Ann Arbor’s an artsy town, it holds many art festivals and downtown is littered with galleries and public art.  The town also plays host to many independent, selected location film releases, such as Across the Universe was.  These smaller, literary films almost, do not belong in giant cinemas where the popcorn is overpriced and the environment pushes you out as soon as the film is done.  Thankfully, Ann Arbor has two lovely independent theaters downtown.  They’re really close together, less than a block, and it’s a wonder competition hadn’t forced one of them to close down at some point in history.  Since 1997 the two have been partners; the owners of the State Theater hired the program team at the Michigan to handle booking and marketing services for the other theater as well.

The Michigan Theater

The Michigan Theater shows more than just movies; campus groups, singers, orchestras, comedians, and a variety of speakers from Michael Moore to Charlene Harris have all entertained an audience here.  I can’t think of a more beautiful setting.  The Michigan is a historic building, restored in the late 1980s, with the auditorium graced by molding and gold leaf.  There’s even a red velvet curtain that can be drawn across the stage and a balcony whose front row provides the best seats for watching dance performances.

The Auditorium was constructed in the 20s when silent films were shown with live musical Michigan Theater Historic AuditoriumCredit: and was the only theater room when the Michigan Theater opened in 1928.  The original organ, a 1927 Barton Theater Pipe Organ, is still at the theater and played regularly.  The Auditorium is a ‘live’ house, meaning it is perfect for a classical music concert, but it also utilizes the same sound system as the Screening Room.

The Screening Room is a new addition to the theater added in 1999.  It’s a smaller venue, and not as ornate. It was built purposely for film, as opposed to the multi-purpose use of the Auditorium, and as such has a more contained sound.  The beauty of this room is that live events won’t interrupt the viewing of a film.

Every year the Michigan Theater hosts the Ann Arbor Film Fest, as well as smaller similar festivals through out the year, and it is the home location for performances by the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. On a more daily basis, the theater focuses on bringing contemporary foreign, independent American, and documentary films to Ann Arbor.  Every summer also sees a return of the Summer Classic Film Series, with a different classic film being shown each week.

The State Theater

Just down the street from the Michigan Theater, this venue caters a bit more to the student crowd but still shows a wide selection of American independent films. Movies are all that can be seen here, State Theater at NightCredit: from the artwork displayed as part of a wall gallery between the two rooms the State Theater has.

Built in 1942, the theater quickly became a part of student life, as evident by a large neon clock that reminded students at the University of the enforced curfew during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s that has since been removed.  It has an art-deco style, quite different from the decorations at the Michigan, but a large box (it can’t be called a stage as it is never used as such) has played with the room dimensions to the extent where it’s impossible to sit too close to the screen.  You never have to worry about strained necks here!

Today, the State Theater is known for it’s midnight movies; cult classics every Saturday night at midnight.  The most popular one by far is the yearly run of The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Halloween weekend.