On top of its indie filmmaker reputation, Ann Arbor could soon be known as a regional movie mecca for those interested in watching world-class cinema.
Three of the city's film venues are hosting the first-ever Cinetopia International Film Festival this week. Running May 31 to June 3, the event will focus on feature-length, story-driven movies.
More than 30 films -- dramas, documentaries and comedies -- will screen during the four days of the festival. Special features include a series of modern and classic 3D movies, a celebration of University of Michigan graduate and screenwriter David Newman ("Superman," "Bonnie and Clyde") and several films starring the bespectacled silent-era comedian Harold Lloyd, accompanied by the Michigan Theater's antique Barton Pipe Organ.
The emphasis on narrative is intended to distinguish Cinetopia from its respected predecessor, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which is now in its 50th year and showcases short independent and experimental films.
Cinetopia is being put together by the Michigan Theater, the nonprofit theater located in a 1928 historic movie palace. Festival-goers can catch films in the theater's auditorium, as well as the State Theater and U-M's Angell Hall.
Russ Collins, Michigan Theater's executive director, told The Huffington Post the event has been in the works for quite a while. For the last seven years, the theater has premiered films shown at the annual Sundance Film Festival as part of its Art House project. Cinetopia will allow the theater to expand on the concept and get a chance to premiere films from festivals around the world -- not just Sundance, but also the Berlin, Toronto, Tribeca, Venice film festivals and others.
"We looked at films around the world and tried to take the cream of the crop and bring it home to southeast Michigan," Collins explained.
Twenty-seven of the movies showing at the festival come from that film festival circuit, including "Hipsters (Stilyagi)," a Russian musical comedy set in the 1950s about a young Communist Party member who falls in with a underground youth movement filled with jazz-loving, Elvis-haired, poodle skirt-wearing rebels. Aslo screening: "5 Broken Cameras," a documentary about a Palestinian man who buys a video camera to film his young son but ends up chronicling the construction of the Israeli West Bank Barrier; and "Juan of the Dead," a Cuban zombie movie.
Collins said the Michigan Theater already draws visitors from across southeast Michigan and northern Ohio, and he hopes Cinetopia will build its audience. The festival's coordinators have been talking to the organizers of successful regional film fests in Traverse City, Mich., and Cleveland, Ohio, that attract more than 80,000 people annually, trying to learn from their example.
"We definitely hope the the festival grows," Collins said. "We hope that its embraced by southern Michigan. There isn't really [any film festival] of this kind of scale and program around for us."
The Cinetopia International Film Festival runs May 31 to June 3. For more information visit Michigan Theater's website