Cinetopia: Searching for (movie) paradise
Before the screening of Martin Scorcese's "Hugo," in 3D, Michigan Theater executive director Russ Collins was spotlit on the corner of main auditorium stage taking pairs of 3D viewing glasses off the top of his head and describing enthusiastically the wonderful confluence of physiology and technology that makes a blurry, sometimes tinted, 2D image pop out at you across a dark and crowded theater in the illusion of 3D.
"3D is the technology of the future," Collins remarked. "And it always will be."
And, in a weird way, it will also always be the kitschy technology of the past: Yesterday's red and blue colored paper glasses are today's nostalgic props of popcorn munchers at the movies.
That's what you're getting at the first Cinetopia International Film Festival in Ann Arbor. Director Russ Collins wanted to bring a story-driven film festival to Ann Arbor on the scale of festivals in Toronto, Traverse City, Venice and Berlin.
It's like taking the best of the Michigan and State Theaters' already eclectic stable of foreign and independent films and putting them all on in a single weekend alongside the crowd-pleasing blockbuster favorites that turned cinema goers young and old into movie lovers.
"Hugo," the 1954 "Creature from the Black Lagoon," 1969 cult hit "The Stewardesses" and the subversive and funny "Cane Toads: The Conquest" are all being presented in 3D in the main auditorium of the Michigan Theater.
Down the street, foreign films, documentaries, and 1978's "Superman" with Christopher Reeves are playing at the State Theater, with more movies inside of the University of Michigan's Angell Hall.
Scorcese's "Hugo" in 3D seemed like the perfect centerpiece for the festival, a charming and sentimental movie about the power of the cinema to capture, emulate and give life to our dreams. It played on Saturday morning to a theater packed with families and local movie-lovers and fans.
On Friday afternoon, as I stood twirling one of the freely distributed black or white Cinetopia buttons in my hand, I picked a venue at random from the three theaters playing Cinetopia movies, purchased a ticket and walked inside.
I sat down to "Bran Nue Dae," a film Collins was on hand to describe as just like every other Aboriginal, road-trip musical you've ever seen. It was an exuberant and cheerful, magical, heartwarming and loudly proud of the aboriginal heritage that its native cast was struggling to keep alive in the modern world (in between dance numbers).
Call it the pinch in the back of my neck from having to tilt my head back from the very front and center seat for arriving late, or perhaps it's some cynical barrier I've built against musicals and exhibits of unrestrained happiness, but I was bemused but a little disappointed by the spectacle, based on a Broadway play and starring Australian native Geofrrey Rush. My noncommittal shrug at the movie's finale was not echoed by the resounding cheers and raucous applause the packed theater gave during the credits.
On Saturday, in Angell Hall, Cinetopia was screening "5 Broken Cameras," a personal and difficult documentary made by a Palestinian farmer and filmmaker that began chronicling the birth of his fourth son on the day the Israeli military started tearing down half of his family's olive orchard to build a barrier wall protecting the confiscated land for a future Israeli settlement.
Over the course of the next few years, he chronicles the town's mounting protests and resistance movement to the wall and the violent crackdown of the military as his cameras are broken one by one by thrown teargas grenades, Israeli thugs and live bullets fired into the crowds or in his direction during demonstrations that quickly and inevitably turn violent.
It's an intense and challenging movie and was a fitting finale to an arc of Cinetopia festival watching that including musical numbers and twisting 3D clockwork on the animated streets of Paris.
Both "Bran Nue Dae" and "5 Broken Cameras" are playing again tonight (Sunday) at the closing day of Cinetopia as two of the festival's crowd favorites. You can see the schedule for tonight's screenings here at the Michigan Theater website.
If you're looking for a weekend where a slice of the world of cinema—mainstream, cult, classic, doc and indie—are brought to the big screen in Ann Arbor, Cinetopia is paradise found.