OpEd: Your Guide to the Cinetopia International Film Festival

Coming live-in-person to the Cinetopia International Film Festival are acclaimed indie film directors Spike Lee, John Sayles and Tommy Oliver, actors Hill Harper ("He Got Game" and" CSI: NY") and David Strathairn (currently in "Godzilla" and featured in "Lincoln") and 30 more featured players, directors, screenwriters and producers from around the world. Great films in Detroit and Ann Arbor with live-in-person filmmakers - what could be better for movie mavens or anyone looking for a great and rewarding experience?

The Cinetopia Festival is bringing the best films from the world's best film festivals to Detroit and Ann Arbor June 4-8. The Cinetopia Festival will screen films at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the College for Creative StudiesCharles Wright MuseumArab-American MuseumCinema Detroit, and, in Ann Arbor, at the Michigan and State Theaters and on the University of Michigan campus.

If you have not been to a film festival before, you might find the notion of sorting through 50 different film titles and over 100 screenings in 10 different locations over five days to be overwhelming. This is completely understandable. As a potential festival filmgoer, whether you are at Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, Venice, Tribecca, SXSW, or (especially) at the Cinetopia Festival, it is beneficial to learn "How to Festival." 

The best way to festival is to get a pass and go -- as much as you can, for as many days as you can. Know you will bump into filmmakers, mostly talented folks who are not in the pages of People magazine or flickering in front of you on TMZ, but who are gifted and may soon be a widely recognized celebrity. Discovering them at this year's festival will, in years to come, allow you to say, "I saw or got to know [him or her] at the Cinetopia Festival back in 2014!" 

The way you attend film festival screenings is a bit different than the way you might typically go to a movie. Usually, when you decide to see a film, you set off to see something you already think you will like. If you like comedies, you go to comedy flicks. If you like action, you go to see spectacular car chases and things exploding. If you like rom-coms or documentaries, you seek those out. At a film festival, you should look for films you think you might enjoy; however, it is the sense of discovery, surprise, and mystery that make going to film festivals so fun and rewarding. 

Since films at festivals are early in their release schedule, there are not a large number of reviews to consult and few ads online or on TV. Some of the best and most rewarding film festival movies I have seen were films I stumbled into like "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Searching for Sugarman," a pro-nuclear energy documentary at the very "green" and liberal Sundance Film Festival, and a joyous, candy-colored Russian musical comedy (I know, it sounds impossible and bizarre) called "Hipster," to name a few. Discovery, intrigue and never knowing what might be next makes festival-going so great.

To check out the entire roster of films and special events at the Cinetopia Festival,click here for a PDF copy of the Cinetopia Festival Guide. And, if your approach to life is a bit more structured than mine, feel free to use the list below to structure your Cinetopia Festival experience:

1. "1982" -- Hill Harper ("He Got Game") stars and the legendary Ruby Dee plays his mother in a compelling family drama. Director Tommy Oliver and several cast members will be at this Cinetopia "Red Carpet" opener.

2. "The Skeleton Twins" -- SNL's Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, was well as Ty Burrell and Luke Wilson star in a sibling comedy that won Best Screenplay award at Sundance.

3. The John Sayles Symposium -- June 4 at North Quad. John Sayles himself, Mary Cybulski (Script Supervisor), Mason Daring (Composer), Maggie Renzi (Producer), and David Strathairn (Actor: "Good Night and Good Luck," "Lincoln"). We will also play three Sayles films: 1) "Go For Sisters" (his latest), 2) "Silver City," and 3) "Lone Star"

4. Spike Lee hosts a private screening on Friday, June 6. Buy a Cinetopia pass and qualify for a chance to gain admission.

5. "To Be Takei" -- Great documentary on actor George Takei, who played Sulu in Star Trek , as a child was in a Japanese internment camp and is currently a social media star and gay activist

6. "Obvious Child" -- Jenny Slate is a stand-up comedian with problems, but comedian's problems are always funnier! A Sundance standout.

7. Three fabulously popular Chinese films -- 1) "A Touch of Sin," 2) "Finding Mr. Right," and 3) "Lilting"

8. "Coherence" -- a much buzzed about Sci Fi film; a "Twilight Zone" for the 21st century

9. "War Story" -- Ben Kingsley and Catherine Keener star in an edge-of-the-seat tale that urges you to piece together a stressed Middle East war photographer's (Keener) elusive story

10. "Jingle Bell Rocks" -- a hilarious and surprising documentary about a sub-culture of people who collect (mostly bad) Christmas music.

BUT, you might also what to consider: "Deep City: Birth of the Miami Sound," "Paris or Perish," "Hannah's Journey," "White Shadow," "The Better Angels," "Rich Hill," "The Dog," "The Congress," "The Case Against 8"... or THE ENTIRE LINE UP (this is just a sample, over 50 different films will be shown during Cinetopia)!

Detroit and Southeast Michigan deserve a wonderful world-class film festival -- because Detroit is world-class on so many levels: sports teams, venues, restaurants, arts institutions, businesses, and so much more. Come out to support Cinetopia and help it grow into the great festival Detroit deserves. But more importantly, come out to the Cinetopia Festival because you will have a great time! 

For tickets, or better still to buy a Cinetopia Festival pass or tickets, go toCinetopiaFestival.org. See or print out the Festival Guide here. I truly hope to see you at Cinetopia!

Russ Collins is a seasoned film festival goer, the executive director of the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, and the festival director of the Cintetopia International Film Festival.
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