Attending this week”s 39th Annual Ann Arbor Film Festival at The Michigan Theater will be a revitalizing experience for those who decry the current state of world cinema. The experimental festival, the oldest one in America to showcase 16-millimeter films, draws talent from Ann Arbor to Australia and boasts an array of visual techniques and styles, ranging from animation to cinema verite to narrative to documentary. The screenings begin Tuesday night and continue through Saturday, ranging from two to five shows on any given evening. The festival”s $16,000 in prize money will be handed out to the winners on Sunday, and the winning entries will be screened that evening. Past winners include Gus Van Sant, Brian DePalma, Agnes Varda and George Lucas.
Tickets are seven dollars for individual shows and $50 for a weeklong pass. “I encourage people go to as much as they can, because [each film] is only shown once,” suggests Vicki Honeyman, who is directing the festival for the 14th year. Honeyman is expecting around 5,000 attendants from across the country, and strives to maintain the independent flavor of the festival. “My goal is to prevent it from becoming way off base from what it intended to be.”
The main 16-millimeter entries are the only films competing for awards, and will be screened on The Michigan Theater”s main screen. This year the festival will also be utilizing the theater”s smaller screening room for special “sidebar” programs. Sidebar programs include films that are shown as part of a theme, such as a gay-themed or a relationships-themed evenings. There will also be a virtual reality program in The Michigan Theater”s main lobby.
The festival was started in 1963 by University School of Art filmmaker and artist George Manupelli. Manupelli”s vision was to create a festival for those who saw film as an art form, and give them a forum to express their ideas without the conformity of categories, censorship, or “media tastemakers.” In 1980, the festival broke away from the University and became an independent entity, a not-for-profit organization that not only has headquarters in Ann Arbor, but also sponsors a tour of the winning films, taking them across the country.
The festival gets larger every year, and saw a particular jump in the number of film submissions this year, the first time entries were allowed to be submitted via videotape. There were several more entries from Michigan this year, including the ten that won admission. While two of these films are from Ann Arbor, Honeyman assures that there is no student category, as AAFF is “not an amateur festival.”
While other media is being explored this year (“Because it exists,” says Honeyman), the main focus is, as it has always been 16mm films. Most of the filmmakers agree that this is an important part of the festival.” I love the image quality of the film. The texture, grain, saturation, details in shadow areas are still superior to video,” says Jay Rosenblatt, a California filmmaker who has two of his films, “Nine Lives (The Eternal Moment of Now)” and “Worm” competing in this years festival. Roach, a veteran of the film-festival circuit and past winner in Ann Arbor, feels that film shorts allows for an important exercise of creative prowess. “I believe in minimalism. Less is more. If you overstate something you actually diminish its power. I try to find a form that best suits the content.”
Artist Maria Vasilkovsky, who brings her short animated feature “Fur & Feathers” to the festival this year, agrees with the importance of form and content. This is Vasilkovsky”s first endeavor into painting on glass, a tedious process that took her over two years to produce her stylish five minute short. The film meditates on love and passion between two seemingly opposite personalities, showing the two individuals flawlessly morphing into different shapes and ideas. “Firstly I was not confident that I could realize my storyboard in this unfamiliar medium,” Vasilkovsky told The Daily. “Soon after I started, however, it was clear that my only true concern should be the content of my message: what it is I”m trying to say and how interesting it is. As long as the concept was present, its realization was wishes coming true.”
The festival is often a vehicle for conflicting ideas and emotions, both of the filmmakers and their subjects. While New York”s Dean Kapsalis” “Jigsaw Venus” invests the viewer in the lonely life of refreshingly normal looking naked people, British filmmaker Suzie Templeton”s “Stanley” shows an animated man”s deadly obsession with his cabbage. Two striking documentaries, Peter Miller”s “The Internationale” and Elida Schogt”s “The Walnut Tree” show how beautiful and terrifying history can be, on both a worldly and deeply personal level. “Two colliding worlds,” suggests Schogt. “This is how “The Walnut Tree” is structured in terms of both image and text. There is a constant movement between facts and history (the tangible) on one hand and emotions and memory (the abstract) on the other.” “The Internationale” tells the absorbing history of how one song can represent both freedom and oppression, sometimes at the exact same time.
The festival brings this emotion to the masses, and many artists are given a chance to showcase their work for the first time. So if you are interested in seeing the next Lucas, Van Sant, or DePalma, the Ann Arbor Film Festival can be a once-in-a-lifetime event.