The Michigan Daily discovered in April 2005 that several articles written by arts editor Marshall W. Lee did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. Although the article below has not been found to contain plagiarism, the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily’s editorial.

Beth Dykstra
The Michigan Theater on Liberty Street will host the Ann Arbor Film Festival this week. The festival will screen 125 different projects, ranging from local films to national and international works. (Ashley Harper/Daily)


On a historic evening 43 years ago, University School of Art and Design Prof. George Manupelli gathered a casual group of close friends, artists and fascinated students into a smoke-filled Lorch Hall auditorium to watch a few films. When the lights dimmed and the whispers subsided, a projector jumped to life and the show began. From these rather inauspicious beginnings came the Ann Arbor Film Festival, an internationally renowned celebration of the filmic arts that will continue in its grand tradition March 15 through 20 at the Michigan Theater.

Originally intended as an exhibition space for Midwestern and Michigan-based 16mm work, the festival has evolved and expanded over the past four decades to become, in the words of Festival Programming Director Chrisstina Hamilton, “a chrysalis of international ideas” and a highly democratic showcase for narrative and experimental work in all film, video and digital mediums.

One of the largest, oldest and most celebrated events of its kind in North America, this year’s AAFF will screen more than 125 projects, including film and video exhibitions, lectures, workshops and seminars over a six-day run. The festival’s events begin tonight at 7 p.m. with a public gala reception and premier exhibition at the Michigan Theater. The theater itself, an ornately detailed and beautifully restored 1920s art house located on Liberty Street, will be transformed with installations from local artists. For those who have never had a chance to visit the theater’s two screening spaces — the 1,700-seat main auditorium and the smaller screening room — the Film Festival presents a wonderful opportunity to see the crown jewel of Ann Arbor’s film scene come to vibrant life.

Unlike other festivals constructed around a specific niche idea, or those like Tribeca and Sundance which function mostly as meet-and-greets for industry insiders looking for a bit of indie cred, the AAFF is an independent, nonprofit event seeking primarily to connect emerging talents in the independent film scene with an involved and attentive audience. Hamilton states that the ultimate goal of the festival is to provide “an open forum for conversation” between innovative filmmakers and the several thousand film enthusiasts who will journey from as far as Australia and Iraq to be involved with the festivities. Given the organic and genuine relationship that has developed over the years between artists and the festival, with many talented filmmakers opting to return year after year to display the evolution and growth of their abilities, this description of the AAFF as a kind of continuing dialogue of ideas seems particularly apt.

Hand-picked from more than 1,000 entries, this year’s selections represent the very best in narrative, documentary and experimental film from the United States and abroad. Two of the most highly anticipated works debuting at the festival are the documentaries “High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music” and “The Dream of Sparrows.” Produced by Ann Arbor-based Glu Studios, “Soul” explores the origins of techno music in Detroit and the impact of artists such as Juan Atkins and Derrick May on the national music scene.

“Sparrows,” the brainchild of Iraqi filmmaker Hayder Mousa Daffar and his team of contributing directors, is an account of daily life in postwar and pre-reconstruction Baghdad that attempts to reconcile the discordant Iraqi points of view concerning Saddam Hussein and the American occupation. Daffar’s 77-minute documentary will make its international debut at noon on Sunday. Tickets for the screenings will go on sale one hour before curtain at the Michigan Theater box office; tickets are $8 for the general public and $6 for students, or $80 for a full festival pass.

At the close of the weekend, the festival’s three-member awards committee (led by Judge Emeritus and AAFF founder George Manupelli) will dispense more than $18,000 of prize money in the form of some 20 named honors.

Selected winners will also be asked to participate in the Festival Tour, which will visit several U.S. campuses and museums over the next few months.

With the recent proliferation of digital video allowing independent filmmakers to realize their artistic visions with minimal studio interference, the Ann Arbor Film Festival is now more relevant than ever. It is a showcase for the best and brightest stars of America’s most democratic artistic media; it is a celebration of the direct communication between filmmakers and filmgoers; and an important testament to the viability and vitality of culture in the Midwest.

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