All the Way In: Diving into the Ann Arbor Film Festival for the first time



hashtag by Sherlonya Turner

Confession: Despite living in the greater Ann Arbor area for nearly 20 years, I have never attended any part of the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

The poster caught my attention. I’m a sucker for bright colors.

Seduced by the orange, pink, and yellow in this year's AAFF poster, I thought, "Wouldn’t it be funny if I watched as many episodes of Dallas as I can before the film festival and then went to the screening of Hotel Dallas?," which documents Romania's strange fascination with the TV show that ran from 1978 to 1991.

An experience was born, but instead of diving into Dallas, I decided to steep myself in the Ann Arbor Film Festival experience.

First, I had to learn about the thing, so I did some light research on the festival’s founder, George Manupelli. I stumbled upon a memorial blog for him and read the whole thing click-after-click on my phone. Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to create for myself the experience that this man would have appreciated.

I like to imagine that he’d approve of my plan to jump right in.

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AAFF 2017 | A Guide to the 55th Ann Arbor Film Festival


When the Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) put together the printed edition of its 2017 program, the organization did it the usual way: listing the dates and the movies underneath. Throw in the "Off the Screen" events and after parties, et voila: the program calendar for the 55th edition of this Ann Arbor mainstay.

But when AAFF was putting together its website, the staff noticed a theme -- or several.

"We did set the [film] programs first," said Executive Director Leslie Raymond to Pulp in this recent interview. "Later when we looked back at them, we recognized some recurring themes and some things people would be interested in that we could pull together -- a few different film programs. People have told us that it's great and it can really help them to figure out what they want to do at the festival."

It made a lot of sense to us, too. Film festivals often group their movies by themes, which helps viewers hone in on their primary interests rather than root through a calendar to see what movies match their tastes on a specific day.

With Raymond's guidance, we identified the 55th Ann Arbor Film Festival's major film tracks as listed on its website, reviewed the primary movies or collections within them, and previewed the rest of the screenings or events in the series. Below is a list of our theme-based coverage for AAFF 2017:

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AAFF 2017 | Amazing Stories: "Following Seas" & more



Following Seas
Amazing Stories | Features in Competition
My dad often bemoans the lack of color in today’s movies. Back in the day, he says, the colors were more vibrant and jumped out at you from the screen. The reds were deeper, the yellows brighter, and the blues like the color of the ocean. If Dad was not in Florida enjoying a well-deserved retirement, I would insist that he come to the screening of Following Seas. Filmed by the Griffith family on their epic around the world adventures in the '60s and '70s, the ocean blue smacks you in the face and you are happy to let it do so.

Bob and Nancy Griffith met while on their respective boats in Honolulu Harbor. A successful veterinarian, Bob retired early to fulfill a lifelong dream of sailing the world. He and Nancy fell in love, married, and set out on the adventure of a lifetime all the while shooting film and still pictures to document their travels.

The Following Seas documentary by Tyler Kelley and Araby Williams highlights the family's voyages with their young child on the Ahwahnee boat.

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AAFF 2017 | Asian Focus: "Axes of Dwelling: The Video Art of Yuan Goangming" & more



"Axes of Dwelling: The Video Art of Yuan Goangming"
Asian Focus | New Media | Short Films
We've all seen countless homes, city streets, and natural landscapes in our lifetimes -- but never seen them quite the way Yuan Goangming does. The Taiwanese video artist's work is full of such commonplace imagery, but through innovative presentation and perspective, Yuan imbues familiar sights with surprising new feelings of both wonderment and unease. A wide variety of his works will be shown during the career retrospective "Axes of Dwelling," for which Yuan will appear and participate in a discussion with University of Michigan professor of Asian cinema Markus Nornes.

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AAFF 2017 | Music Focus: "Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present" & more


Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present
Feature in Competition | Music
For a man who was a paragon for expanding the paradigms of what constitutes art, music, and film, the subject of Tyler Hubby’s documentary Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present looks like any other rumpled khakis-and-button-down-shirt-wearing older professor. But when Conrad opens his mouth and the words begin to tumble out, his flowing imagination, sense of mischief, and singular view of the world make him anything but a tenured bore.

After graduating with a degree in mathematics from Harvard in 1962 and working as a computer programmer for a year, Conrad spent the rest of his life rebelling against anything as structured as those disciplines.

“He’s definitely got issues with authority,” says Tony Oursler, an artist and frequent Conrad collaborator.

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AAFF 2017 | New Media: "Post-Internet and the Moving Image" & more



"Post-Internet and the Moving Image"
New Media | Shorts Program
"Film was the medium of the 20th century," video artist Jaakko Pallasvuo somberly intones in voiceover in his short video Bergman. "Film is radio. Film is painting. Film is a drawing on sand, about to be swept away by the ocean."

The descriptor "video artist" is used pointedly here, rather than "filmmaker," because Pallasvuo makes that distinction quite clearly himself in Bergman. Pallasvuo's short essay on the great director Ingmar Bergman juxtaposes brief clips of Bergman's films with recognizable icons of the internet age, like the Gmail and PayPal logos. Pallasvuo drily asks: "Do all video artists fantasize about becoming directors? It's a fantasy about traveling in time."

