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Cinetopia 2018: 'Love, Gilda' closes out the film festival with laughs, tears and more

Gilda Radner in "Love, Gilda." (Credit: Cinetopia Film Festival)
Gilda Radner in "Love, Gilda." (Credit: Cinetopia Film Festival)

ANN ARBOR – One week and over 50 films later, the 2018 Cinetopia Film Festival is officially over, with its closing night film, "Love, Gilda" -- the documentary about the life of Gilda Radner -- earning many laughs from the crowd, along with some tears and sniffles. The Ann Arbor-based festival screened "Love, Gilda" at the Detroit Film Theatre; a fitting location considering Radner was originally from Detroit. The crowd was massive, nearly selling out the beautiful theater entirely.

In many ways, it was as if we were transported to the mid '70s and early '80s, when Radner was a "not ready for primetime player" on "Saturday Night Live" and performing in her one-woman Broadway show. The audience in the DFT laughed to the point of vibrating the theater itself at times, lining up perfectly with Radner's punchlines (shown in various clips) and audience laughter within the film itself. 

"Director Lisa D’Apolito uses rare personal recordings and journal entries to tell Radner’s story in her own words," Dan Hunt wrote in his Tribeca Film Festival summary. "Along the way, friends and admirers, including Amy Poehler, Cecily Strong, Lorne Michaels, and a host of others, offer their most cherished memories of this brilliant trailblazer. What results is a touching tribute to and a fascinating contemplation of the comedian’s enduring cultural impact."

After some opening remarks from DFT curator Elliot Wilhelm and Michigan Theater executive director Russ Collins, D’Apolito came out to introduce the film and became emotional for a brief moment after seeing the size of the crowd and acknowledging how beautiful it was to show the documentary in Radner's hometown. 

The documentary itself is a touching tribute to a comedian best known for her groundbreaking work on the small screen. When the focus shifts to her marriage with actor Gene Wilder and her battle with ovarian cancer, it's obviously much harder to find the funny. But Radner didn't give up, despite getting bad news on top of worse news, and managed to make jokes about cancer when no one else would or could. When she walks through the front door on "It's Garry Shandling's Show" and explains that she hasn't been on television for a few years because she had cancer, there's a pause, and then she asks, "What did you have?" It's a perfect example of the drive Radner had as well as an example of why she was so inspiring to future SNL stars like Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader and others. 

When the credits rolled, the cheering and clapping was almost deafening, in the best way, with the Detroit crowd clearly loving the documentary. After the credits, there was a lovely clip of the actors featured in the film reading Radner's journal about how she wanted to be buried when she died and what she wanted people to feel if they saw her grave. It was funny, heartbreaking and, quite simply, beautiful.

The same could be said for "Love, Gilda" and the Cinetopia Film Festival as a whole. With its wide-ranging films, from foreign drams and comedies to indie favorites from Sundance and beyond, the Cinetopia Film Festival is something I look forward to every year. Ann Arbor and Detroit aren't often thought of when it comes to major film festivals (Chicago manages to get all the credit), but Cinetopia is a wonderful example of what Michigan has to offer when it comes to having a place to screen the best films from around the world in several local spots. It is pure bliss for film lovers. 

We'll see you next year...

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

Eight films we're most excited about

Three new films added to the lineup

Opening night preview

Bo Burnham's 'Eighth Grade' a hit with audience at sold-out screening

'The Last Race' to screen Friday at the Henry Ford

Check out more Ann Arbor events on the A4 Community Calendar 

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