Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater, had a hard time picking a favorite film from the schedule of the upcoming Cinetopia International Film Festival.

Cinetopia International Film Festival

Through June 3
At the Michigan, State and Angell Hall
From $12

“There’s an Australian musical called ‘Bran Nue Dae’ that stars Geoffrey Rush that’s a lot of fun,” Collins said. ” ‘Teddy Bear’ is a really compelling story about a 38 year-old body builder guy who still lives with his very oppressive mother, and he’s looking to break out of that and find romance.”

He added: “We have the first Cuban zombie picture!”

That one’s called “Juan of the Dead,” and it’s one of many films Collins listed as highlights of the Cinetopia International Film Festival, which will take place in Ann Arbor. There will be 35 films showing on three screens (the Michigan and State Theaters and Angell Hall) over the course of four days, featuring guest appearances from filmmakers and presenting “the brightest and the best of contemporary films now playing the international festival circuit,” according to the Michigan Theater website.

With all the different film festivals in the Ann Arbor area — the Jewish Film Festival, the Polish Film Festival and, of course, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which celebrated its 50th anniversary just two months ago — some might wonder what another film festival is doing crowding the spring schedule.

“There’s not (another) international film festival in the Southeast Michigan area,” explained Amanda Bynum, operations director at the Michigan Theater. “And that’s what makes this film festival special to our area. It’s an international film festival, so we have films coming from all over the world.”

The idea behind the Cinetopia International Film Festival, to have a large international film festival here in Ann Arbor, has been a long time in the making.

“We’ve thought about doing this for a very long time — probably about 15 years,” Collins said. “And about five years ago it appeared on our strategic plan of something that we would very seriously like to consider.”

Though it wasn’t until eight weeks ago, when they secured sponsorship from AT&T, that Cinetopia 2012 became a reality. The selection for the festival has been a multi-year process of attending film festivals, getting recommendations from other festival directors, and an intense screening and vetting process. But Collins said he is very happy with the result.

“We’re literally choosing the cream of the crop,” Collins said. “We’re choosing films that won out of Sundance, that won out of Berlin, that won out of Cannes, that won out of Venice.”

Cinetopia amounts to a sort of all-star game of film festivals. Unlike some of the big-name festivals, like Sundance, there won’t be films premiering here for the first time, and since they have already been seen and appreciated by other audiences, at Cinetopia’s screenings there will likely be none of the boos you might hear at Cannes. The films aren’t competing, and no prizes will be awarded. It’s just some of the powerhouses of the international film circuit gathered into one place for a low stakes, high prestige affair.

Along with recent film festival favorites, there will also be some older films showing at Cinetopia. The festival will feature three programming tracks: one that pays homage to the work of silent film star Harold Lloyd, another that celebrates the history of 3-D film and one that showcases the work of Screenwriter and University alum David Newman, writer of such classics as “Superman” and “Bonnie and Clyde.”

The festival’s programming should be an array of films and regular Michigan Theater attendees should feel right at home.

“This four-day festival is like a microcosm of our regular film program,” Bynum said. “Because all the time we’re showing contemporary indie film, hot films from film festivals and classic programming. So, in effect, it is kind of like a 365-day year at the Michigan Theater jam-packed into four days.”

And that is the focus for Collins and Bynum.

“These films don’t have the same kind of brand identification that a big Hollywood film’s going to have,” Collins explained. “So film festivals help actually establish that brand, and that buzz.

“I think film festivals are actually more important than they were 10 years ago,” Collins continued. “Because it’s harder and harder to get traction in the market to draw attention to the work that you’ve done as a filmmaker.”

Ann Arbor could be the perfect place for these films to gain that traction.

“Ann Arbor has an extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable arts community, particularly in terms of film,” Collins said.

Bynum agrees: “The majority of the residents who live here are smart people who are interested in film. Whether that’s as a super film connoisseur, or people who just like going to the movies, and I think that we’ll be able to turn out a good crowd of the Ann Arborites.”

And, according to Collins, Ann Arborites have always made for a great film audience.

This love affair, he explained, continued throughout the 20th century, from student film societies of the ’50s to the art house culture of the ’70s. And in a way, Cinetopia will be charting the history of film. The historic Barton organ will be used for its original purpose as it accompanies the silent films of Harold Lloyd, which will play alongside Martin Scorcese’s “Hugo,” a 2012 Oscar-award winner, that represents what film has become today.

In this city full of enthusiastic film lovers, Collins believes a film festival like this can thrive, and this first year should tell him whether or not he’s right.

“This festival this year is a pilot project where we’re literally throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks,” Collins said.

Collins wants to see it grow, and become as successful as other film festivals in the area, such as the Traverse City Film Festival (now in it’s eighth year and getting 120,000 admissions) and the Cleveland International Film Festival (an 11-day festival with 90,000 attendees).

“We’re willing to be really patient about that, and just respond to the community and the way that the community would like to participate in a festival,” Collins said. “It should be a good learning process for us this year, for taking this terrific film festival we’ve got going this year, and working to make it even better in 2013.”

It’s an ambitious project, but if Bynum and Collins are right, Ann Arbor could be a paradise for film festivals and film lovers, a veritable cinetopia.

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