C! worthy

By Allan I. Ross

Niche film series continues with docs, shorts and indies

In its first two months, experimental film theater Studio C! in Okemos has already transformed the concept of a night at the movies for mid-Michigan filmgoers. It has food several notches above your typical megaplex fare (think appetizers, pizzas and sandwiches) as well as a liquor license and, for a modest upgrade price, lush reclining seats. Oh, and for the last month it’s shown a slew of award-winning films that were largely unavailable in Lansing.  

“There is no model for what we’re doing with Studio C!,” said Ron Van Timmeren, vice president in charge of programming for the Grand Rapids-based Loeks Theatres Inc., which owns the six-screen theater. “It’s a true experiment. It’s very unusual for a theater to devote this level of time to smaller movies, but we’re not doing this to get rich — we’re educating local audiences, raising some money for the East Lansing Film Society and just trying to break even. The accounting’s not in yet, but so far this seems to have been an absolute success.” 

Susan Woods, director of the East Lansing Film Society, has programmed films for one of the theater’s screens since Jan. 17. Those pictures included awards season darlings “A Royal Affair,” “Chasing Ice” and “The Intouchables.” She slipped recent Best Foreign Language Oscar winner “Amour” in two weeks ago to whet audiences appetites for round two, which starts Friday with fellow Oscar winners “Searching for Sugar Man” (Best Documentary Feature), “Paperman” (Best Animated Short) and “Curfew” (Best Live Action Short). The latter two are part of a package of short film showcases, enabling audiences to view all the nominees. Woods said she conducts an exhaustive search before settling on a film to bring to town, pouring over reviews and watching every trailer she can.

“But I never see a film before I bring it here,” she says. “I want to be just as surprised as the rest of the audience. I have to say, though, with all the work I put into picking a movie, I’m hardly ever wrong.” 

Besides “Sugar Man,” which follows the search for a Detroit folk singer, “Burn” is another new documentary to light up the screen — and, interestingly, is also Detroit-centric. “Burn” spends one year following a team of Detroit firefighters as they fight a seemingly losing battle to keep the entire city from going up in flames. The film took top honors at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, and some of the film’s subjects will make a live appearance on March 16 at Studio C! to discuss the film. 

“It’s an amazing opportunity to see how film doesn’t just exist on the screen,” Woods said.  “It’s a living, breathing art form that can affect change in the world, and Lansing audiences can meet these real people that were in the movie. You’re not going to get to experience this at your typical movie house.” 

The new program also includes the biographical comedy/drama “Hyde Park on Hudson,” about FDR’s relationship with King George VI, starring Bill Murray as the 32nd prez; “56 Up,” the eighth iteration of the “Seven Up!” documentary series that interviews a group of British citizens every seven years; the documentary “How to Survive a Plague” which focuses on groups fighting to end of the AIDS crisis; and “Amour,” which has proven to be quite a hit with audiences. 

“That movie really seems to resonate with people,” said Studio C! general manager Chad Wozniak. “This series has brought a lot of people out who have stopped going to the theater because they think nothing good is out. I’m seeing 600 to 700 people each week packing the seats for these small movies most people have never heard of. We’re definitely on the cutting edge of all this. We took a risk and it’s definitely paying off.”