The weather is unseasonably warm. Coats are getting thinner, maybe even disappearing. Order is restored to the world.

Jessica Boullion
Crowds and candy chandeliers fill the lobby of The Michigan Theater. (ZACHARY MEISNER/Daily)

So where am I?

I’m alone in the dark at the Michigan and State Theaters watching obscure films. And I’m enjoying every moment of it.

It was the Ann Arbor Film Festival again. A blend of the eccentric, the enlightening and the unexpectedly engaging marked yet another year of miscellaneous film. And this year, it’s extra free of censorship (as I’m sure you’ve heard), but what was there to really see in the festivities? As luck would have it, not all art-house cinema is as oblique as you’d think. Not everything was experimental imagery cut to pulsating and diluted music.

Many competition films shined. Mark Taylor’s “Sensing the World By Echo” is the most nonsensical look at growing up with sci-fi ever seen in collage. “Pump” from Sinisa Kukic somehow overcomes the norms of pretentious art-school camera tricks to create something bewildering and emotional, and a gorgeously aged and weathered experimental documentary makes up Gyula Nemes’s “The Dike of Transience.” In it, a mash-up of old men, animals and an urgent need to deconstruct a dam comes through to startling effect.

All in all, there were way too many films to cover, and that was a good thing. The options included slow-motion raving (“Black and White Trypps Number Three”), vibrantly colorful images (“Where You Are Is Not Where You Are Going”) and small children raising a blow-up doll in womanhood (“Sharony”). There were few limits.

But it was Saturday’s “Banned in Michigan” showcase, a satisfyingly defiant look at our freedoms of speech, that highlighted the festival’s true colors. The set was a triumph. With titles like “Five Fucking Fables,” “Soggy Penis Sydrome” and “America’s Biggest Dick,” it was off to a good start. But uncompromised and unaltered works championed this set. “Pleasureland” was a darkly comical look at one man’s sexual relations with a VCR that turns into women after he rents pornography. Old-school hand-made films got a contemporary facelift as “The Arousing Adventures of Sailor Boy” made one sailor’s attempts to score incredibly hilarious. Imagine Charlie Chaplin as a horn-dog and you’re somewhere close.

And what alternative festival would be complete without some incredibly bizarre independent midnight movies? This year’s pair came from indie icon Alejandro Jodorowsky. His “El Topo” is a grisly surrealist western of unrelenting vigor, although the hit this weekend was his “The Holy Mountain,” which left audiences galvanized. Or, rather, fondly scratching heads.

Men banging drums in front of fighting dogs. Breasts in the shape of tiger heads shooting milk out of nude old men. Gun shots that elicit blue and yellow blood. A room with 1,000 testicles. Limbless midgets experimenting with drugs and beating corpses. Yeah, it was all in this movie, a visual marvel inspired by the LSD-laved 1970s.

The AAFF also let loose in a different direction – short comedic works such as “Masters of the Sea,” “The Boy In The Air” and “Boobie Girl” showed a film festival at its most frivolously fun. “Masters” was a mockumentary of wholly unique subject matter. Who knew sex with sharks could be so funny? And “Boy” gives non-sequitor good karma as one woman perplexes over the all-too-confusing nature of a magazine ad’s frighteningly literal connotations. Since when could little children jump so high? And “Boobie Girl” is the sweetest attempt anyone could ever make to understand why women worry over their breasts so much. It’s like “Sex and the City” meets “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” if there ever was such a thing.

The AAFF offered so much, and I couldn’t be more satisfied in having taking part in it. It’s the feeling of true artistic and creative expression almost never seen in the multiplex – a feeling a few more students at the University could stand to experience.

– For a list of festival winners, go to http://aafilmfest.org.


45th Annual Ann Arbor Film Festival
Last Tuesday through Sunday
At the Michigan Theater

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