The Ann Arbor Film Festival: Final day

Thursday, April 4, 2019 - 3:39pm

"Running in Circles"

"Running in Circles" Buy this photo
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The 57th Ann Arbor Film Festival came to a close on Sunday night with a screening of some of this year’s award-winning short films. While The Daily’s coverage of the festival has largely focused on feature-length entrants, the eight shorts presented on Sunday ran the gamut of film-making techniques, packing a wide spectrum of innovation into 74 minutes. A few of the films stood out as exceptionally engaging.

As an art history major, I particularly enjoyed Running in Circles, a short silent film by Ei Toshinari and Duy Nguyen. Shot at Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty,” a work of land art near Rozel Point in Utah, the film shows a man running through the spiral from multiple perspectives. This union of art forms was a common theme among a few of the shorts. Most notably, Cheri Gaulke’s short documentary Gloria’s Callfollowed the studies and travels of Gloria Orenstein in the 1970s, sharing the stories of her friendships and encounters with leading female artists of the surrealist movement. Gloria’s Callexplores femininity, spirituality and surrealism through a feminist lens; a refreshing presentation of surrealism’s oft forgotten heroines. We Were Hardly More Than Children,a film by Cecelia Condit, incorporates the Francis Bacon-esque paintings of Diane Messinger to explore memory and pain. The film’s dream-like presentation makes the narrative, a story of an illegal abortion in 1969, even more gut-wrenching.

My clear favorite however was La Via Divina (The Divine Way)by Ilaria di Carlo. A parody of Dante’s Inferno, the approximately 15-minute film depicts a woman descending an infinite staircase. Beautiful staircases are shown one after another, each time the same woman begins from the top of the frame and continues her descent. All sorts of architectural forms are represented in the staircases: industrial, Victorian, neoclassical. Most staircases circle infinitely downward in spirals, ellipses and squares, while some proceed in a straight line. This ridiculously playful film is cinema at its most essential: Beautiful forms depicted in motion, vivid color and rich texture, a score which complements the direction to highlight shifts in architectural style and mood.

With La Via Divina,Ilaria di Carlo won the Barbara Aronofsky Latham Award for an emerging experimental video artist. We Were Hardly More Than Childrentook the Eileen Maitland Award, and Running in Circlewon the George Manupelli Founder’s Spirit Award, while Gloria’s Callwas awarded Best Documentary Film. Other films shown at the screening ventures into the more avant-garde. For example, Phantom Ride Phantomby Siegfried A. Fruhaul, winner of a Jury Award, was a jarring and darkly post-modern symphony of aggressive audio over flashing photographs of railroad tracks. As Above, So Belowby Cooper Holoweski used a split screen to develop the simultaneously endearing and unsettling notion that a whole universe may exist within every neutron — that our whole existence may lie within a microscopic particle in a larger, super-universe. This film won the PROCAM Best Regional Filmmaker Award.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival’s embrace of experimentation in film is laudable. The award-winning shorts presented on Saturday instilled in me a new appreciation for innovative filmmaking by pushing me away from a canonical perspective on the art of film. While shorts may be an occasionally overlooked subsection of cinema, they contain some of the most artistic implementation of film’s unique qualities as a medium of expression.