by Marja

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The Cinetopia Film Festival features the best feature-length dramas, comedies, and documentaries from the world’s top film festivals (e.g. Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW, etc.) since its year of establishment, 2011. The event assumes an educational mission to bring celebrated films from around the world to the Greater Detroit Metropolitan Area in South-east Michigan. This year, Cinetopia will again take place in various venues in Detroit, Dearborn and Ann Arbor on May 31 – June 10, 2018. In Ann Arbor, screenings are at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St, and Lorch Hall, 611 Tappan St, UM Campus – both downtown locations.

Early bird passes are already on sale at a discount until May 4, although the festival program has not yet been published. If you wish to purchase a festival pass, please read more here: A non-member festival pass costs $ 120; the price of an all-movie pass is $ 100 respectively. Festival pass holders can also join parties and special events for free throughout the festival. Moreover, they are invited to enjoy free snacks and/or beverages before, after, or in between seeing some films at certain locations.

Cinetopia honors the rich heritage of cinematic culture and Michigan’s proud legacy of outstanding cinema artists through special pre- and post-film events, including presentations, discussion panels, and Q&A sessions with directors, writers, and stars. The festival defines its core values and guiding principles as follows:

• Place artistic and cultural merit at the forefront of film exhibition and education.
• Cultivate an innovative, forward-thinking event that champions the diverse aspects of filmmaking.
• Provide a thought-provoking and awe-inspiring festival that opens minds and hearts through a shared cinematic experience.
• Foster understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures and values.
• Engage audiences to promote appreciation and patronage of year-round art house cinema as a cultural resource and economic driver.

In 2017, the winning films represented narrative and documentary films from around the world, highlighting stories from France, Tel Aviv, Baltimore, and Detroit, as well as Native American reservations in California and Arizona. For the first time, all the four major Cinetopia awards (listed below) were given to films with female directors. After more than 115 screenings of 64 films, the winning films were:

• Audience Award – Narrative: ”Fanny’s Journey” (France/Belgium, 94 min, Drama)
Directed by Lola Doillon
Fanny and her sisters attempt to escape Nazi occupied France but many dangers are ahead of them.
• Audience Award- Documentary: ”Step” (USA, 83 min, Documentary)
Directed by Amanda Lipitz
The senior year of a girls’ high school step team in inner-city Baltimore is documented, as they try to become the first in their families to attend college. The girls strive to make their dancing a success against the backdrop of social unrest.
• Festival Director’s Award- Narrative: ”In Between” (Israel, 96 min, Drama)
Directed by Maysaloun Hamoud
Three Arab-Israeli women share an apartment in Tel Aviv and try to balance their traditions with the modern world.
• Festival Director’s Award- Documentary: ”Tribal Justice” (USA, 8 min, Documentary)
Directed by Anne Makepeace
Two Native American judges reach back to traditional concepts of justice in order to reduce incarceration rates, foster greater safety for their communities and create a more positive future for youth.

Part of the Cinetopia Film Festival is the Arab Film Festival at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. The latter offers new titles from the Arab world and Arab American community. It is designed for fans of Arabic-language movies and adventurous art-film lovers seeking new perspectives and outside-the-box thinking. Genres include drama, comedy, and documentary, in both short-form and feature lengths. Every festival film is subtitled in English, making them accessible to all. Last year, the Arab Film Festival awarded a winner for the Arab Shorts for the first time. ”Ayny”, a stop-motion animation directed by Ahmad Saleh about two boys dodging their overprotective mother in a seemingly innocent money-making scheme to purchase a classical musical instrument, took the honor.

Another regular component of the Cinetopia Film Festival is a short film competition called Detroit Voices. This competition is accepting submissions until April 30. According to its rules and regulations, films must be made by Michigan filmmakers. Besides, they must either be shot in southeast Michigan or feature a story about Michigan or Michigan characters. Last year, “Scrap Dolls”, directed by Aude Cuenod, received the Knight Jury Prize for Detroit Voices. The 13-minute long film portraited an 11-year-old boy who was grieving over the loss of his best friend on the east side of Detroit. The boy encountered an artist who made art out of abandoned objects.

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If you are interested in the Cinetopia Film Festival, keep checking out its web site at The 2018 program should be coming soon! Another useful site to be viewed is while Cinetopia is partnering with the Ann Arbor Summer Festival on their Cinema Series. The latter festivities will immediately follow Cinetopia’s final film on Sunday, June 11.

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Reasons to Attend Film Festivals

First of all, film festival is a great opportunity to see carefully selected exceptional movies which may be never shown in ordinary cinemas or on TV channels. You can watch quality films which deviate from the mainstream genre or which come from countries that are usually not associated with the film industry. They offer multi-cultural indie and art-house alternatives to standard Hollywood productions. When I attended the International Filmfest Hamburg in Germany for the first time, I was particularly impressed by films from Iran, Israel and Portugal. Moreover, I realised how fascinating documentaries can be: they may be as exciting as fictions.

Secondly, with their programming structure, festival programmers often try to encourage the active reception of the audience. The live interaction between the audience and the filmmakers, in turn, creates certain thrill of intimacy. It is highly intriguing to participate in an intellectual face-to-face discussion with the director and the main actors after the movie screening when you hear their artistic goals and compare them with your own interpretation. The feedback from the audience is sometimes equally insightful, as the case of Filmfest Hamburg proves. It was interesting to listen to the comments of the Iranian spectators to the Iranian director after his film. (Note: There is a large Iranian emigrant community in Hamburg.)

Thirdly, for specialized festivals, the general feeling of belonging to a group, a cinephile community, is heightened by identity cues. Audience members of horror genre festivals or queer film festivals, to name just two examples, share a common interest that goes beyond film (or even a genre of film) in general. They meet with like-minded viewers, sometimes the subcultural community, when congregating at a festival screening.

However, the same incentive for socializing attracts ordinary film enthusiasts, as well. People often gather in pubs or cafes after the performance in order to analyze what they had just experienced. It may happen that you get engaged in an inspiring conversation with total strangers who come from another city or country. In Hamburg, my friend and I once ended up in a luxurious private party of some production team. The party was supposed to be held behind the closed doors but there we were drinking champagne with the actors.

To sum up, the possibility to see something first or something one cannot see elsewhere, something unexpected – maybe even the added possibility to see a film star – brings people to the festival.

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