The Ann Arbor Art Center held their third and final Pop-In event of the summer last Friday, in collaboration with the Intermitten conference. The conference, which focused on creativity and innovation, took place in Ann Arbor on August 5-6. Curated by Intermitten, this Pop-In event, like the two before it, featured unique art focusing on creating an immersive experience for attendees.
Immediately upon entering the Art Center, the loose, electronic, trippy music of Shigeto enveloped the senses. A large screen showed sporadic movement around an orange-tinted landscape that coordinated with the music. It took a moment to realize that individuals participating in the ICON Interactive virtual reality experience beyond Shigeto’s DJ table were controlling the movement on the screen, and the music itself to a certain extent. Wearing virtual reality goggles and holding a remote-like device that allowed users to “move,” ICON Interactive was definitely a favorite part of the show for many. One young boy became progressively more amazed as he went deeper into the VR world, and volunteers had to stand against the walls near him to protect the art as he jumped around waving the remote wildly.
After ascending the stairs to the Art Center's second floor, visitors were greeted by a large, gray phone booth-like structure with a curtain hanging down from the front side. This installation was Switch Flip, created by Anna Nuxoll and Chris Czub. Described as a “hacked phone booth,” the setting of the piece is the year 2056. As explained by Nuxoll, she and Czub imagined an astronaut who has travelled beyond the solar system, only to realize that someone has been there before. The astronaut finds a series of communications booths, and Switch Flip is meant to be one of them. Inside the booth, along with lights and eerie plants, a telephone sits on a stand with a note inviting users to “dial Earth.” Apparently, upon picking up the phone one would hear an old-fashioned dial up tone, and then could push different buttons to hear up to 30 sound samples, but the Raspberry Pi computer running the exhibit broke just 45 minutes before the show began. The concept and the booth itself were cool, but the piece was marred by the technology failure.
Also on the second floor was the live screen dance piece iSelf, created and performed by Sean Hoskins. The gorgeous space that the Art Center had for this performance added to it immensely; the white walls and hardwood floors offered no distractions from Hoskins, who was framed by the sunlight filtering in through the trees outside the floor-to-ceiling windows on the north side of the building. A white linen cloth cut into three strips hung from the Art Center ceiling and after the lights were dimmed Hoskins stepped forward from a corner of the room saying, “I’d like to start off by introducing myself: me, myself, iSelf,” and commenced his dance. His image was also projected into the strips of cloth using Isadora software. Later in the performance, the images on the screen doubled and viewers saw the differences in the visual field from one frame to the next, and eventually saw Hoskins’ dance on a three second and seven second delay. The entire effect was of multiple dancers that had all choreographed a complicated performance together although it was really just Hoskins, essentially dancing with himself.
The third floor of the Art Center featured very different displays. In one studio, A2ESK8’s electronic skateboard display took up the entire room. Sadly for some, attendees weren’t allowed to actually try out the electronic boards, but there was a video, directed by Rik Cordero, playing continuously showing people riding them. There were five electronic skateboards on display, and they apparently have a top speed of 35-38 miles per hour and a range of 10 miles.
The room across the hall from A2ESK8 featured an origami exhibition by Beth Johnson, along with a demonstration and hands-on opportunity to make one’s own origami creation. Johnson’s origami is not of the usual type. She creates amazing flora and fauna out of earth-toned paper with exquisite detail. This Pulp writer was particularly intrigued by the origami sunflower and the jellyfish that Johnson managed to construct out of paper. Her designs have a distinctly geometric look, giving them all a modern feel that traditional origami lacks. The room was filled with eager amateur origami artists spread out across several tables constructing designs with the aid of books and Johnson herself.
I was delighted by the contrast of Johnson’s origami with the art exhibition by Jeremy Wheeler, which shared the same studio space. Wheeler’s posters often advertise local events past and present—some more obscure than others—and feature big words, bright colors, and eye-catching images. My personal favorite piece was the Boss Hog 2016 tour poster, depicting various people running away from a giant crustacean-like beetle. “17 years in the making! Now they emerge!” cries the poster. “Nothing can prepare you for… BOSS HOG.”
Overall, there cannot be any doubt that the Art Center’s Pop-In series this summer was a success. The diversity of the artists featured, the welcoming and accessible atmosphere that greeted attendees, and the Art Center’s ability to offer it all for free made this event and the two prior a truly special addition to summer in Ann Arbor.
Elizabeth Pearce is a library technician at the Ann Arbor District Library. She has no desire to travel 38 miles per hour on a skateboard but commends those who do.
The University Musical Society (UMS) is seeking applicants for their Wallace Blogging Fellowships. This recently-announced opportunity aims to promote cultural events taking place throughout southeast Michigan, and includes a stipend and special access to UMS events and guests.
So, know anyone in the area who is over 21 and loves the arts? Send the application their way! The deadline to apply is July 15, so get those writing samples ready!
Don’t miss the 26th annual Ann Arbor Jaycees 4th of July parade. Featuring musical groups, floats, and a bicycle-decorating contest, the parade starts at William and State St. at 10 am.
