The 40th annual Ann Arbor Film Festival began a week-long program March 10, 2002, with an opening gala at the Michigan Theater. The festival, which is one of the oldest in the country to deal exclusively with 16 millimeter film, attracts filmmakers from all over the world, from Ann Arbor to Singapore, and explores a variety of styles and visual techniques, ranging from traditional narratives and documentaries to experimental films to animation.
The screenings began March 11 and went through the night of March 16, with multiple shows each day in the main theater of the Michigan Theater. Although each of the 108 films is only showed once, the winners of the $18,000 prize money had their films screened.
This year’s festival was a little different, for in addition to the current entries, the Michigan Theater’s screening room was used to celebrate the history of the film festival by showing over 50 alternative films, like “To War or Not to War,” a film about conscientious objectors and previously released works, such as Andy Warhol’s “Exploding Plastic Inevitable.” Off-site additions to the festival will include late-night performances at the Firefly Club by artists Craig Baldwin as well as Kapt. Sally and Crew.
During the festival, journalist and provocateur Michael Moore will also be showing clips from his film on gun control and signing his book “Stupid White Men and Other Excuses for the State of the Nation.”
Vicki Honeyman, director of the festival for the past 15 years, said that the 40th anniversary is special because it is a chance to “honor our past and look at our future.”
By examining the beginnings of the festival, such as having founder and former director George Manupelli screen some of his work, people can see why the continuing commitment to 16 mm film is so important for helping the festival stay true to its cause, or as Honeyman said “keeping (its) identity.”
Managing Assistant Director Chrisstina Hamilton said that the festival is a “sounding board for all the voices in our greater community … for them to say what they need to say.”
The opening gala was more extensive than years past. In addition to the traditional cocktail party, East Liberty Street was closed down for the Lux Mundi street parade, featuring a Chinese lion dance, and performance artist Pat Oleszko’s sculpture garden.
Inside the theater, John Nelson, who won an Academy Award for Visual Effects for “Gladiator,” talked about his work, and Oleszko performed.
One of the unique aspects of the Ann Arbor Film Festival is the range of material that is assembled for the screenings. “Some important works are not for everybody … There’s probably something in each show that you will love and hate,” Hamilton said.
Honeyman, said that although she loves all types of film, she is partial to the short, experimental films saying, “It’s harder to make a one minute film than it is to make an hour long one … most narrative films that are released are stupid love stories.”
Honeyman also said the festival surpasses other such events because,”we’re not afraid of experimental film. We’re more afraid of narratives. We’re here to show the work that doesn’t have many other venues.”
However, she stresses that the festival does not and will not have a student category because, “We’re not an amateur festival. Most student films are not ready to be shown at this type of festival.”
The screenings, which cost $7 each or $50 for the whole week, ran all day, with events from early afternoon to late night. “Show up anytime – you’ll get a great show every night,” said Hamilton.