A Quick Guide to the 61st Ann Arbor Film Festival
The Ann Arbor Film Fest (AAFF) is always a tornado of activity and it's sometimes hard to keep up—not just with all the great events and screenings but also the media coverage.
We've published three articles highlighting the 61st edition of this Ann Arbor institution, which runs March 21-26 in person and through March 29 online, and fellow media outlets have also been on the case. Plus, AAFF published a wonderful series of video interviews with several directors whose films will be shown.
Below is a survey of all the coverage we've found for the 2023 film fest, along with links to AAFF's most pertinent schedules.
Rise and Shine: The puppet-filled "Waking Up!" at EMU is an all-ages feast for the eyes
Color, music, and PUPPETS, oh my!
Waking Up! at Eastern Michigan University's Sponberg Theatre is a family-friendly devised show full of wonder, audience interaction, and play. It is perfect for audiences 8 and up and encourages booing, cheering, clapping, and laughing.
Senior MFA student Cameron Prevatte created and directed this piece of devised theatre—a collaborative production where an ensemble comes together to create something from scratch, without the aid of a set script. There usually aren’t traditional design elements either. For Waking Up!, nine students make up the ensemble: Jujuan Adams, William Clapp, Sebastian Dahlgren, Wesley Foster, Sarah Kucharek, Cameron Prevatte, Annabelle Rickert, Cassie Paige, and Ember Seth.
Prevatte comes from a background in puppetry and the show is filled with them. Some are huge, some are tiny, but all are interactive and play major roles in the stories.
Sound "Waves": Chien-An Yuan plays off the screen at the Ann Arbor Film Festival
The Ann Arbor Film Festival celebrates collaboration. Sure, there are some movie mavericks who do everything themselves when creating a film, but it's usually a talented group of people combining their resources to create something special.
Chien-An Yuan lives for collabs.
The Ann Arbor polymath is capable of making films, photography, art, and music all on his own—and he has many times—but he prefers to work with others to bring creations to life.
And there are so, so many creations in Yuan's world.
Yuan is a co-founder of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) performance troupe IS/LAND, whose latest work, TETRA, will be performed at the Ann Arbor Art Center (A2AC), April 15-16 and 22-23. Featuring dancers J Amber Kao, Olivia Lemmenes, S Jean Lee, and Yuan on sound design, TETRA is all about transformation: "Forming rolls of colorful Hanji mulberry paper into shapes and pathways of wisdom, knowledge, and healing, the movement of the dancers offer improvised ‘rituals’ as communal gestures of healing and transmutation, ultimately creating a restorative healing space for both the audience and performers," writes Yuan.
IS/LAND then returns to the Ann Arbor District Library on May 20 for KIZUNA TREE, an interactive installation and performance. The event combines an Ikebana tree designed by Celeste Shimoura Goedert, sound recordings from the collaborative series AAPI Stories, which was co-developed by Zosette Guir of Detroit Public Television and journalist Dorothy Hernandez as a response to the Atlanta spa shootings in 2021, and movement, visuals, and readings by IS/LAND. "KIZUNA TREE is an exploration of communal healing for AAPI peoples, across generations, communities, and ethnicities," writes Yuan.
More immediately, Yuan has a couple of projects at the Ann Arbor Art Center—both collaborative, of course.
He worked with artist Thea Augustina Eck to create a string installation in the rear staircase of A2AC, using colored yarn to create a web of lines that fan out from single sources, only interacting in separated layers when looking down or up the length of the well.
The fiber art will still be at A2AC when Yuan, using an iPad, and percussionist Jonathan Barahal Taylor improvise a score to Mattieu Hallé's May Waves Rise From Its Floor on Thursday, March 23, as part of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Based in Ottowa, Canada, Hallé will be in Ann Arbor to screen the 16mm film of an abstract ocean landscape. He'll use a modified projector with a candle as its light source; the flame is moved and modified by Hallé's breathing and handheld pieces of broken crystal. As the shadows and light move and morph, Yuan and Taylor will react musically in real-time, making every screening of May Waves into a singular experience.