Cobblestone Farm is also celebrating Independence Day - 19th century style - with a reading of the Declaration of Independence, patriotic songs, kids games and farm activities, from noon - 4 pm at Cobblestone Farm, 2781 Packard Rd.
Veterans and active duty military members can enjoy a free screening of the classic World War II film The Dirty Dozen at the Michigan Theater at 1:30 pm. All others pay admission.
Capitol Steps, America’s premier satire group performing political parodies since 1981, is back in town this evening for two concerts at the Power Center, 4pm and 7pm. Tickets are $20 for students, $35, $40, $45.
And if you need an extra dose of patriotism, your local public library has a couple special Independence Day-related collections: First, a Star-Spangled Bannercast, featuring U-M Professor Mark Clague talking about the musical heritage and cultural history of our national anthem; and second, our OldNews local history site has a feature of past Tree Town 4th of July celebrations with photographs and articles from the Ann Arbor News.
Happy Fourth, Ann Arbor!
The Michigan Theater is presenting the "Kerrytown Market & Shops Summer Classic Film series" – and it’s a great way to beat the summer heat with fresh popcorn, the theater’s classic Barton Organ pre-show serenade, as well as unarguable film classics in an equally classic historic auditorium. I’ve seen every one of these films (more than once) and they’re all worth seeing again—especially on the big screen. Here’s the list, and my take on the best reason to see them (again and again):
Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Sunday July 3 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday July 5 at 7:00 pm)
Peter Sellers’ wonderfully weird three-part performance is reason enough. But nothing quite captures our country’s freewheeling Cold War paranoia—or ever ended a movie—like cowboy star Slim Pickens’ yahoo down memory lane: “We’ll meet again, don’t know how, don’t know when….”
The Dirty Dozen (Monday, July 4 at 1:30 pm; free admission for Veterans and Active Duty Military)
Hmm, Lee Marvin in one of his best tough guy roles? Donald Sutherland in his breakout role? John Cassavetes playing the godfather before becoming the Godfather of American Independent Cinema? Nah, see it because dirty rotten American psycho killer bad guys on a suicide mission to beat the real bad guys never grows old.
A Streetcar Named Desire (Sunday, July 10 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, July 12 at 7:00 pm)
Marlon Brando’s tour de force performance volcanically transcends everything else already great about this movie, including its source material (Tennessee Williams), direction (Elia Kazan), and the tragically spot-on fate of Blanche DuBois (played by Vivien Leigh).
Monty Python & The Holy Grail (Sunday, July 17 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, July 19 at 7:00 pm)
“Bring out your dead!” “Here’s one.” “I’m not dead.” “Er, he says he’s not dead.” “Yes he is.” Or “That’s no ordinary rabbit.” “That’s the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!” Or “Ni!” “We are no longer the Knights who say Ni.” (I could go on, but actually my favorite thing about this screening is that it’s sponsored by Knight’s Downtown restaurant.)
Funny Face (Sunday, July 24 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, July 26 at 7:00 pm)
You can never go wrong watching Fred Astaire dance (as well as act and sing a little) or Audrey Hepburn in trademark pedal pushers. Not enough? Try direction by Stanley Donen with music by George and Ira Gershwin. That’s Entertainment!
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Sunday, July 31 at 1:30; Tuesday, August 2 at 7:00 pm)
A serious serial toss up: The score, Eli Wallach, the Mexican standoff in Cinemascope, or Clint Eastwood finally pulling out his trademark cheroot. Sergio Leone set the bar so high in making this one, the tumbleweed genre might as well be retired. They just don’t make westerns like this anymore.
Horse Feathers (Sunday, August 7 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, August 9 at 7:00 pm)
Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo: The Marx Brothers + football. ‘Nuff said.
Fargo (Sunday, August 14 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday August 16 at 7:00 pm)
Arguably the Coen brothers’ best: A pregnant cop utterly unafraid of both killers and the harsh Minnesota landscape? You betcha! Oh…and you’ll never look at a wood chipper quite the same way again.
Sing-A-Long Sound of Music (Sunday, August 21 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, August 23 at 7:00 pm)
Julie Andrews. Check. “Doe—a deer, a female deer.” Check. Christopher Plummer. Check. “Climb ev’ry mountain…” Check. Aw, what the heck, just go again because singing along with the Von Trapp Family to beat the real bad guys never grows old.
Metropolis (Sunday, August 28 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, August 30 at 7:00 pm)
Fritz Lang’s pioneering sci-fi silent feature, with its Art Deco- and German Expressionist-inspired cityscapes is the only movie to out Blade Runner “Blade Runner”; and wow, is that she-bot still intense even after all these years.
To Catch A Thief (Sunday, September 4 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, September 6 at 7:00 pm)
Easily one of the classiest of the master of suspense: Monte Carlo in the 1950s is divine. But go to watch Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in incandescent Technicolor. It’s a good movie, and it’s Hitchcock and all, but it’s really about Grant and Kelly’s unparalleled luminosity on screen.
