Waiting in line for the night’s festivities, one couldn’t help but soak in the scene. Ahab beards and intricate scarves were everywhere. Schakolad flowers were devoured with complimentary wine and beer from Arbor Brewing Company. Salsa music competed with an organ player, creating a groovy vibe. Seva’s vegetarian fare met harmoniously with Totoro’s delicious pork and chicken. And Ann Arbor’s middle-aged literati got to mingle with teenage freaks to rap about how cool it is that Bruce Conner is gonna show up later this week.
All these happenings at the Michigan Theater could only mean one thing: The 47th Ann Arbor Film Festival opened last night and, as always, it was a hell of an event. The opening-night gala reception was a splendid affair, complete with all the amenities of a posh and proper function. At 47 years old, this event felt as fresh as ever.
The night was like a grand three course meal. First was the rad gala, where Ann Arbor’s tastiest treats met with its most artistically inclined individuals. Second, the main theater opened and several speeches ushered in the event. Finally, opening-night screening selections brought the affair to an end.
The opening gala was excellent. The scene was set for a good time and a geography theme was nicely present in the design. Google Maps slide shows went perfectly with inflatable globes in the Theater lobby. Think geography class, but cooler. Like Festival Executive Director Donald Harrison said, this year was a “new world of indie cinema.”
Sights, sounds and sensational food bombarded the opening crowd. It was a place to eat sushi during cattle-call shorts without feeling awkward. The seemingly smaller number of people than last year’s opening didn’t matter. The word was excitement, and everyone knew it.
Showcasing this year’s international theme, the Festival’s opening speeches were candid and captivating. Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater, graciously welcomed everyone to the event. Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje did a global roll call with the audience. Festival Artistic Director Christen McArdle shared her excitement, detailing what’s happening in this year’s program. And Donald Harrison emceed the whole opening, reminding everyone to take notice of the geography motifs but, above all, to have a good time.
But in the end, the screenings were what everyone was there for. Like a champagne bottle thrown against a boat, Thomas Draschen’s “Freude” opened this year’s event with a bang. In-your-face and out of control (with naked ladies and gorillas), the short was as wildly eclectic as those that followed.
Stop-motion animation was used to perfection in Michael Langen’s “Dahlia” and PES’s “Western Spaghetti.” “Out of Print,” from Danny Plotnick, was the most accessible work of hipster dismay this side of “High Fidelity.” Pat Roberston and The Weather Underground showed up too in “P.R.” and “Clear Glasses,” respectively. And the inimitable Don Hertzfeldt ended the opening with his outstanding piece, “i am so proud of you.”
But that was only a slice of the opening. And even in itself, the whole opening was just a sliver of a week’s worth of deliciously diverse film. So if last night was any indicator, the 47th AAFF is going to be magnificent.
Like the slogan goes, “Welcome to the new world of independent cinema.” A grand welcome indeed.