live table reads featuring screenwriters from U-M’s Department of Film Television and Media.  Tuesday, October 13 at 6:30 & 7:30 PM on Facebook Live.

"Once Upon a River"

If asked to provide a simple description of this film, the debut film from writer/director Haroula Rose adapted from the 2011 novel of the same name by Michigan author Bonnie Jo Campbell, I would say it’s both an American gothic tale set in 1977 Michigan and Alice in Wonderland meets Huckleberry Finn.  But it’s not so simple.  The film is a complex, coming-of-age parable set in a very specific time and place, and makes you feel nostalgic for it, even if it’s an era you never personally experienced.  I can recommend the novel just as strongly as the film, and I’m very excited to talk with Bonnie Jo Campbell, Haroula Rose, and producer David Macias this Saturday at 5:00 PM on the Michigan Theater’s Facebook Live!  It should be a very spirited conversation, and I hope to see your comments and questions so be sure to set a reminder.


This is a feature-length documentary that explores the nexus of art, race, and justice through the story of art collector and philanthropist Agnes “Aggie” Gund’s life.  Emmy-nominated director Catherine Gund focuses on her mother’s journey to give viewers an understanding of the power of art to transform consciousness and inspire social change.  Aggie is internationally recognized for her robust and prescient support of artists– particularly women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) – and her unwavering commitment to social justice issues.  After falling in love with art as a high-school student, Aggie discovers a new way of looking at the world.  The film opens with Aggie selling Roy Lichtenstein’s “Masterpiece” for $165 million to start the Art for Justice Fund.  The proceeds from one of the highest grossing artworks ever sold fuel a monumental effort to reform the American criminal justice system and end mass incarceration.  The film captures Aggie as a true maverick who demonstrates the unique role and potential of collectors and benefactors to use art to fight justice.  This is untapped terrain, and we see Aggie leading the way.


"Oliver Sacks: His Own Life"

These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary people and Oliver Sacks, the late neurologist and author, was just that.  Though he died five years ago, his eccentric personality uplifts the new documentary as he recounts his career and upbringing while ailing from terminal cancer.

Sacks would not allow his diagnosis to dampen his desire to remain a shining example of empathy and positivity; traits that could find energy and life in his most destitute patients.  And in this practice, and in the lining of this film, Sacks shows us that he is not a rare extraordinary person but rather that we are all, in fact, extraordinarily unique individuals.

You can read a wonderful essay by Nick Alderink, Programming & Media Coordinator about this film at the Michigan Theater website:


U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg developed a lengthy legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon in her 80s.  From Betsy West and Julie Cohen, and co-produced by Storyville Films and CNN Films, the Oscar-nominated documentary explores the unique personal journey of her rise to the nation’s highest court.  A journey that was largely unknown, even to some of her biggest fans.

A portion of all ticket sales will be donated to the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, which was co-founded by Justice Ginsburg in 1972.  Thank you to our partners at Magnolia Pictures.

"Meeting the Beatles in India"

Filmmaker Paul Saltzman retraces his journey of 50 years ago when he spent a life-changing time with the Beatles at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram on the banks of the Ganges River.  In 1968, he discovered his own soul, learned meditation, which changed his life, and hung out with John, Paul, George, and Ringo.  Fifty years later, he finds “Bungalow Bill” in Hawaii, connects with David Lynch about his own inner journey as well as preeminent Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, Academy Award nominated film composer Laurence Rosenthal, and Pattie and Jenny Boyd.  And much of this is due to Saltzman’s own daughter, Devyani, reminding him that he had put away and forgotten these remarkably intimate photographs of that time in 1968.

Pre-order before September 11, 2020, to have a chance at winning Paul Saltzman’s autographed book “The Beatles in India – Special Limited Edition Book.”

"Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President"

If it hadn’t been for a bottle of scotch and a late-night visit from musician Gregg Allman, Jimmy Carter might never have been elected the 39th President of the United States.  The documentary charts the mostly forgotten story of how Carter, a lover of all types of music, forged a tight bond with musicians Willie Nelson, the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan and others.  Low on campaign funds and lacking in name recognition, Carter relied on support from these artists to give him a crucial boost in the Democratic primaries. Once Carter was elected, the musicians became frequent guests in the White House.  The surprisingly significant role that music played throughout Carter’s life and in his work becomes a thread in this engaging portrait of one of the most enigmatic Presidents in American history.

"Supa Modo"

2018 Cinetopia audience favorite!  Jo, a witty 9-year old terminally ill girl is taken back to her rural village to live out the rest of her short life. Her only comfort during these dull times are her dreams of being a Superhero, which prove to be something her rebellious teenage sister Mwix, overprotective mother Kathryn, and the entire village of Maweni think they can fulfill. 

"Love & Busking (Fiction & Other Realities)"

2019 Cinetopia Audience Favorite!  Bobby Choy, a.k.a. singer-songwriter Big Phony, makes his directorial debut with this intimate semi-biographical musical drama.  Bobby, a struggling Korean American singer-songwriter in New York, is suddenly given an opportunity to travel as a roadie for his best friend’s electro-pop band on a world tour.  When they arrive in Seoul, Bobby decides to ditch the band and stay in this “land where everyone looks like him” to investigate a feeling that could potentially fill a major void in his life.  He befriends Ina, a Korean busker facing her own personal struggles.  They seem to find success as they lean on each other for support.

"Space Dogs"

Laika, a stray dog, was the first living being to be sent into space and thus to a certain death.  According to a legend, she returned to Earth as a ghost and has roamed the streets of Moscow ever since.  Following her trace, and filmed from a dog’s perspective, the film accompanies the adventures of her descendants: two street dogs living in today’s Moscow.  Their story is one of intimate fellowship but also relentless brutality, and is interwoven with unseen archive material from the Soviet cosmic era.  A magical tale of voyagers scouting for unknown spaces.

Warning: SPACE DOGS is Not Rated, and contains some graphic content and scenes of animal violence that some viewers, especially cat lovers, may find distressing.  Viewer discretion is advised.

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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