Casablanca (Monday, September 5 at 7:00; free admission for students with valid ID)
Let’s not kid ourselves: “A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh….” but not when Bogie and Bergman smolder as time goes by. The Michigan Theater’s annual Fall kick-off (and for good reason), is ... er, reason enough. But see it because watching true love outwit really, really bad guys never, ever grows old. Strike up “La Marseillaise!”
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library where she enthusiastically selects classic movies for the DVD and Blu-ray collections.
The Kerrytown Market & Shops Summer Classic Film Series runs all summer long, on Sundays at 1:30 pm and Tuesdays at 7 pm at the Michigan Theater.
Fans of Roald Dahl's 1982 children's book The BFG will find that source text replicated lovingly in Steven Spielberg's new film adaptation–occasionally perhaps with even more detail than they wanted.
Spielberg restages Dahl's tale almost beat for beat, as the stubborn orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is swept away from her orphanage one night by a big friendly giant, or "BFG" (Mark Rylance). The BFG makes an occupation for himself capturing dreams and redistributing them into "human beans'" heads by night, and he takes Sophie back to Giant Country with him for fear she'll expose him to the world. Sophie warms quickly to the plight of the loving but somewhat dimwitted BFG, who is harassed constantly by nine man-eating and considerably larger giants (a voice cast led by Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader). As the giants devour humans by night and plague the BFG by day, Sophie hatches a plan to stop them, requiring the assistance of no less than the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) herself.
It's a common complaint that cinematic adaptations of books deviate too much from their source material, but there are pitfalls in holding too much reverence for the original text as well. Screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who penned classic family flicks including The Black Stallion, E.T., and The Indian in the Cupboard before her death last year, translates Dahl's material to the screen almost directly. The film thankfully wastes no time revealing its title character and whisking Sophie away with him, but from there it occasionally bogs down. Mathison and Spielberg place Dahl's material on a pedestal and just leave it there to be admired at unnecessary length.
This tendency is persistent throughout the first two-thirds of the movie, most noticeably in an initially lovely but ultimately overlong scene in which the BFG and Sophie collect dreams. The film develops some momentum, and some of its greatest comic energy, when Sophie and the BFG take off for Buckingham Palace, but it takes quite a while to get there.
The two leads are so excellent throughout that you'll wish one of them were more physically present. Barnhill, whose previous filmography includes just six episodes of a British children's TV series, comes off very well here. Not just your average precocious young lead, she plays Sophie with a mature self-assuredness that still has just the right undercurrent of childish vulnerability. Rylance, coming off a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar win for Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, makes an extremely endearing BFG, gently enunciating the character's goofy malapropisms.
How unfortunate, then, that Rylance's performance is motion-captured and his BFG entirely computer-generated. The character is convincing in certain moments–particularly in close-ups, where the effects team appears to have smartly concentrated its efforts–but surprisingly wooden in others. Given Rylance's physical resemblance to illustrator Quentin Blake's original rendition of the giant, which the film closely mimics, Spielberg's decision to create a CGI giant instead of using more practical filmmaking magic to put Rylance onscreen in the flesh is rather perplexing.
Ultimately, Spielberg and Mathison's heads are basically in the right place when it comes to this material. They understand Dahl's sense of humor and his essential warmth, although they also don't shy away from the brutality that underlies much of his work. They just make the mistake of putting too much effort into bringing Dahl's simple but vibrant story to life, whether lingering too long over minor details or throwing millions of dollars in effects money at creating CGI giants where practical effects would have worked better. In the end, The BFG is certainly not a bad movie; it's often charming and sometimes even delightful in its own right. But its humbler source material tops it in both those departments–and you can probably read it in less time.
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in Pulp, the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. If he were a giant, he would certainly choose to eat snozzcumbers rather than small children.
The BFG opens in theaters on July 1 .
All three floors of the Ann Arbor Art Center pulsed with energy Friday night for this summer's inaugural Pop-In event. While the center's programming is generally eclectic on the whole, the free Pop-In series presents a particularly diverse assortment of art and entertainment in a single night, suitable for all ages but particularly aimed at young adults. This Friday's event, curated by Charlie Reischl, was billed as a "digital takeover" of the art center with a variety of offerings related to electronic arts. While some attractions adhered to that theme more than others, the evening was nonetheless consistently stimulating and entertaining in unexpected ways.
Upon entering the art center, DJ Scout set the mood on the first floor with some laid-back electronic grooves. Ascending to the second floor, attendees were welcomed by members of Kickshaw Theatre, who were recruiting "test subjects" for a short theater piece entitled Technology, In the Flesh. The 15-minute play repeated numerous times throughout the night, as Dr. Tina Burglorgler (Alysia Kolascz) and her assistant Quatthew (Aral Gribble) led audiences through a series of comical "experiments" exploring the differences between our reactions to analog and digital stimuli. In the most entertaining bit, Burglorgler showed the audience several slapstick YouTube videos and then replicated them on Quatthew in some cannily executed bits of stage violence. The differences in audience reaction were striking, as attendees remained mostly straight-faced during the videos but laughed or gasped openly as Burglorgler slammed Quatthew's head into a table and whacked him in the crotch with a baseball bat. The show oversold its point a bit–real-life experiences are consistently more stimulating than digital ones. But it was an amusing, creative second effort from the extremely promising new Kickshaw company, which produced the extraordinary The Electric Baby earlier this year.
