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Cinetopia 2018: Eight films we're most excited about

By Matt Giles - Associate Producer
ANN ARBOR - It is hard to believe it's already here, but yes, the Cinetopia Film Festival begins on Thursday and will feature 52 films at 10 different venues between Ann Arbor and Detroit. You may have already heard of many of the films making their away around the festival circuit, but seeing as how 52 is a lot and there's no way to see every single movie -- even if you are a hardcore cinephile -- we thought we'd narrow it down to eight picks that we're most excited about, all of which we're convinced will help get you into the festival and film-going spirit. 

Still from "Hearts Beat Loud" starring Nick Offerman (left) and Kiersey Clemons (right). (Credit: Cinetopia Film Festival)

"Eighth Grade"

Where else do we start but the beginning? 

This year's opening film is "Eighth Grade," Bo Burnham's feature-film debut starring Elsie Fisher as Kayla Day, an eighth-grader who -- to put it mildly -- is struggling to find herself and finish her last week of classes before transitioning into high school. She is a character who always has her phone in hand, hoping to find connections online that might make up for those she’s unable to forge in everyday life, and the film itself is "a keenly observed and achingly funny portrait of the insecurities and absurdities of being 13 in a world where one’s private experience is lived publicly online," according to the Sundance Film Festival. The film is also a showcase for Fisher, who anchors the film with "a dynamic portrayal that feels both incredibly specific and heartbreakingly universal," the Sundance Film Festival wrote. 

"Eighth Grade" will screen one night only on Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Michigan Theater auditorium, and Burnham will be at the screening for a discussion immediately following the film's Midwest premiere. 

Special guest: Bo Burnham

"A Boy. A Girl. A Dream: Love on Election Night"

Local filmmaker Qasim Basir, or Q as he likes to be called, brings his film "A Boy. A Girl. A Dream: Love on Election Night" to Cinetopia for two screenings -- Friday at 9 p.m. at the Michigan Theater and June 10 at 6 p.m. at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. 

The film focuses on Cass (Omari Hardwick) and Frida (Meagan Good), who meet on the night of the 2016 presidential election and form an instant connection. Cass is a depressed filmmaker who has gotten lost in the alcohol and drug-infused world of Los Angeles club promotion, and Frida is a lawyer and DJ who is visiting Los Angeles from the Midwest and dealing with a difficult breakup.

What follows is, according to Cinetopia, a film that is visually sensuous and dream-like, "unspooling in real-time, seemingly in one continuous take, that transports you to a singular moment in time when the texture of life seemed to drastically change. [It] effortlessly holds a full spectrum of emotion -- panic, embarrassment, attraction, vulnerability, despair, anger, companionship, and disorientation -- all inside a single slice-of-life film about two people meeting each other for the first time."

Special guests: Qasim Basir, Omari Hardwick and Meagan Good

"Supa Modo"

First-time feature filmmaker Likarion Wainaina and co-producer Tom Tykwer bring audiences an honest and inspiring story about the strength of young people in the face of adversity. We can't resist this one, which screens on Saturday at 3:15 p.m. at the State Theatre, June 3 at 12:45 p.m. at the Michigan Theater and June 10 at 12:30 p.m. at the College for Creative Studies. 

Obsessed with Jackie Chan and action films, nine-year-old Jo dreams of being a superhero, but time is not on her side. When the doctors reveal that she is terminally ill, Jo leaves the hospital and returns home to be with her mom and sister. While her mom insists that she stay inside and rest, her sister has different plans. With the entire village’s support, they decide to make dreams a reality and turn Jo into the superhero they know she is. Newcomer Stycie Waweru delivers a captivating and earnest performance, imbuing her character with a subtle strength that ignites the screen. This film is a stunning reminder of the power of imagination. - Toronto International Film Festival

"We the Animals"

If you know us at all, you know we cannot resist a great movie based on a great novel. With a screenplay by Dan Kitrosser and director Jeremiah Zagar based on the celebrated Justin Torres novel, "We the Animals" is a visceral coming-of-age story propelled by strikingly layered performances from its astounding cast, elements of magical realism, and unbelievable animated sequences. The film screens three times: Saturday at 3:45 p.m. and June 5 at 7 p.m. at the State Theatre, and June 9 at 5 p.m. at the College for Creative Studies. 