In Andrew Rosinski's curated program "Post-Internet and the Moving Image," Bergman is just one of 13 offerings that are ostensibly short films but assert themselves as something other in their embrace of technology. Rosinski characterizes the program as an attempt to define the nascent genre of "post-internet cinema," noting that most of his selections were created to be viewed online, not in a movie theater.

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AAFF 2017 | Political: "Socrates of Kamchatka" & more



Socrates of Kamchatka
Political | Amazing Stories | World Premiere
The first thing that strikes you as you enter the world of Socrates of Kamchatka is that your experience is being intermediated by the whimsical soliloquy of its titular world-weary horse. This gives the film a fable-like sheen and makes the central dramatic arc -- a rural community’s struggle to adapt to unceasing waves of national economic and political change -- at once both familiar and strange.

Socrates is no mincer of words, and he tells his story with deft aplomb, fully realizing the benefits of his equine perspective on human happenings and behavior. “Mother always bit my thighs for asking questions,” our narrator confides, before adding, “But then why name me Socrates?”

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AAFF 2017 | Totally Out There/Classic AAFF: "The Pink Egg" & more



The Pink Egg
Features in Competition | Totally Out There | Classic AAFF
If you're going to make a film that fits the aesthetic of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, Luis Bunuel makes for a near-perfect starting point. Director Jim Trainor begins The Pink Egg with a quote from the celebrated surrealist: "You can find all of Shakespeare and De Sade in the lives of insects." That sentence offers a pithy declaration of artistic intent, and Trainor follows through, offering viewers a one-of-a-kind evocation of the animal world.

Employing boldly minimalistic and colorful sets that could double for an unhinged, low-budget children's program, Trainor casts humans clad in long-sleeved, hooded unitards to act out the mating rituals, lifecycles, and surprisingly human experiences of various wasps, bees, and insects. Alternately humorous, tragic, and inspiring, The Pink Egg remains a defiantly uncommercial picture due to the lack of dialogue, and the seemingly bizarre actions of the nameless characters. You may find yourself asking why some of the female characters paint pink and blue tubes with lotion, meant to represent seminal fluid, and why those tubes suddenly change color.

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AAFF 2017 | All Ages, Animation, Black Diaspora, Globalization, LGBTQ & Sci-Fi

ALL AGES
"Short Films in Competition 8: Almost All Ages (Ages 6+)
Shorts Program | All Ages
March 25, 11:00am | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium

Cranky Shows: Low-Tech, High Entertainment Paper Theatre
Off the Screen! | All Ages
March 25, 1:00pm | North Quad Space 2435

ANIMATION
Short Films in Competition 7: Animation
Shorts Program | New Media | Animation
March 24, 9:30 pm | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium

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AAFF 2017 | Interview with Leslie Raymond, Executive Director


Leslie Raymond, George Manupelli

Ann Arbor Film Festival Executive Director Leslie Raymond and her husband, Jason Jay Stevens, embrace fest founder George Manupelli at the 50th AAFF.

The 55th Ann Arbor Film Festival gets underway Tuesday, March 21, and as artists and film lovers from around the globe prepare to descend upon the Michigan Theater for six days of mind-expanding cinema, Executive Director Leslie Raymond is on a mission to take the country's longest-running avant-garde and experimental film festival back to its all-inclusive roots.

Founded by George Manupelli in 1963, the AAFF has seen its share of shake-ups over the course of the past decade. From the AAFF v. State of Michigan lawsuit that resulted in part from the controversy that erupted over Crispin Glover's award-winning 2005 feature What Is It? to the departure of Program Director David Dinnell last year, Raymond no-doubt had her work cut out for her when she stepped into this pivotal role.

Fortunately for filmmakers and audiences alike, Raymond was no stranger to either the festival or Manupelli's original vision for it as a place where all voices and perspectives are celebrated. Twenty-five years ago, Raymond began her decades-long relationship with the AAFF as an intern under Program Director Vicki Honeyman, whose enduring 14-year run with the festival was longest anyone has served in such capacity other than the founder.

To take the reigns of a festival as celebrated and prestigious as the AAFF requires genuine dedication, and as anyone familiar with Raymond's impassioned 2009 blog post lamenting the "specialized, themed-programming" that had become a primary focus of the festival during that era, there was little question as to where her loyalties lied.

Flash forward eight years, and Raymond is now in the unique position of being able to turn those criticisms into concrete action. Raymond's deep respect for Manupelli's original vision is evident when listening to her speak about her late friend and the festival he conceived, and together with new Associate Director of Programs Katie McGowan, the executive director is on a mission to steer this ship back on course.

With Ann Arbor still recovering from the devastating windstorm dubbed the "largest combined statewide event in history" by Gov. Rick Snyder less than a week before the Opening Night Reception, Raymond was kind enough to take the time out from her hectic schedule to discuss these issues and more with Pulp.

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