“I was working at the Michigan Theater, I think, back when THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK came out… I started in 1982, which was a couple of years after the theater was saved.”
Thus began Current’s interview with Russ Collins, Executive Director of Ann Arbor’s State Theatre & Michigan Theater, as well as Founding Director of the Art House Convergence in Utah and Festival Founder of the Cinetopia International Film Festival of Ann Arbor and Detroit.
“This is the town that is passionate about movies and passionate about music,” he declares, “and we [the Michigan Theater, the State Theatre and Cinetopia Film Festival] think we have tapped into that passion.”
What can we expect at the new and improved State Theatre?
Four screens – a 140-seat, a 100-seat, 80-seat and a 50-seat theater. The mezzanine lounge—which is what it was called when the theatre originally opened – is being restored to a significant degree back to the way it was in 1942, keeping the Art Deco decorating theme.
The theatre was originally designed by Detroit-based architect C. Howard Crane, one of the top four theater architects in the world in the first half of the 20th century. He designed 300 theaters worldwide including the Fox Theater in Detroit, the Detroit Opera House and Detroit’s acclaimed Orchestra Hall. This is the only C. Howard Crane building that I know of that exists in Ann Arbor. We are excited to restore it back to its original glory and celebrate with a variety of specialty features, including a 1940s Wurlitzer Jukebox and recreations of the original custom-made wall sconces. And there will be architectural lighting on the exterior brick work as well as the completely restored marquee.
The current marquee is not the way it used to be?
Starting in 1989, they remodeled the marquee and changed the original colors and removed a bunch of lights from the original façade. Originally, in 1942, the theatre featured a single-screen 2000 seat cinema—which over time was changed to a four-screen theater. The first floor was changed, in 1990, to house the Urban Outfitters store. And then, in 1992, the theaters opened upstairs.
What other significant changes might we look for?
All the problematic issues the State Theatre had before – accessibility, uncomfortable seating, a lack of leg-room – have been addressed and will no longer be issues for our movie-goers.
Along the south alley that overlooks Liberty Street, we’ve added an elevator, a staircase and an escalator to help people get to the theaters.
We’ve increased the number of screens and made the theaters more intimate to respond to current movie-going trends, and we’ve added high-back, modern movie theater seats. People who love specialty films want to be more comfortable and so we’re giving them that.
What types of films can we look forward to?
Primarily first-run Art House films – the kind of films you see programmed in New York City specialty cinemas (not commercial cinemas, e.g. foreign films, independent American films, documentaries, etc.).
Additionally, we will expect to play some “prestige” commercial films, especially films that would be of particular interest to a college town – like some Pixar animated films (“Inside Out,” “Brave,” “Up”), certain comic book titles, like “Dr. Strange” (with Art House hero Benedict Cumberbatch), Woody Allen films, films expected to be nominated for Academy Awards (even if they are released in commercial theaters, like “La, La, Land” and “Manchester By the Sea”), commercial films with Art House roots, like the remakes of “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” remake of “Mad Max,” etc.
We will also do specialty series: filmmaker retrospectives, genre series, focus on a particular country’s cinema heritage or its contemporary work, etc. And, of course, midnight films.
Basically, week after week, we are never sure exactly what will be playing on Friday, until the Monday before. That being said, in early November we will have a pretty good idea of which films will play opening day.
However, generally we will open three of the State’s four screens with quality, “award-worthy” films being released for the first time into theaters – probably two story-based, narrative films and one documentary.
The fourth screen will probably feature a series of films that opened in 1942 – the year the State Theatre opened; films like: “Casablanca,” “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “Pride of the Yankees,” “Woman of the Year,” “Kings Row,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Bambi,” and possibly “The Fleet’s In” (the film actually opened the State Theatre) to name a few!
We will also do some classic midnight films, like: “Harold and Maude,” “Donnie Darko,” “Pink Flamingos” “Alice’s Restaurant,” “Evil Dead,” “Purple Rain,” “Fantasia,” “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Dark Crystal,” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”