Manny, Joel, and Jonah tear their way through childhood. Their Ma and Paps have a volatile love that makes and unmakes the family many times over, leaving the boys fending for themselves. As their parents rip at one another, Manny and Joel ultimately harden and grow into versions of their father. Jonah -- the youngest, the dreamer -- becomes increasingly aware of his desperate need to escape. Driven to the edge, Jonah embraces an imagined world all his own. 

"Hearts Beat Loud" 

You may recognize the name Brett Haley, as his film "The Hero" opened last year's Cinetopia Film Festival to much acclaim. His latest film, "Hearts Beat Loud," hopes to be an even bigger crowd-pleaser. You can catch the film on June 3 at 4 p.m. at the Michigan Theater and on June 10 at 4:30 p.m. at Cinema Detroit. 

Single dad Frank (Nick Offerman) prepares to send hardworking daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) off to UCLA pre-med. He also reluctantly has to accept that his own record-store business is failing. Hoping to stay connected with his daughter through their shared love of music, he urges her to turn their weekly “jam sesh” into an actual band. Channeling Sam’s resistance into a band name, they unexpectedly find We’re Not a Band’s first song turning into a minor Spotify hit, and they use their songwriting efforts to work through their feelings about the life changes each of them faces.

"Soufra"

Thomas Morgan's "Soufra" will screen three times during Cinetopia -- June 3 at 3:45 p.m. and June 7 at 4 p.m. at the Michigan Theater, and June 9 at 7:15 p.m. at the Arab American National Museum. Morgan received his honorary doctorate of public service from Central Michigan University and has taught documentary film making to students around the world.

After spending her entire life in the Burj el-Barajneh refugee camp near Beirut, Mariam Shaar decided to change her life. Gathering together other refugee women from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, and with a little help from Kickstarter, she expands her modest food business into catering. Despite her status as a Palestinian—barred from better jobs in Beirut—Shaar overcomes the obstacles to make Soufra (which means a table of delicious plenty) a success and to help other women heal the deep wounds of war through inspirational food. 

Special guest appearance followed by Iftar (the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan.) 

"Thirst For Justice"

This documentary from Leana Hosea, a University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability fellow, examines the contaminated water crisis facing America. A rough cut of the film will screen on June 8 at 4 p.m. at the Michigan Theater in celebration of the 18th annual Mayor’s Green Fair. Immediately following the film there will be a panel discussion and a message from the mayor to encourage people to go to the Green Fair.

In the spring of 2015, residents in Flint, Michigan and Sanders, Arizona proved, despite official denial, that their water was dangerously contaminated. Now, Janene from the Navajo, African-American Flint activist Nayyirah, and blue-collar stay-at-home mom Christina are leading the fight for clean water. When they meet in Standing Rock at the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, it sparks a realization that not only are the stakes nationwide, but the very future of democracy is threatened. 

Immediately following the film, there will be a panel discussion and a message from the mayor to encourage people to go to the Green Fair.

"Love, Gilda" 

Closing out Cinetopia 2018 will be "Love, Gilda," a touching documentary about Detroit native Gilda Radner, the influential female comedian best known for her groundbreaking work on the small screen. "Love, Gilda" will screen at 2 p.m. on June 10 at the Detroit Film Theatre and is sure to be the perfect ending to a fantastic festival.

Lisa D’Apolito, Radner’s brother, Michael and others will be on hand after the Michigan premiere for a discussion about the film and Radner's work. 

More from Cinetopia 2018:

Opening and closing night films announced

'A Boy. A Girl. A Dream: Love on Election Night' screens June 1 and 10

Michigan filmmakers come home

Festival to screen 'Thirst for Justice' in celebration of Mayor's Green Fair June 8

Lesser-known films that deserve your attention

Check out more Ann Arbor events on the A4 Community Calendar 

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