If you have not been to a film festival before, you might find the notion of sorting through 50 different film titles and over 100 screenings in 10 different locations over 5 days to be overwhelming. This is completely understandable! As a potential festival filmgoer, whether you are at Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, Venice, Tribecca, SXSW or (most especially) at the Cinetopia Festival, it is beneficial to understand How to Festival!

Let me start with a run-down of this year’s Cinetopia. Coming live-in-person to the Cinetopia International Film Festival, are acclaimed indie film directors SPIKE LEE, JOHN SAYLES and TOMMY OLIVER, actors HILL HARPER (He Got Game and CSI: NY) and DAVID STRAITHAIRN (recently in Godzilla and featured in Lincoln) and 30 more featured players, directors, screenwriters and producers from around the world. Great films in Detroit and Ann Arbor with live-in-person filmmakers – what could be better for movie mavens or anyone looking for a great and rewarding experience June 4-8!

The Cinetopia Festival brings the best films from the world’s best film festivals to Detroit and Ann Arbor. The Cinetopia Festival will screen films at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the College for Creative Studies, Charles Wright Museum, Arab-American Museum, Cinema Detroit, and, in Ann Arbor, at the Michigan and State Theaters and on the University of Michigan campus.

While festivals may seem overwhelming – that is part of the fun! At Sundance, they show 120 feature length films; at Toronto over 400. The best way to festival is to get a pass and go – as much as you can, for as many days as you can. Know you will bump into filmmakers, mostly talented folks who are not in the pages of People magazine or flickering in front of you on TMZ, but who are gifted and may soon be widely recognized celebrities. Discovering them at this year’s festival will, in years to come, allow you to say, “I saw or got to know [him or her] at the Cinetopia Festival back in 2014!”

The way you attend film festival screenings is a bit different than the way you might typically go to a movie. Usually when you decide to see a film, you set off to see something you already think you will like. If you like comedies, you go to comedy flicks. If you like action, you go to see spectacular car chases and things exploding. If you like rom-coms or documentaries, you seek those out. At a film festival, you should look for films you think you might enjoy, but it is the sense of discovery, surprise and mystery that makes going to film festivals so fun and rewarding.

Since films at festivals are early in their release schedule, there are not a large number of reviews to consult and few ads online or on TV. Some of the best and most rewarding film festival movies I have seen were films I stumbled into like Beasts of the Southern Wild, Searching for Sugarman a pro-nuclear energy documentary at the very “green” and liberal Sundance Film Festival, and a joyous, candy-colored Russian musical comedy (I know, it sounds impossible and bizarre) called Hipster to name a few. Discovery, intrigue and never knowing what might be next makes festival-going so great.

You can check out the entire roster of films and special events at the Cinetopia Festival as well as the schedule here. And, if your approach to life is a bit more structured than mine, feel free to use the list below to help structure your Cinetopia Festival experience:

  •  1982: Hill Harper (He Got Game) stars and the legendary Ruby Dee plays his mother in this compelling family drama. Director Tommy Oliver and several cast members will be at this Cinetopia “Red Carpet” opener.
  • THE SKELETON TWINS: SNL’s Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, as well as Ty Burrell and Luke Wilson star in a sibling comedy that won Best Screenplay award at Sundance.
  • JOHN SAYLES SYMPOSIUM [June 4th at the University of Michigan Graduate Library]: John Sayles himself, David Strathairn (Actor: Good Night and Good Luck, Lincoln), Maggie Renzi (Producer), Mary Cybulski (Script Supervisor) and Mason Daring (Composer) will be present. We will also play three Sayles films: Go For Sisters (his latest), Silver City and Lone Star.
  • Spike Lee will host a private screening on Friday, June 6. Buy a Cinetopia pass and qualify for a chance to gain admission.
  • TO BE TAKEI: Great documentary on actor George Takei, who played Sulu in Star Trek , learn of his childhood at a Japanese internment camp and follow his journey to becoming a gay rights activist & the social media star that he is today.
  • OBVIOUS CHILD: Jenny Slate is a stand-up comedian with problems, but comedian’s problems are always funnier! A Sundance standout!
  • A TOUCH OF SIN, FINDING MR.RIGHT & LILTING: Fabulously popular Chinese films. Enough said.
  • COHERENCE: a much buzzed about sci-fi-drama; a Twilight Zone for the 21st century.
  • WAR STORYBen Kingsley and Catherine Keener star in an edge of the seat tale that urges you to piece together a stressed Middle East war photographer’s elusive story.
  • JINGLE BELL ROCKS: a hilarious and surprising documentary about a sub-culture of people who collect (mostly bad) Christmas music.

BUT, you might also what to consider: Deep City: Birth of the Miami Sound, Paris or Perish, Hanna’s Journey, White Shadow, The Better Angels, Rich Hill, The Dog, The Congress, The Case Against 8, THE ENTIRE LINE UP (this is just a sample, over 50 different films will be shown during Cinetopia)!

Detroit and Southeast Michigan deserve a wonderful world-class film festival, because Detroit is world-class on so many levels: sports teams, venues, restaurants, arts institutions, businesses, and so much more. Come out to support Cinetopia and help it grow into the great festival Detroit deserves, but, more importantly, come out to the Cinetopia Festival because you will have a great time!

For tickets, or better still, to buy a Cinetopia Festival pass click here. You can also see or print out the Cinetopia Festival Guide & Schedule. I truly hope to see you at Cinetopia!

Russ Collins – Festival Founder, Detroit native, IndieWire Influencer