Moving up to the third floor, attendees had a wide variety of attractions to explore. Attendees could have a hands-on experience with new technology by experimenting with a sampling of instruments from AADL's music tools collection or with a Wacom digital drawing tablet (under the able guidance of cartoonist Jerzy Drozd). Wandering into an adjacent darkened room, visitors could also take in a variety of unique musical performances, like the improv duo and art project Efflux. Efflux percussionist Jon Taylor and keyboardist Simon Alexander-Adam riffed wildly on their respective instruments while a custom-built program responded to their music in real time with abstract digital images projected on several small cube-shaped screens. Between the duo's inventive improvisation and the hypnotic digital imagery, Efflux presented a surprisingly spellbinding experience.
The highlight of the evening, however, was a concluding musical performance by members of the unconventional international rap performance collective known as the Black Opera. Ann Arbor rapper Jamall Bufford and Detroit rapper Magestik Legend kicked things off with what they described as an "opening set" for the Black Opera, energetically encouraging audience participation throughout. The two departed the stage but then returned, clad in oversized masks, to perform as the Black Opera themselves. The duo blasted through an impassioned set of songs with topics ranging from police violence to overuse of social media to the Flint water crisis. Bufford and Legend changed costumes for each song, ranging from dashikis to ski masks, with striking music videos projected behind them. At the conclusion of their performance, the duo announced that they and their entire audience were now part of the Black Opera. While the audience seemed equally divided between those who were previously aware of the Black Opera and those who were initially puzzled by what they were seeing, by the show's end Bufford and Legend had thoroughly accomplished their goal: drawing the crowd into a kind of critical, but positive, musical social movement.
Pop-In will continue this summer with events on July 22 and August 5. The July event will feature an inversion of this past Friday's theme, with an emphasis on analog music, tools, and art. The August installment will split the difference, focusing on the intersection of technology and creativity in a partnership with the new conference Intermitten. If Friday's Pop-In is any indication, attendees of the two coming events are in for an eye-opening, thought-provoking, and thoroughly entertaining experience.
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in Pulp, the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He would prefer that you neither slam his head into a table nor whack him in the crotch with a baseball bat, even if it would be funnier than watching a YouTube video.
Pop-In will continue this summer with events on July 22 and August 5.
Along with being an EMMY® Award-winning documentary filmmaker whose films have been screened all over the country, Ann Arbor native Sophia Kruz is using her directing skills to shed light on global gender inequity in her forthcoming documentary Little Stones . The documentary is currently in post-production under the working title Creating4Change.
Kruz, along with Little Stones cinematographer Meena Singh, is a co-founder of the non-profit Driftseed, an organization that "seeks to empower women and girls through the art of documentary storytelling." United through a mission to use art for social good, the women in Kruz’s Little Stones range across continent and industry: American fashion designer Anna Taylor empowers impoverished Kenyan women; Indian dance therapist Sohini Chakraborty helps heal survivors of sexual abuse; graffiti artist Panmela Castro uses her art to advocate for survivors of domestic abuses; and Senegalese musician Sister Fa challenges female genital mutilation. Behind the telling of these narratives of empowered women is Kruz’s own artistic vision. I asked Kruz about her motivation for the film, the process of making an international documentary, and how members of Ann Arbor’s community can follow in her footsteps to foster positive change locally.
Q: Your early work as a filmmaker focuses on immediate stories in the Ann Arbor community as well as within your family. What drew you into these initial subjects?
A: My first documentary, Time Dances On tells the story of my parents, how they fell in love, how their marriage slowly dissolved, and ultimately, how my dad decided to come out as a gay man because of the love and friendship he felt towards my mom. It's a story that I felt really compelled to tell throughout college, first as a fun get-to-know-you fact in my freshman dorm, then sophomore year as a short fictional essay in an intro to creative writing course, then junior year as the premise of a fictional screenplay, and finally senior year in documentary form. I suppose in some ways I needed to work through that story first to be able to move onto other projects, but it was also the story that allowed me to discover my passion for documentary.
Q: Little Stones is a study of human rights issues all around the world, jumping between several countries and cultures. Was there a common thread you found within the people you interviewed?
A: Little Stones follows four women in India, Brazil, Senegal, and Kenya who are using dance, graffiti, music, and fashion to create positive change for women and girls. There were certainly a lot of themes and similarities between the four artists that I started to see when we went to visit the women in their home countries, the most prominent of which was self-sacrifice. All four women have given up something to be an artist and activist. Sister Fa perhaps says it best: "If you just come close to most of the activists, we try to find solutions for the world, but we don’t have solutions for our own lives.”
Q: What is the function of art in changing norms and attitudes?
