The Ann Arbor Film Festival has a 39-year history of showcasing talented filmmakers early in their careers (just ask Gus Van Sant and George Lucas, both past winners) and is always worth the price of admission. As every year, the experimental film festival brought to light many new talents, while returning favorites tried to redefine their respective niches.

Paul Wong
Maria Vasilkovsky”s surreal animated “”Fur and Feathers”” was a stand-out of this year”s Ann Arbor Film Festival.<br><br>Courtesy of Maria Vasilkovsky

The film ran the gamut from Zachary Scheuren”s “Dunkler kann Es Nicht Werden,” which was complex and dark as its title, to Nancy Andrews” innovative “Hedwig Page, Seaside Librarian,” a favorite with both audiences and critics, taking home two awards.

Andrews combined puppet animation and live action to tell the story of a librarian who retires to the coast, only to begin circulating her prolific seashell collection, which she has organized by the Dewey Decimal system. Never underestimate the popularity of a puppet boxing. The film won the “Screeners Choice for Narrative Integrity” award, as well as the “Marvin Felheim Special Jury Award.”

The “Detroit Filmmakers Coalition Award” went to Dever Rochon and Lydia Modica for “Whippersnapper,” a short film about a boy who refuses to accept that his grandfather”s recent stroke has left him immobile and unable to speak. He plays with his grandfather, wheels him around, and tries to make him “snap out of it” by irritating him to the point where he will stop pretending. Somehow the film manages to make the grandfather”s horrible situation seem manageable, as everyone around him loves him. “I can still have fun with my grandpa,” the young boy says, “whether he likes it or not.”

And what film festival could possibly be complete without a nod to “70s exploitation flicks. Winning an honorable mention was Shawn P. Morrissey”s “Automatic Meat Probe” is a strange and jarring parody of action films. Using footage from a fight scene that looks like it is out of a B-movie, Morrissey uses jumpy, frantic camerawork and fast motion repetition of the fight that creates an assault on your senses. Strangely entertaining while still poking fun at the genre, it is a visually unique film.

One of the most visually stunning and evocative films was Maria Vasilkovsky”s “Fur and Feathers,” an animation short done with paint on glass. The dreamlike interactions between the elf-like man and woman who are featured in the film are surreal and strangely funny, and the swirling blue colors of the film were mesmerizing.

Another favorite was Ann Alter”s “Team Red,” a shocking documentary about three subjects- two women and a man, all infected with HIV- with an unusual task: they are part of a titular group whose mission is to infect powerful corporate executives with AIDS. All three subjects, dead since the film was produced, stated with no uncertainty that what they were doing was no worse than the corporations seizing and destroying land. The frank discussion about the stigma of HIV and the activities of “rich white men” infected, was eerie and brilliant.

Festival veteran Jay Rosenblatt scored honorable mention with one of his two brief entries, “Nine Lives (The Eternal Moment of Now),” a one-minute look at the life of a cat. Rosenblatt”s second entry was the quaint story of his childhood fear that worms could rain down from the sky.

While any film festival, by nature, is a mixed bag, this years AAFF scored on several emotional levels, offering funny, sad, irreverent and frightening reminders why film as an art form lives on. For a full list of this years winners, check out the festival”s official website at www.aafilmfest.org.

Daily Film Editor Lyle Henretty contributed to this report.

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