Going behind-the-scenes of the film fest

BY JIWON LEE
Daily Arts Writer
Published March 11, 2004

When looking through the synopses for the 105 films in
competition at the upcoming Ann Arbor Film Festival, it’s
hard not to be dazed at the pure variety. Ranging from one minute
long to feature film length, the films come from all over the world
and are jewels of experimental, documentary and animated stylings.
Being one of the most prestigious film festivals to be showcased
in, filmmakers flock to enter their works. In previous years, about
500 entries were submitted. With the new change allowing digital
films in the festival, about 1,600 entries were handed in this
year. Each underwent a critical process.

Julie Pannuto
"Colorforms" airs March 19 at 9:30 p.m. (Photoscourtesy of the Ann Arbor Film Festival)
Julie Pannuto
"Mouskouri and a Cabbage Tree" airs March 20 at 1 p.m.(Photos courtesy of the Ann Arbor Film Festival)
Julie Pannuto
Film reels are meticulously labeled and organized according to their day, time and theater location. (Trevor Campbell/Daily)

There is a committee of pre-screeners who watch all of the
entries and weed out pieces which do not fit in with the
festival’s mission. The pre-screeners are unpaid volunteers
who have backgrounds in film and have experience with experimental
film in particular. This initial judgment is very preliminary and
is meant to sort out only the most obviously unsuitable pieces.

As pre-screener and Film and Video lecturer Stashu Kybartas
describes it, “I try to go by their (the festival’s)
criteria and historically what the festival represents:
non-commercial and more artistically geared pieces. Sometimes
people don’t understand on a fundamental level what the
festival is about.” Kybartas himself was one of the 13
pre-screeners and went through 50 or 60 films, writing comments and
recommendations.

However, just because a film isn’t recommended in this
first level of acceptance does not mean it is out of the running
completely. A screening committee will then go back and view 90
percent of the rejected pieces to make sure they aren’t right
for the festival. If any screening committee member feels the film
deserves another chance, it is pulled back into the list of
possible pieces. In fact, no film is rejected because of only one
person’s ratings, making Ann Arbor a unique festival in that
regard.

“We feel it’s very important that it’s not
just one person that sees the work. I think Ann Arbor is so special
because of how we respect the work and filmmakers doing the work.
Some festivals are about the viewers or the audience and our
festival is all about the artist and the filmmaker,” said
Festival Director Chrisstina Hamilton.

An extension of this caring is seen in the awarding of honorable
mentions.

Shrihari Sathe, LSA junior and two-year festival intern,
describes these awards saying, “If there’s a particular
film that doesn’t fit into any of the categories and the
judges think a film deserves an award, then it would probably get
an honorable mention award.” Shri is one of eight interns who
work nearly year-round for the festival. Their jobs can range from
picking the filmmakers up at the airport to labeling tapes for the
database.

This year there was actually two screening committees because of
the tripled amount of entries. The two committees would screen
films separately and then engage in a complex system of votes and
ratings. The details are tedious, and it is clear immediately how
much work the screening committees did to ensure a quality
lineup.

So what exactly are the screeners looking for? Hamilton made it
clear that variety is encouraged and no clear cut standard could be
applied, but Ann Arbor is historically a festival grounded on
experimental film. It is the oldest festival of its kind,
celebrating its 42nd year after its birth in 1963 and is
internationally known.

Experimental film is anything the filmmaker can dream up.
Kybartas explains experimental film by saying, “It’s
work that attempts to break rules or push boundaries. It tries to
look at ways that film can be used as a creative medium instead of
direct storytelling . . . it can take on many different
forms.”

Third time festival filmmaker and Film and Video lecturer
Jennifer Hardacker said, “It’s meant to be vague and
broad. It’s something that doesn’t fit neatly into the
idea of a documentary or a narrative.” Hardacker’s own
film of ‘For Summers to Come’ is a 14-minute
experimental piece meant to create nostalgia and memories of the
summer for her then 1-year-old son.

Hamilton described experimental film in saying, “It
requires the viewer to be engaged to create meaning and
structure.”

The viewer’s ticket for 90 minutes of the festival
experience can cover anything from one film to 20 films in one
screening. The collage of animation and documentary and
experimental films is described by many as a truly unique
experience, and as Shrihari Sathe said, “Festival week is
crazy. It’s so much fun. It’s filmmaking at its
best.”

Opening night kicks off on Tuesday with music and of course,
films. More information can be find at "http://www.aafilmfest.org">www.aafilmfest.org.