Sundance USA films screen in Ann Arbor

The citizens of Ann Arbor were treated to not one, but two Sundance films this past weekend, January 27 and 28. Out of the nine cities around the country selected to host a Sundance film, Ann Arbor was the only city selected to host two, and this was because the second film, “Cedar Rapids,” was filmed on-location in Ann Arbor. The other cities selected to host films, all on January 27, were Brookline, MA; Brooklyn, NY; San Francisco; Seattle; Chicago; Los Angeles; Madison, WI; and Nashville, and different films were shown at each location. “Cedar Rapids” was shown in Seattle on the 27th and then the director, Miguel Arteta, who had previously directed “Youth in Revolt” in Ann Arbor, flew to Michigan for the premiere.

“Win Win” was shown the night of the 27th at the Michigan Theater to a packed audience. The movie tells the story about Mike Flaherty, a lawyer who also doubles as a high school wrestling coach, and the lead role is played by Paul Giamatti. Giamatti and director Tom McCarthy were originally scheduled to do a Q&A, but neither was able to make it. “You know, winning a Golden Globe really messes with your schedule …” Russ Collins, the Executive Director of the Michigan Theater, joked, referring to Giamatti’s recent Golden Globe win for Best Actor for his role in the movie “Barney’s Version.” However, one of the movie’s producers, Mary Jane Skalski, who is a U of M grad and Michigan native, was in attendance.

“The role of the producer involves looking for the money, making sure that everything gets there on the day, that people have a place to eat, etcetera …” Skalski said, when asked what her role entails.

Poster for "Win Win," from
Fox Searchlight
On the movie, which involves Giamatti as wrestling coach and a lawyer, she said that she “knew nothing about wrestling. Tom said ‘we really need a wrestler,’ because someone’s not going to be able to fake that. It will be easier to teach a wrestler how to act than to teach an actor how to wrestle.”

All of the kids in the movie are wrestlers, and Alex Shaffer, who plays the lead character, a boy that Giamatti and his wife take in, actually “became the New Jersey state wrestling champ at 119 pounds AND got the role in the movie, all in the same week,” said Skalski.

Paul Giamatti was the first choice for the lead role, as both he and Tom McCarthy attended Yale together for grad school, and they were already friends and wanted to make a movie together.

“Tom is really collaborative and pretty intimate. He’s rehearsing before we even start shooting. I kind of compare him to a tailor – he fine-tunes things,” Skalski said.

Director Miguel Arteta (right) with the mayor
of Ann Arbor, Ron Hieftje (left), and the
mayor of Cedar Rapids, Ron. J. Corbett (right)
The second night of Sundance USA was just as packed as the first, and the feature film “Cedar Rapids” was shown to a crowd of more than 1,600 people (Michigan Theater’s capacity is 1,700). “Cedar Rapids” follows a na├»ve insurance salesman as he’s sent to the “big city” from his small hometown in Wisconsin to go to an insurance conference, and it is about the people he meets there and the lessons he later learns. Miguel Arteta, the director, was on hand for the event, and he did a Q&A session after the film as well as a “meet the press” event beforehand, which I was able to attend.

Everyone’s biggest question, of course, was why Arteta chose to film in Ann Arbor.

“Iowa’s incentive program went belly-up. We needed a hotel with a pool in the middle of it and it turns out that Michigan has the most number of these,” he said. “This is my 2nd film shot in Ann Arbor, and I love it here.”

The cast and crew prepped for eight weeks in Iowa and then only four in Michigan. The film was screened in Park City, Utah, as part of the official Sundance program recently as well.

“In Park City, we were very nervous, since we had never screened in front of a large audience. We are very much indebted to Sundance,” Arteta explained. “The film screened in Seattle last night as well, and they liked it very much, I think.”

At the Q&A after the movie, Arteta thanked the audience, saying that “there are 1,700 people here tonight and this is the largest audience at one time that I will ever have. You are the fourth audience in the country to see the movie.”

Director Miguel Arteta's Q&A after the screening
Many of the Michigan-based extras who were in the movie were at the Michigan Theater, and they stood up to applause when Arteta asked them to. He joked, “I loved all the Michigan extras. I didn’t know at times if we were at a convention or making a movie – it was confusing!”

Russ Collins added that he “can tell [you] that the buzz at Sundance for the movie was very high – I was walking around hearing people talk about [Cedar Rapids].”

Arteta later talked about three of the main characters, played by John C. Reilly, Ed Helms, and Isiah Whitlock. He said that Reilly is a very big improviser, which made the movie fun, and that Arteta “loves that the movie is about such an innocent character.” (referring to Ed Helms’s role)

“Ed reminds me of Jack Lemmon – he’s very sweet, very funny. Him and John C. Reilly are very funny together,” he said.

As for the two movies themselves, I can’t divulge specifics, but I enjoyed both of them very much, in different ways. “Cedar Rapids” is probably one of the most bizarre movies I’ve seen lately, but in a good way - it reminded me of a combination of “The Hangover,” which Helms was also in, and “The Forty Year Old Virgin” - and “Win Win” was a lot funnier that I thought it would be. If you like comedies, I would recommend seeing both of these films when they are released in theaters.

“Win Win” will be out in theaters in mid-March, and “Cedar Rapids” will be out in limited release on February 11th and in the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas in late February or early March.

*To see more pictures and coverage of the event, check out my article at FORMzine.

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