A: I think art is hugely important in changing culture. Often, artists are also activists, on the front lines of social change movements. Art can ignite an idea in the collective consciousness, rally a community around an issue, and provide healing for those in need. I do think art is undervalued in American culture and that just saying, as a community, "art is important," really isn't enough—we need to invest in the arts as well.
That said, I think some of the best forms of problem solving come about when artists and creative minds are paired with activists, lawyers, law enforcement, government agencies, philanthropy, and everything in between. The challenges and barriers women around the world face are great, and they take many forms. Our approach to problem solving needs to be equally great and all-encompassing.
Q: Why does the film matter to those living in the Ann Arbor area?
A: I would quote Alyse Nelson, Executive Director of Vital Voices, who said in an interview for the film:
"If you look around the world with all the issues women face, the one thing that unites us is that there is not a single culture, community, country, religion that can say violence against women, domestic violence, culturally harmful practices, trafficking, rape does not exist. It exists everywhere. It is that thing that all of us face. And really the heart of it is how we value women in our societies, and in our communities, and our cultures, and if culture and values are a barrier, couldn’t we also look at how to use culture, to use the arts, and innovative creative means, and brains, to combat the negative influences of culture?"
That quote certainly rings true in Ann Arbor, where we have a human trafficking clinic run by the University of Michigan Law School dedicated to seeking justice for sex and labor trafficking victims in our own communities, local women's shelters in constant need of resources to support survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence, local law enforcement dealing with cases of sexual assault on U-M and EMU campuses, and lower rates of female executives and board members in local businesses and non-profit organizations. Everyone in this community, not just artists, but women and men, can volunteer at these organizations, fight for gender equity in their workplace, and be an agent of change.
Q: In addition to the local issues affecting gender equity in Ann Arbor, what will be unique about screening the film in your hometown?
A: We're planning a sneak preview screening of Little Stones at the Michigan Theater this October, in part because Ann Arbor has played a huge role in making this film possible. I say that for two reasons. First, I'm from Ann Arbor, and I think the values that launched this film—that art can create social change, and we all have a role to play—are a product of growing up in a community that values the arts and gender equity.
Second, this film literally would not have been possible without the moral and financial support I've received from my friends, family, mentors, colleagues, local artists, women's organizations, business leaders, state government, and the University of Michigan. I want Ann Arbor to get a sneak peek of Little Stones as a way to say thank you to everyone who's believed in the film from the beginning, and all the new allies we've made along the way.
Juliana Roth is a writer currently living in Ann Arbor whose poetry, essays and fiction have appeared in The Establishment, Irish Pages, Bear River Review, DIN Magazine, and other publications.
Little Stones is currently in post-production. You can stay up to date with Sophia Kruz’s work and future screenings on her website.
The Cinetopia International Film Festival, now in its fifth year, has never failed to live up to its name. But this year’s lineup is fit to surpass every other international film festival in the Midwest. Spanning numerous venues throughout Detroit and Ann Arbor over the next two weeks, Cinetopia will host 55 of the most exciting independent films that have screened at Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, and more. From narrative feature films to shorts, documentaries, and animated features, Cinetopia promises the cream of this year’s worldwide film festival crop.
This year’s programming features new offerings from established talent—including features starring Penelope Cruz and Viggo Mortensen, as well as Werner Herzog’s latest documentary—in addition to work from lesser-known talent, like Grand Rapids’ Joel Potrykus (writer/director of last year’s Buzzard) and L.A.’s Will Allen, whose buzzed-about new film Holy Hell examines his youth spent in a spiritual cult.
Cinetopia will also present several rare Disney screenings—Bambi and Fantasia are among them, both hosted by Leonard Maltin—outdoor screenings at Ann Arbor Summer Fest and the Detroit Institute of Art, and a selection of the finest Arab films on the festival circuit.
Michigan Theater CEO and Cinetopia founder Russ Collins offered some advice for navigating the festival’s vast offerings, suggesting, “Instead of picking out a whole bunch of films you want to see day after day after day, pick a few and set aside as many days as you can afford to go to the festival. Take a vacation in your own hometown.” His personal suggestions include the wacky Chinese musical Johnnie To's Office, the New Zealand comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and Girls Lost, a film adapted from a Swedish young adult novel which he says is a favorite among Cinetopia’s programmers.
Though every film at Cinetopia has played another prominent film festival in the last year or so, Collins says each film isn’t guaranteed to please. He hopes festival-goers will embrace the element of surprise and try something outside of their comfort zones. He also notes that Cinetopia is one of the rare festivals that offers a stipend to its participating filmmakers, instead of making its money off of submission fees like, say, Sundance, which receives thousands of hopeful entries each year.
"I'm not promising that everyone's going to love every film that we show, but every film that we show has been vetted by other festivals,” Collins says. “We watched 450 films to come up with our 55 films on the program. We thought we could deliver a better quality international film festival by not having to try to adjudicate 4,000 films. We can benefit the filmmakers and the audience by working it this way."
