The four-year-old Cinetopia International Film Festival continued to grow in 2015. New venues this year included several well-known alternative film theaters (Maple Theater, Redford Theatre, and Senate Theater).

The choice of theaters has grown so much that this year the festival expanded from four days over one weekend to 10 days that stretched over two weekends.

The first weekend focused on Detroit-area theaters, with the second in Ann Arbor, where the festival began in 2012. In between was a week long Ann Arbor tribute to Orson Welles, who was born 100 years ago this year.

I attended screenings at six different theaters, and for the first time, bought a pass so that I could take in as much as possible. It was especially fun to see how newcomers like the Senate and Redford joined in. At both theaters, there was enthusiasm and a partial sense of ownership in a festival that the Michigan Theater launched in 2012.

My Cinetopia journey got off to a busy start on Saturday, June 6 when I attended an 11:30 a.m. screening of The Incredible Adventure of Jojo (And His Annoying Little Sister Avila) at the Detroit Film Theatre.

Like many Cinetopia films, this screening included a personal visit by a filmmaker. Co-director Brian von Schmidt talked about the very personal effort it took to create the quirky and funny Jojo, which co-starred his daughter Avila in some often scary looking situations.

After Jojo, I had some lunch in the cafeteria of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and then walked down the hallway to the DIA Lecture Hall for a 2:30 p.m. screening of short films that were shown at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. An added treat was an introduction by Michigan Theater Executive Director and CEO Russ Collins, whom I’m used to seeing at the Michigan.

After a wide variety of films that included the magical World of Tomorrow, I walked out into the narrow hallway outside the Lecture Hall, where people were excitedly talking about what they had just seen and what they might see next. I fell into a flow of people that was headed towards the DFT, where another movie was about to start.

I had other plans, so I walked outside towards the John R parking lot. It was a beautiful sunny day, a little on the cool side.

But the day was still filled with that sense of optimism and expectation that suffuses many things in early summer. That optimism was evident on the back steps of the DFT auditorium, where two elegantly dressed wedding parties were posing for pictures.

I then headed over to the Senate Theater for a 5 p.m. screening of the documentary Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s World.

This was the first half of a science fiction double feature at the Senate that also included the 1984 film Dune. Dark Star was a fascinating journey into the mind, emotions, and creative impulses of H. R. Giger, who created art that was both profound and disturbing.

After Dark Star, I headed home to rest up for an epic day of classic film-going at the Redford on Sunday, June 7. It started with a 2 p.m. screening of the silent 1927 film Wings, with organ accompaniment by Stephen Warner.

This 144-minute World War I drama was followed at 6 p.m. by the 218-minute World War I drama Lawrence of Arabia. This 1962 epic was a 70-millimeter print that brought more depth and texture to this already compelling account of the Mideast’s role in World War I.

On Monday, June 8, I headed over to the Michigan Theater for a double feature of films that were related to the Orson Welles Symposium at the University of Michigan.

First up was a 4 p.m. screening of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Welles’ first movie after his celebrated 1941 debut film, Citizen Kane.

Later, at 7 p.m., I attended a showing of excerpts from several of Welles’ unfinished projects, including a solo performance of Moby Dick. The Unknown Orson Welles Program 1 was hosted by Munich Film Museum curator Stefan Droessler, who has done much work to restore Welles’ movies.

The next weekend, I took a break from Cinetopia to host an informational table at the Redford for three showings of the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Dial M for Murder on June 12 and 13.

I was back in Ann Arbor on Sunday, June 14, for the final day of the festival. I first visited the Modern Languages Building at the University of Michigan, where I saw the historical drama To Life. This screening in Auditorium 2 was more comfortable and more conducive to film watching than I expected for a college classroom.

Then I finished up at the main auditorium of the Michigan Theater, the birthplace of Cinetopia, where I watched the documentary The Russian Woodpecker. This drama took viewers deep inside the culture, history, and politics of Ukraine.

The Russian Woodpecker showed the people of Ukraine struggling to understand past events like the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and current events like the ongoing tensions with Russia.

So concluded an amazing stretch of movie watching. Like maybe many other Cinetopia visitors, I was both amazed and challenged by the choices of this year’s festival.

The festival might have reached a saturation point, where pass holders struggled to figure out which movie to watch, especially on days like Sunday, June 7, with films at nine theaters in Detroit and its suburbs. Maybe it’s time to let the Cinetopia audiences grow at each theater, without any other theaters added for a few years.

But that is a good problem to have—the wide variety of films to show, and the many different and unique theaters that are participating.

This year’s festival also had some personal meaning for me. It was the first event to combine the resources of the three theaters that I write about in this website (DFT, Michigan, Redford). It was the culmination of a dream to feel the combined energies of the theaters come together.

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Copyright © 2015 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.


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