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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Stimulation and Possibility: Dick Siegel's "Digital Manipulations" at Kerrytown Concert House


Dick

The singularity is near: We digitally combined Dick Siegel and his digital artwork Further.

Local award-winning singer-songwriter Dick Siegel’s return to the visual arts has been a long time in coming. But having found his chosen medium, his return is both assured and insightful.

In a recent interview at the Kerrytown Concert House, Siegel said both the visual arts and music were passions that run through his family experience. But as his personal interest was in music -- and a reasonable one at that considering his award as Best New Folk Artist at the 1991 Kerrville Folk Festival and multiple Detroit Art Awards -- it was only until the turn of the millennium when working with a computer and scanner that his visual arts creativity began to take hold.

As Siegel says in his artist statement for this exhibit, “Through digital manipulation of color, shape, and image I enter a world of enormous visual stimulation and possibility. In this realm I discover things to construct that move me, amuse me, and amaze me. I then work to bring them into physical reality with their vividness and vitality intact."

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"Here and There": The voyeuristic art of Tracey Snelling


Tracey

Tracey Snelling's art forces us to peak into worlds that might make us uncomfortable.

Upon entering the U-M Institute for the Humanities' gallery room that houses artist Tracey Snelling’s latest exhibition, lsa.umich.edu|Here and There, one is immersed in a life unfamiliar to some and unimaginable for others. Neon signs flash “drift” and “Lost City” to light up the darkened room while several tiny, connected rooms hang from one wall all bustling with sights and sounds to tempt the viewer to look closer and give in to their voyeuristic desires.

The rooms, each about the size of a shoe box, were completed during the Berlin, Germany- and Oakland, California-based Snelling’s recent residency at the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities. While viewing the rooms from afar gives you an idea of how the entire piece moves as a whole, Snelling wants to get up close and explore the rooms. Upon closer inspection with the Bee Gee’s “Night Fever” as your soundtrack one begins to notice the details placed in each room to give them character; a shotgun leaning on a recliner, the Jack Daniels poster on a wall, High Fidelity playing on a screen in the record shop, or a pool cue leaning on a pool table in a bar.

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Turning Up the Volume: Lindy West at Literati


Lindy West at Literati

Feminist icon and author Lindy West packed Literati Bookstore on March 23.

On March 23, the upper level of Literati Bookstore was standing-room only. People were sardined into corners, craning their necks to get better views, balancing on tiptoes. They were eager. Lindy West -- journalist, comic, and internet personality -- was about to read from her bestselling memoir, Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman. As she approached the podium, the at-capacity room erupted in applause.

Shrill chronicles West's journey from painfully shy child to (over-)exposed public figure, and the trials, tribulations, and triumphs it took to get there. It's also a hilarious, poignantly honest expose of self-discovery. But most of all, it's a bildungsroman for an age dominated by internet culture, social media, and the rampant sexism that infiltrates both.

West began her career writing for The Stranger, Seattle's alternative press, where she became a viral sensation for her barbed wit and acerbic criticism of pop culture. Soon, though, those unapologetically candid columns made her a target of the monolithic, anonymous ire of the internet, which descended on her en masse. They attacked her relentlessly, threatened her life, her family; they harassed her for being herself, for being outspoken -- for being visible.

But West only got louder, drowning out the incessant, white-noise cacophony of her trolls by becoming a role model for those who exist outside "the norm."

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Cheers! Kickshaw Theatre's "Here's to You, Here's to Me" is a play masquerading as a drinking party (& vice-versa)


Since it began in January, Kickshaw Theatre is known for putting together unconventional productions. Lynn Lammers’ first show, The Electric Baby, was performed in the equivalent of a warehouse and centered on a woman grieving the death of her grown daughter. The show begins when the woman storms off into traffic and causes a cab to crash into a pole.

In contrast, in the current production, Here's to You, Here's to Me, Kickshaw is hosting a 30-minute drinking party at various local bars around Ann Arbor.

To clarify, this particular "party" is devised by the actors, but this is still as informal as theater can get. “The show started with just the concept of toasting, lots of research, and a discussion about what people want/need from theater at this moment in time,” Lammers told Pulp in a recent interview.

Which explains the improv, the jam sessions, and the alcohol. Oh, the alcohol. For really, what would a show about toasting be if the actors and the audience didn’t all have copious amounts of alcohol on hand throughout?

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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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