The Ann Arbor Film Festival kicks off its 41st annual celebration tomorrow night in a gala at the Michigan Theater. The festival, which began in 1963, runs this year from March 11 to 16 with a diverse lineup of events planned throughout the week. Specializing in experimental and independent 16mm films, the festival has been a landmark of the Ann Arbor community for the past five decades and is recognized both nationally and internationally as one of the world’s most celebrated film festivals.

Todd Weiser

Creative minds from as far away as South Korea and Iran will converge in town this week to celebrate independent cinema. Festival attendees can expect to see a versatile body of work from documentary features to animated shorts, ranging in length from two minutes to two hours, all highlighting the festival goal of “promoting film as art and honoring the filmmakers who make it possible.”

“The Projectionist” is one of the many films that embodies the ideals of the festival. The 15-minute experimental animated piece, by Australian filmmakers Michael Bates and Anna Messariti, follows a projectionist who is overwhelmed by visions of his life as he walks the city streets after screening his last film.

One of the unique opportunities of the festival this year is a “Spotlight on Japan” on Saturday at 8 and 10 p.m. in the screening room. The event features a wide array of gripping films from renowned filmmakers such as Tadasu Takamine, Shiho Kano, Takashi Ishida and Mizuki Akihama.

Avid, one of the sponsors of the festival, will be holding a seminar on Thursday to show off its new, personal digital video editing studio, Avid Xpress DV v3.5. Attendees will be given a thorough demonstration of the new software and can enter in a drawing to win a free copy of the program.

Film Jam – a program where filmmakers not entered in festival competition can show off their work in a communal setting – will be held Wednesday afternoon at 1 p.m. The seminars of the festival are held in the screening room of the Michigan Theater and are free of charge.

This year the festival will be awarding $18,000 in prizes to over 30 films in various categories. The top prize, the Ken Burns Best of Festival award, will give $3,000 to the filmmaker. Other prestigious awards include the Michael Moore Best Documentary Film award, the Lawrence Kasdan Best Narrative Film award and the Gus Van Sant Best Experimental Film award. The winners in those competitive genres will receive $1,000 in prize money.

Every year the Ann Arbor Film Festival selects three renowned individuals in the film community to be on the jury that ultimately decides which filmmakers take home the various awards. Jury members for the 41st annual event are Nancy Andrews, Philip Hoffman and Elida Schogt. Andrews is a filmmaker and performance artist who has had her work on display at the Museum of Modern Art. Hoffman is an experimental filmmaker who is also a faculty member of the University of York in Toronto. Schogt, another Toronto-based filmmaker, received international acclaim for her trilogy on the Holocaust.

This year’s festivities will be the first under the direction of Hamilton, who has served as managing assistant director of the festival since 1999. Hamilton takes over for Vicki Honeyman, who resigned last year after 15 successful years as festival director.

Tickets to the individual screenings of the festival are $5 for students and $7 for general admission. For those who plan on attending several of the events, a weeklong pass is offered for $50.

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