Even given Collins’ suggestions, parsing out Cinetopia’s massive line-up is still a daunting task. Here are five films to consider to get you started, some of which I’ve seen and others that I’ve read about over the last year and am excited to finally see playing in my hometown.
English Language Fiction "> NR "> 82 min">
Grand Rapids filmmaker Joel Potrykus might finally find the larger audience he deserves with his latest film, about a young hermit who tries to summon Satan with a chemistry set in his backwoods trailer. Potrykus’s three previous films—the so-called Animal Trilogy—also center on outcasts compelled by destructive urges. His debut short Coyote is a minimalist werewolf movie about a junkie struggling to keep up with his addiction; his feature length debut Ape concerns a failed stand-up comedian who finds relief in pyromania; and last year’s excellent Buzzard follows follows a frustrated temp worker who pilfers money from his employer and turns a Nintendo Power Glove into a deadly weapon.
Just as his protagonists are simultaneously reprehensible and strangely likable, Potrykus’s films have a low key charm you can’t look away from, even when you’re horrified by the action onscreen. The Alchemist Cookbook is just as challenging and idiosyncratic as Potrykus’s other work to date. Not quite a horror film and not exactly a comedy, it’s loosely plotted but never aimless, and it’s totally unlike any other film playing at Cinetopia or elsewhere. In short: It’s the work of a promising young director at the peak of his powers.
The Alchemist Cookbook will screen at College for Creative Studies on Friday June 3 at 9:30 p.m., and the Michigan Theater on Wednesday June 8 at 9:30 p.m. Director/screenwriter Joel Potrykus will participate in a discussion following the opening night screening.
English Language Fiction "> NR "> 90 min">
Writer/director Stephen Dunn’s feature debut Closet Monster won Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival for, “...its confidence and invention in tackling the pain and yearning of the first love and coming of age of a young gay man in Newfoundland.” That’s no small honor, and no small feat given the surprising scarcity of earnest, relatable queer characters in film and television today.
American Crime’s Connor Jessup stars as Oscar Madly, a troubled teen who longs to leave his abusive home life behind for his dream of becoming a movie make-up artist. Oscar’s saving grace is his creativity, which manifests itself on screen with visual panache thanks to Dunn’s inventive direction. Oh, and Isabella Rossellini voices Oscar’s pet hamster and main confidant, Buffy. What more could you ask for?
Closet Monster plays at Cinema Detroit Saturday June 4 at 7 p.m. and The State Theatre on Friday June 10 at 7:15 p.m.
Documentary "> R "> 107 min">
Brian De Palma is one of the most distinctive directors of the last five decades, if not one of the most revered, but his career has nearly as many downs as ups. The man behind classics like Carrie, Scarface, and The Untouchables is also responsible for bombs like Snake Eyes and Bonfire of the Vanities, but he’s never lost his trademark voyeuristic style.
De Palma finally gets to tell his own story in this new documentary from Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha) and Jake Paltrow (The Good Night, Young Ones). De Palma sits down for a fireside chat and tells the tale of his rise from low budget hopeful to underrated elder statesman. This isn’t your standard congratulatory, talking head ridden retrospective: De Palma’s is the only voice present, and no subject—be it his controversial depictions of women, or his films’ over-the-top violence—is off limits.
De Palma screens at the Detroit Film Theater on Sunday June 5 at 1:15 p.m.
Music/Concert "> 79 min "> NR">
Iggy Pop has hinted that his current tour will likely be his last. If you missed the godfather of punk’s historic return to Detroit in April, this film of his 2015 performance at Baloise Session in Basel, Switzerland (where he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award) is the next best thing. Nothing can compare with seeing Pop twist and flail his wiry 69-year-old frame in person, but Iggy Pop: Live in Basel 2015 captures the wild energy of one of rock’s most outrageous artists going out on a high note. The sprightly sextuagenarian blasts through an 80-minute set that balances crowd-pleasers like “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “Lust For Life” with deep cuts like “Five Foot One” and “Mass Production.”
Iggy Pop: Live in Basel 2015 plays at the Detroit Film Theatre on Sunday June 5 at 7 p.m. and at the Michigan Theater on Sunday June 12 at 7 p.m.
Documentary "> NR "> 98 min">
In the last decade Werner Herzog has primarily trained his efforts on documentaries, and in that time the German auteur has tackled subjects as diverse as death row (Into the Abyss), ancient cave paintings (Cave of Forgotten Dreams) the dangers of texting while driving (From One Second to the Next), and the notorious bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell (Grizzly Man).
If those films have any one theme in common, it’s an urging to question the murky territory between perception and reality. It’s no surprise, then, that his his latest film, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World examines the origins and implications of the most revolutionary and potentially catastrophic invention of the last century: the Internet.
With his devastating wit and sobering philosophical observations in full force, Lo and Behold claims not only to tell the story of how the World Wide Web came to be, but also to humanize the technology we rely on to automate our lives.
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connect World plays at the Detroit Film Theatre on Sunday June 5 at 4 p.m., the State Theatre on Saturday June 11 at 9:30 p.m., and the Henry Ford on Sunday June 12 at 5 p.m.
