“This is kind of like the Holy Grail of film festivals,” said Alexis Bravos, a lecturer in the Screen Arts and Cultures department.

Ann Arbor Film Festival: “Hepworth”

Tomorrow at 9:15 p.m.
Michigan Theater
Tickets from $7

New Directions in Documentary: Panel 1

Thursday at 3:15 p.m.
Michigan Theater

The time-honored Ann Arbor Film Festival has always been about showcasing local talent alongside international ingenuity. Tomorrow, Bravos is premiering her documentary “Hepworth,” a nine-minute visual portrait of the English sculptor Barbara Hepworth and the landscape in which she spent the latter half of her life. For one month, Bravos traveled to the sleepy seaside town of St. Ives in Cornwall, England, staying at a cabin near the beach and shooting in the sculptor’s garden early in the mornings.

“The light (in St. Ives) is very particular, it’s very beautiful — almost like Mediterranean light,” Bravos said.

A portrait of where land and sculpture intersect and woozily echo each other, “Hepworth” was shot on 16mm film on a hand-cranked camera — giving the documentary a feel that mirrors the earthy, tactile materials Hepworth used to craft her sculptures.

“I think the core of the film is about the intersection between the actual sculpture and what kind of informed it,” Bravos said. “The coastline there is very beautiful — there’s a lot of tide pools, places where the sea has kind of eaten away at the rock, and that was something that really visually inspired (Hepworth). So I wanted to not necessarily do a comparison between the landscape and her work, but introduce the two in the same space.”

Bravos has been interested in nonfiction filmmaking since her days as an art school student.

“I don’t think my documentaries are traditional in the sense that they’re not expository,” she said. “I’m not giving you a story — it’s a lot more of audience interaction and what you bring to it.”

According to Anthropology Prof. Zeynep Gürsel, nonfiction film allows people to think about not only whatever knowledge they’re given, but also the form it’s being presented in. Gürsel will be moderating a panel about new directions in documentary filmmaking Thursday afternoon, and hopes not only to discuss new topics but also novel ways of presenting information.

“Ann Arbor Film Festival is really known for celebrating film as an art form, so a lot of the documentaries also have oral elements that are really interesting or aesthetically different,” Gürsel explained.

“One of the things we want to talk about is why documentary is seeing a boom and are there new or different expectations (because of it),” she added. “It seems like the boom in documentary is occurring at the same time that investigative journalism is losing more of its funding, so is it that now we turn to documentary for what some of what we used to get from journalism? Is there room for films that aren’t … advocacy films or didactic films?”

Last year, Gürsel participated in the festival as a filmmaker, promoting and screening her short documentary film “Coffee Futures,” an ethnographic study of fortune-telling cafés in Istanbul. An anthropologist by trade, Gürsel is interested in presenting her research in an experiential, communicable way.

The University faculty has held a longstanding relationship with the Ann Arbor Film Festival. In addition to Gürsel’s piece, last year’s festival showcased another documentary of Bravos’s entitled “A Deep Well,” a four-minute love letter to life in a small North Carolina farm. In the past, other faculty members have also helped in other capacities — pre-screening films, sponsoring screenings, hosting panels and encouraging University students to attend the festival by incorporating its topics into their class curricula.

“I’m always really, really saddened when I meet U of M seniors that have never been to the Michigan Theater — and worse, have never been to the Michigan Theater during the Ann Arbor Film Festival,” Gürsel said.

“I think in many ways we’re extremely lucky in that we’re a small town that has this really big festival,” she added. “It’s important in terms of really bringing together a diverse group of filmmakers … who push the boundaries of fiction or nonfiction.”

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