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Michigan Film Battles Captain America

by Lisa Diggs

Making movies in Michigan is nothing new, but this weekend a film opens that has the potential to positively impact both the local economy and image of the state in a unique and ongoing manner. Jinn is the brainchild of writer/director Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, and it was filmed in Michigan without financial support from a distributor or major studio.

The film, which is notably and purposefully devoid of abandoned streetscapes, was shot in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Highland Park, Monroe, Port Austin and Bloomfield Hills. Location scouts creatively cast the Catholic convent, Immaculate Heart of Mary, as a mental hospital, utilized the old Model T plant, and even the University of Michigan makes a candid. Best of all the project was not just filmed here, but produced by a local company.

In 2008, Michigan offered nationally competitive film incentives, which helped to build a film production infrastructure and workforce. The incentives drew large-scale productions like Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air starring George Clooney, and Shawn Levy’s Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman, to name a few. Some hired locally, while others brought in their own crews, but all were produced out of state. If Michigan is to grow its film prospects without strict reliance on incentives, a skilled local workforce is one key, and local production capability is another.

Jinn is produced by Exxodus Pictures in Detroit, a company co-founded by filmmaker Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad and Richard Mandell, the CEO of One Reverse Mortgage. Mandell also serves as Executive Producer on this project alongside local physician, Najam Syed and entrepreneur Shahid Syed. The team is hoping to create the next big film franchise, and to continue to employ Michigan crews to grow the industry.

“It’s been a dream to build something in Detroit you would normally build out in L.A., which is a great place, but it’s not home,” says Ahmad. “I wanted to bring some magic back to Michigan.”

Ahmad’s parents were born in India, moved to Pakistan, then to England, and eventually to the United States. He was born and raised in West Bloomfield and attended Detroit Country Day. As a child he heard many warnings about the jinn upon which his film is based, yet wondered why some of his friends had never heard of them. The answer is likely rooted in cultural differences.

Jinn are spiritual creatures etched in centuries of Eastern folklore, described in ancient texts around the world. According to jinn mythology they aren’t easily separated into categories of good or evil. Like humans, jinn are agents of free will capable of establishing friends, families, communities and religions, but they also differ greatly in that they are in possession of supernatural abilities.

It brings to mind an X-Men kind of modern relevance and entertainment value, but with the potential to provide insight into an ancient culture. Ahmad says, “Through acts of shared storytelling, we can bridge cultural divides, revealing our histories in a format everyone can enjoy.”

Michigan filmgoers will find an undeniable familiarity in the lead character, Shawn (Dominic Rains), an automotive designer residing in Ann Arbor. He is living a simple life with his new wife Jasmine (Serinda Swan).  The financial success of a sleek new muscle car design has Shawn thinking about fatherhood. Just as he dreams of expanding his family, a cryptic message arrives warning of imminent danger and a curse that has afflicted his family for generations. Shawn is not eager to believe this unsettling revelation, until strange happenings start to influence his mindset.

If you’re going to set a film in Michigan with a car as a co-star, you better pick a vehicle that does the Motor City justice so Exxodus partnered with Michigan-based Classic Design Concepts to build Shawn’s creation, the Firebreather. They not only created a car fit for a hero, but made it available both on and off-screen. That’s right you can buy one of your own.

If owning a new custom car is a bit out of your price range, then at least you can buy a ticket and see one on the big screen. The movie is opening in several local theaters including: AMC Fairlane 21 in Dearborn, AMC Forum 30 and MJR MarketPlace Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, AMC Gratiot 21 in Clinton Township, AMC Great Lakes Crossing 25 in Auburn Hills, AMC 20 in Livonia, AMC John R 15 in Madison Heights, AMC 20 in Southfield, MJR 20 in Southgate, Emagine in Canton, Emagine in Novi, Uptown8 in Birmingham, Rave 20 in Ypsilanti, as well as Celebration Cinema 19 and NCG Eastwood Cinema 19 in Lansing.

In addition to Michigan, the film is also being shown in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Ontario, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and even Guam.

While it is certainly in more theaters than most films produced within the state, Jinn will open on just 200 screens against the massively budgeted and promoted Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While the Captain will surely rule the box office, fans of superhero franchises in that vein will also likely enjoy the mythological adventure of Jinn, which harkens back to the kind of superhero movies its creator has enjoyed since he was a kid.

“The movies I gravitate toward have all the classic elements of heroism and enchantment, which is what I’m trying to do today,” says Ahmad. “I truly believe in the idea that we can shape the world, little by little, by putting positive images into the collective consciousness.”

If his movie does well at the box office, and leads to a made in Michigan sequel, the filmmaker may find himself cast as somewhat of a hero, changing the prospects of the local film industry little by little.   


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