Steven Sonoras is a writer living in Ypsilanti.
Cinetopia International Film Festival runs June 3-12 in Detroit, Dearborn, Bloomfield Township, and Ann Arbor. Detroit screenings will take place at The Redford Theatre, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Cinema Detroit, the College for Creative Studies, the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts and The N’Nambi Center for Contemporary Art. Dearborn locations include The Arab American National Museum and The Henry Ford Giant Screen Experience. The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township will host several films.
The festival will shift its focus to Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater and the State Theatre June 9-12. Ticket info, showtimes, and screening locations are available online.
The awesomely expansive 2016 Allied Media Conference will be held in Detroit this year and aims to “bring together a vibrant and diverse community of people using media to incite change: filmmakers, radio producers, technologists, youth organizers, writers, entrepreneurs, musicians, dancers, and artists.” The content of the conference is diverse too, including workshops, shows, and dance parties.
I interviewed Morgan Willis, Program Director of the AMC, about what we can expect from this year’s conference.
Q: You talk about AMC as a collaboratively-designed conference. Can you give a sense of the number and scope of collaborators who have worked on this year's event?
A: The Allied Media Conference is created each year through the passionate contributions of hundreds of coordinators, presenters, and volunteers. The AMC organizing process has been developed from an iterative cycle of feedback and learning between AMC participants and organizers. Through trial and error, survey and response, the organizing process is a continuous work in progress.
This year we have 60+ volunteer coordinators of the 28 different tracks, practice spaces, and network gatherings at the conference. We also have approximately 10 full time and part time staff members that work on the conference, as well as an advisory board of nine intergenerational, long-time AMC participants. We share the conference organizing process through our zines “How We Organize the AMC” and the “AMC Presenter Guidelines.”
Q: Who do you hope to see at AMC?
A: The AMC is a conference that is excited to center participants who live at the margins of conventional conference spaces: immigrants, youth, elders, black and brown folks, queer folks, parents, and others, while remaining open to our vast network of participants across all identities and spectrums. We hope to see first time AMCers, returning participants, Detroiters and media-makers from all over the continent.
Q: How does being situated in Detroit influence the conference?
A: This year will be the AMC’s 10th anniversary of being held in Detroit! Detroit is important as a source of innovative, collaborative, low-resource solutions. Detroit gives the conference a sense of place, just as each of the conference participants bring their own sense of place with them to the conference. Detroiters are also a significant percentage of our coordinators, participants, presenters and attendees.
Our offsite tours and field trips allow participants to see a variety of grassroots media-based organizing initiatives and experience different parts of the city that they may not know about or have access to. One of the most popular tours that is back this year is “From Growing Our Economy to Growing Our Souls” which explores Detroit history and emerging visionary organizing, led by Rich Feldman of the Boggs Center. Other tours will explore urban farming, “green” infrastructure, the Motown United Sound Recording Studio, and more unique places and initiatives in Detroit.
Q: Any tips for navigating the conference for newbies? How about return visitors?
A: As the AMC continues to grow, we hope to ensure that it is a welcoming space for first timers while also cultivating the intimacy and network building that many returning AMCers value so much. This year we will be offering “homeroom” sessions for first timers, hosted by returning AMCers who will help orient first timers to the AMC and offer best practices for navigating through the conference. We will also be sharing a list of “10 Things to Know as an AMC First Timer” on our website (alliedmedia.org/amc) so stay tuned!
One thing we always emphasize to both newbies and returning visitors is to plan your schedule in advance. We just released the online schedule and we highly recommend that attendees read through the 250+ sessions to get a feeling for what you’re most interested in before you arrive. This will also help you identify people and organizations you’d like to connect with so you can grow your network and build long lasting relationships.
Q: What are you personally looking forward to in this year's conference?
A: The Opening Ceremony is always a highlight! This year, through a partnership with the Detroit Institute of Arts museum, we will host the Opening Ceremony inside the beautiful Detroit Film Theater, which has double the capacity of our previous venue. The event is produced by Tunde Olaniran and will bring together performers, activists, and live music as a celebration of the powerful wave of creative movement-building happening across the country.
I’m also especially excited to see the evolution of workshops from last year into tracks (series of multiple workshops) this year, like the “Black Death Mixtape” session, which has expanded into the “Black Survival Mixtape” track. And I love the return of tracks and network gatherings focused on important topics such as climate resilience and disability justice.
We will also be hosting several community dinners this year, which are a way for attendees to meet and connect over affordable, delicious, and locally sourced food. I’m especially looking forward to the Saturday night community dinner, “Bil Afiya: A Community Feast” at Cass Corridor Commons!
Anna Prushinskaya is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
When Rik Cordero, a talented young filmmaker with a passion for science fiction, had the inspiration to work with a local teen center on a creative, collaborative project, their combined talent and drive to create made the possibilities virtually endless. Yet of all the vast realms and universes out there to explore, they wondered what would happen if they decided to venture into the most volatile and dangerous of all—the human psyche?
