MCN Blogs
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Spotlight: Ann Arbor Film Festival

Much of the indie film world is gearing up for South by Southwest, which runs in Austin (the film part, anyhow) March 11-19. And they have a swell slate, and Austin’s a fun town, and SXSW is always a great party sandwiched around some interesting films, but you already know that. Love SXSW, love the folks who run it, but you already know about that fest, right? Probably you already have your digs set, your plane ticket purchased, your film-and-party slate lined up.

What you may be less aware of is the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which runs March 22-27 in lovely Ann Arbor, Michigan. When I went there a couple years ago, it was C-O-L-D! And it snowed during the fest. In March! But I didn’t care, because the films that Ann Arbor programs are so engaging, and their primary venue, the Michigan Theater, is just a lovely place to celebrate film.

AAFF just announced their slate for their 49th year, and it includes an opening night world premiere of The Florestine Collection, the last film of the late Helen Hill, slain during a 2007 home invasion in New Orleans. The film was seen to completion by her husband, Paul Gailiunas. The fest has all kinds of excellent, fascinating programs this year, including a live multimedia performance by Amsterdam trio Telcosystems, which just had an installation at Rotterdam. Are you kidding me? I would go to AAFF this year for that, if it was the ONLY thing on their slate.

But that’s not all … AAFF also has:

An entire night of LGBT programming called Out Night (this, I’m pretty sure, is new since I was there last).

And check out their experimental slate, which is my favorite part of AAFF! The experimentals are an absolute treasure trove if you’re into exploring that realm of cinema, and reason enough to trek to Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor is the oldest experimental film festival in North America, and it has become a showcase for indie and experimental filmmakers to present their work before an appreciative audience. The year that I attended, every screening was packed. I saw some of the coolest experimental films I’ve ever seen, and heaps of awesome animation and shorts.

I ate dinner with Ellen Kuras and talked about cinematography and lighting issues and the tenacity it took to stick with her project Nerakhoon (Betrayal) for the 20 years it took to get that film made. I listened to master animator Bill Plympton preach his gospel of how to make a living making the kinds of films you want to make, and found that while I have neither the talent or inclination to be an animator, most of what he had to say applies to indie film generally, which I am interested in.

Ann Arbor is one of those well-entrenched little regional fests that does a superb job of both knowing the community it’s serving, and finding a niche and excelling in it. Personally, if I were an experimental filmmaker I’d far rather submit my film to AAFF, where it would be lovingly showcased and appreciated and discussed passionately than at, say, Sundance, where it would likely get lost in the shuffle. No one’s making experimental films to explore getting rich, they’re doing it for the art, and there’s no better fest than AAFF (in North America at least, where we can be a little behind the curve on these things) for truly experimental and avant garde work to be appreciated.

But beyond that, I’d like to posit that AAFF is a great example of how a regional festival can really serve a role in its community of expanding audience interest in films that are aiming more for the realm of art than purely entertainment. You go to the experimental slate there, it’s like sitting down in a dark room at an art gallery and being bombarded by astounding imagery that pushes the boundaries of what you can do with film. Ann Arbor isn’t Rotterdam, or Amsterdam. It’s a college town. Lots of smart people, just as in any college town. There’s no reason other fests in close proximity to major universities couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be pushing their programming boundaries the way AAFF is.

By curating experimental film — not to mention programming lots of animation and shorts — in addition to a more traditional slate, AAFF has set a high bar for their community on what they expect that a film festival can and should be. They don’t just program the “easy As,” the films that anyone can like without trying. Year after year, they program a challenging slate that sends the message to the local residents who flock to their screenings, “Yes, you are smart enough to handle this. And if you don’t like it, that’s cool, let’s talk about why.”

I love the way the AAFF team programs and runs this fest, and I wish more regional fests would have the guts to push the boundaries in the way AAFF has been doing since 1963. If you live in or near Ann Arbor, you have no excuse for not checking out this festival. If you don’t? Well, aim to put it on your calendar some year, will you? I promise, it will be well worth it.

Oh, and P.S. … I forgot to mention that they put out a DVD of the fest’s short films every year, which is awesome. So if you can’t go to Ann Arbor, you can still buy the DVD and be the envy of your cinephile friends.

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2 Responses to “Spotlight: Ann Arbor Film Festival”

  1. Milos says:

    I love experimental films,
    I made 3 short films. “Still Death” is one of them.

  2. Rick C says:

    This years AAFF DVD is awesome!

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon