Design by Madison Grosvenor

Each year, Ann Arbor hosts the planet’s oldest experimental film festival. Experimental flicks are not easily digested — that’s more or less intrinsic to the genre — but each year our film writers venture to the Michigan Theater to take on a glut of rich and diverse independent films from around the world. Covering a variety of feature-length films, from works of surrealist animation, to documentary-fiction hybrids, to pieces that push the basic elements of sound, light and motion to their limits, join us as we take part in this historic Ann Arbor tradition, entering its 60th year.

— Jacob Lusk, Film Beat Editor

“Rising Sun Blues”

This image is from the official website for the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

The film begins slowly, and at times, the beginning feels too sparse and lacking movement, almost static. The scenes where the women’s faces are surrounded by only blackness beg for something more. But once their stories and the story of the film itself are revealed and the bond between them develops, this minimal style contributes to the spell it casts over the audience. The two women are of utmost importance, the only living beings we can hold onto in the film, and their stories will be told to us by them alone, with nothing around them to hint at what their words could reveal.

Read more from Erin Evans here.

“Looking for Horses”

This image is from the official website for the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

This intersection of visual, audio and written media — in conjunction with Pavlovíc and Zdravko’s occasional difficulty in conversing (Zdravko is hard of hearing from his experience in the Bosnian War, and Pavlovíc has a stutter and isn’t fluent in Serbo-Croatian) — conveys the principal theme of communication in “Looking for Horses.” At one point in the film, Zdravko and Pavlovíc assert that they have their own unique language to communicate with one another. Later on, there’s a lighthearted scene of them trying to teach each other difficult phrases in their respective languages and laughing boisterously at the hilarity of the other’s attempts. Zdravko and Pavlovíc’s unlikely friendship transcends language barriers and generational gaps, and their warm relationship is the core of “Looking for Horses.” 

Read more from Pauline Kim here.

“Rock Bottom Riser”

This image is from the official website for the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

The film’s depiction of nature on the island is unlike anything else you are likely to see.It doesn’t rely on wide, sweeping views of picturesque beaches or jungles, instead preferring to give the audience tight and simple shots of slowly moving lava, trees slowly swaying in the wind and waves crashing on a beach. The imagery often lacks a sense of scale, making large objects suddenly appear incredibly small with just a slight zoom change from the camera. The hypnotic visuals of flowing lava especially contribute to a psychedelic visual experience, the film’s strongest aspect.

Read more from Zach Loveall here.

“The Afterlight”

This image is from the official website for the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

The power of “The Afterlight” lies heavily in the context of its concept. As a single film print (the film cannot be watched online or through any other medium), it acts as a physical relic, preserving the faces and performances of an ensemble cast of actors, none of whom will perform again and most of whom have otherwise faded into obscurity. Its artistic sensibility is obvious enough, exemplified through Shackleton’s clever manipulation of cinematic conventions — he cuts seamlessly between shots from different films as if they were the same film and chooses pieces of dialogue from different films that playfully retain a hint of conversational plausibility when spliced together. However, “The Afterlight” is devoid of any narrative thread — without knowledge of the film’s conception, it is likely to come across as tedious and lacking substance.

Read more from Adrian Hui here.


This image is from the official website for the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

The documentary centers around the titular small town of Shari, which is located on the north coastline of Japan’s second largest island, Hokkaido. There are no principal characters other than the various townspeople living in the village, save for the ever-present “Red Thing,” a person in a monster costume that hulks around in the snow. The film alternates between conventional documentary conversations with the townspeople about living and working in Shari and surreal, abstract sequences of the “Red Thing” and its interactions with both people and the natural world. 

Read more from Alvin Anand here.


This image is from the official website for the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

An archipelago is simply defined as an area inhabited by groups of islands, specifically in Québec, Canada, for this film. Director Félix Dufour-Laperrière (“Ville Neuve”) blurred the lines between imagination and reality throughout the film by taking the viewers on a journey through the islands. The expedition includes sights from Québec’s real and imagined past and explores the idea of what makes a home or territory. The phrase “you don’t exist” is asserted frequently by one narrator to another, who is the supposed tour guide on the viewer’s journey. The journey itself is truly mesmerizing, as Dufour-Laperrière includes an abundance of high, moving camera angles that made me feel like I was flying above the islands.

Read more from Zara Manna here.

“10 Questions for Henry Ford”

This image is from the official website for the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Made with a mix of archival footage, recited documents and scripted scenes, the film demonstrates how Ford shaped — and was shaped by — the surrounding historical context. It’s a documentary of sorts, but delivered in a creative form conceived by director, writer, editor and producer Andy Kirshner (“Liberty’s Secret”). For the scripted sections, Kirshner used Ford’s writings and known beliefs to write dialogue that fit Ford’s own politics and principles — some of which was pulled word-for-word from Ford’s newspaper interview. The scripted scenes show a very alive-looking “ghost” of Ford as he travels to significant locations across Michigan — Greenfield Village, Fair Lane, Willow Run, the Detroit Institute of Arts (where “Detroit Industry,” Diego Rivera’s famous mural commissioned by Edsel Ford, lives) and more — to look for his son Edsel, who died shortly before him.

Read more from Kari Anderson here.