With acute insight into the effects of modern technology on human relations and a Black Mirror twist on a beloved Twilight Zone tale, writer/director Rik Cordero and the digital dream-weavers over at the Neutral Zone set about telling a story that would resonate with viewers—a story marked by that humbling moment when the whirlwind dreams of our early-20s must reconcile with the kind of reality that doesn't make ratings. The result was Force Touch, which had it's world premiere at the Michigan Theater on Thursday, May 19th. An emotionally-charged, fifteen-minute short, Force Touch centers on a group of young friends whose fates are sealed after they discover a cell phone with a camera that takes pictures of events just before they really happen.
By day the Senior Media Producer at Duo Security, Cordero already had an impressive filmography when he departed his native Queens for the greener pastures—literally and figuratively—of Tree Town:
"My wife Nancy (Executive Producer of the film) and I, moved from New York City to Ann Arbor last July. We shot a ton of music videos and commercials during our time there but the work life balance sucked. Once we moved, the creative quality of our lives improved almost immediately through meeting many diverse folks with common interests."
"With more time to focus on storytelling, I came up with the idea of Force Touch and my goal was to capture elements of the college culture here from an outsider's point of view. I'm a college football fan but maybe not to the degree as some of my friends who have lived here their entire lives so I wanted to explore those emotions and how they would bounce off the characters in the story. Also Ann Arbor was a new canvas for me to employ a layer of sci-fi and technology which is another passion of mine."
It was Duo Security owner Dug Song and his wife Linh who introduced Cordero to Neutral Zone Executive Director Lori Roddy and Community Relations Director Mary Moffett. Later, after touring the facility, the filmmaker hatched a plan to write and direct a short to be produced by the Neutral Zone in collaboration with Alysha Schlundt-Bodien, Facility and Training Coordinator at CTN in Ann Arbor.
Tasked with supervising the teens during the shoot, Schlundt-Bodien was thrilled to witness firsthand how valuable the experience was for the teens: "I asked one of the Neutral Zone teens to talk about his experience to the VP group, and he said that he learned so much from the production. He learned that it takes way more time to set everything up than he thought it did—from the lighting to the staging—and how important it is to be organized. He also said it would be great to help out with something like this again."
Of course every independent film is a struggle, and though a major snowstorm on the first day of shooting set the tone of the turbulent production, the teenage crew weathered on, gaining valuable experience about the importance of persevering amidst unexpected set-backs. Despite even the most meticulous planning, any number of things can go wrong on a movie shoot at the last second, making a filmmaker's ability to improvise under challenging circumstances a critical component of success.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the camera, you'll find a talented selection of actors thst Cordero and his wife/filmmaking partner, Nancy, became acquainted with during last year's YPSI 24 Hour Shootout, which challenges independent filmmakers to produce an engaging short in a single day.
But the fortuitous connection to local talent was just one of the perks of participation; in Cordero's words, "There's a special sense of camaraderie and collaboration here that's been missing for awhile in New York City. It's easy to stay busy in NYC but most video creatives including myself were often stuck hustling multiple gigs just to pay the bills. There's a better work life balance here that's very refreshing and reminds me about why I got into this business in the first place—to share stories and stay inspired."
And inspiration was exactly what Cordero intended to do by showcasing Force Touch, along with a specially-curated selection of other locally-produced shorts, on Thursday, May 19th at the historic Michigan Theater. During the lively question and answer session that followed the sold-out screening, Cordero voiced hope that the event could act as a sort-of catalyst of creativity among local media artists. Judging by the stellar turnout, he may be onto something, too; the Michigan Theater's Screening Room was buzzing with excitement as the cast and crew fielded questions from the audience before raffling off prizes that included enough filmmaking gear to make any aspiring Scorsese salivate.
Highlights of that session included the revelation that the story was originally set to take place during football season, but that the plan was scrapped due to the aforementioned snowstorm (the actual film production only lasted a couple of days), and that the idea to offer a twist on the original Rod Serling tale from the Twilight Zone episode "A Most Unusual Camera," came after reading a news article about a prototype iPhone accidentally left at a bar by a careless member of the development team. That story, combined with Cordero's fascination with "things we don't see that can control our lives," such as complex social media algorithms with the potential to alter real-life relationships, served as the pillars of Force Touch's plot.
Near the end of the question and answer session, Cordero, visibly moved while addressing the packed auditorium, hinted that this event could be the first in a series aimed at showcasing local films and filmmakers. It's a noble goal that, judging by the "Sold Out" sign at the box office, is well within reach.
But that's the future. As for the present, the seeds of creativity definitely appear to have taken root. Asked about his experiences working as a production assistant on Force Touch, Neutral Zone teen Adam Ruff exclaimed, "I definitely want to move forward in filmmaking, although I don't know in what capacity just yet."
With events like this premiere and the YPSI 24 Hour Shootout, as well as the abundance of creative programs offered by the Neutral Zone, Ruff will no doubt have an abundance of opportunities to stay inspired and grow his talents. You don't need a camera that can see into the future to be certain of that.
Jason Buchanan is a writer living in Ann Arbor.