The Michigan Theater recently received a special award that gave significant recognition to the quality and variety of its programming. On July 22, 2006, the League of Historic American Theatres presented the Michigan with its Outstanding Historic Theatre Award. According to the LHAT web site, the award recognizes “the highest standards of excellence” in the “vision, execution and service” shown by “an operating historic theatre.”
The award honored not only the film programming and live shows of the Michigan, but also the commitment shown by its staff and volunteers, and by the Ann Arbor area. The Michigan has taken full advantage of its location in a large college town and in an economically vibrant area to thrive and grow as a cultural landmark.
A strength of the Michigan is the breadth of its film programming. It has become a home to almost every kind of movie that isn’t shown at the megaplexes. The daily showings of films in the main auditorium and the Screening Room allow the Michigan to present foreign language films, documentaries, classic American movies, and special programs like the Ann Arbor Film Festival and the Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival.
I started regularly seeing movies at the Michigan about 10 years ago, when I attended a screening of the poignant French film Ponette. I had seen this film at the Detroit Film Theatre a few weeks earlier, and I was so touched by this stirring essay on childhood grief that I had to see it again.
Since then, I’ve enjoyed repeat showings at the Michigan of other DFT films. The Michigan has given me the chance to see movies when I wasn’t able to travel to the DFT because of weather, road construction or my schedule. I once even enjoyed an evening of two DFT films that were screened in the two different auditoriums of the Michigan. You shouldn’t miss the chance to see the premiere of a good film at the DFT, but it’s nice to know that the Michigan is available when you can’t make it to the DFT.
The Michigan also shows many of the films that appear at the two Landmark Theatres art film houses in the Detroit area—the Main and Maple Art Theatres. The daily screenings of films at the Michigan and its partner theater, the State, allows extended runs of American films like Capote, documentaries (March of the Penguins), foreign language films that aren’t shown at the DFT (Water, from India) and British films (Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont).
If you enjoy old American films, the annual Summer Classic Film Series includes movies that range from the 1937 Marx Brothers movie A Day a the Races to the 1991 action flick Terminator 2. At Christmas, the Holiday Classic Film Series presents such well-loved movies as It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet Me in St. Louis, and Miracle on 34th Street. And at Halloween, you can’t miss the annual screening of the silent film Nosferatu, complete with live organ accompaniment.
Old movies are also a part of the programming sponsored by different departments of the University of Michigan. This past year, the UM Program in Film and Video Studies presented an Interior Vision Film Series that included the 1957 Swedish film Wild Strawberries and 2000’s Memento. UM also presented a History of Psychiatry Through Film with screenings of The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Ordinary People (1980) and other films.
What else? The Family-Friendly Film Series that included Charlie Chaplin short films and The Wizard of Oz. Cinemaslam, a monthly program of independent short films. M-Imagination, an annual showcase of short films created by UM students. The current Sundance Institute Art House Film Project. Special film presentations for members of the Michigan. And of course there’s the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which every year takes over the Michigan with a stimulating and unique atmosphere of films and gatherings.
Whew—that’s a lot. If you’ve seen your fill of blockbuster summer movies this year, check out the Michigan or another Detroit Movie Palace for something different.
Copyright © 2006 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.