I spoke to Yuan about his current slate of artistic projects, and he gave us an update on some music he's preparing to release on his experimental record label, 1473.
The One-Woman Show “All Things Equal: The Life & Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” Tries to Humanize the Late Supreme Justice
At a 2021 family funeral, one of my aunts, whom I hadn’t seen in decades, immediately guessed which car in the lot was mine: “I saw something with Ruth Bader Ginsburg on it hanging from the rearview, and I said, ‘Dollars to doughnuts, that’s Jennifer’s car.’” (Guilty!)
So, when I arrived at the Michigan Theater on March 14 to see the touring one-woman show All Things Equal: The Life & Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Rupert Holmes, the deck was already stacked.
But let’s be honest: I was hardly the only fan at the show’s packed Ann Arbor performance. As a feminist icon who arguably did more than anyone to advance women’s legal rights in the 20th century, RBG long ago achieved progressive, secular sainthood.
This ultimately poses a challenge for Holmes and his show, which stars Michelle Azar and is directed by Laley Lippard. How do you bring such a lofty figure down to earth and make her human?
Because frankly, despite Holmes structuring the play as an intimate talk between RBG and a couple of her granddaughter’s young friends in the justice’s chambers, it’s hard to not feel as if we’re prostrating ourselves at the altar of this powerhouse legal mind’s legacy.
A Portrait Study: Ann Arbor Film Festival highlights the Black, queer, experimental cinema of Edward Owens
Edward Owens' story may have been lost to history were it not for film programmer, writer, and Bard College professor Ed Halter.
An obscure figure from one of cinema's most elusive realms, Owens was a Black, queer, experimental filmmaker from Chicago whose career was cut tragically short.
In 2009, intrigued by an entry in the Film-Maker's Co-Op catalog about the experimental short Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts, Halter reached out to Owens decades after he left his life in filmmaking behind. Their conversations brought newfound context to Owens' artistic vision, which helped amplify the voice of an artist whose compelling story was at risk of being relegated to obscurity.
Owens' life and limited collection of works is the subject of the 61st Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) program "Remembrance/Vacancy: The Films of Edward Owens" at the State Theatre on Thursday, March 23, 7 pm.
The event offers audiences the rare opportunity of seeing three Owens films back to back: Remembrance: A Portrait Study (1967, 6 min.), Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts (1966, 6 min.), and Tomorrow's Promise (1967, 45 min.).
Following the screenings is a conversation between Emily Martin, who programmed the event, and Jessica Ruffin, an assistant professor in the University of Michigan's Department of Film, Television, and Media.
Societies of Cinema: Frank Uhle creates AADL exhibit, hosts a roundtable at the 61st Ann Arbor Film Fest discussing the cultural influence of campus film groups
Frank Uhle's upcoming book, Cinema Ann Arbor, covers the entire scope of film history in the city, from the old theaters no longer with us to the students who went on to be famous moviemakers.
But the campus cinema societies, who brought art films and experimental movies to town, are the heart of the tome's 344 pages.
Cinema Ann Arbor is a co-publication of Fifth Avenue Press—the Ann Arbor District Library's publishing imprint—and the University of Michigan Press and officially comes out in June, but Uhle will have 50 copies for sale in time for the roundtable he's hosting on Friday, March 24, as part of the 61st Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF).
Uhle will moderate "Cinema Guild and Campus Film Societies: Their History and Legacy," a discussion with former University of Michigan film society members, including Hugh Cohen, a longtime cinema professor, a juror at the second AAFF in 1964, and the faculty advisor to Cinema Guild in 1967 when he and three others were arrested for showing Flaming Creatures, a short that was deemed obscene. Cohen is joined by Dave DeVarti (Alternative Action film series), Philip Hallman (Ann Arbor Film Cooperative), and Anne Moray (Film Projection Service).
To coincide with AAFF, Uhle also put together an exhibit at AADL's Downtown location, "Cinema Ann Arbor: Film Societies, Film Festivals, and Filmmaking in the Analog Era," which is on display through April 13. It features artifacts from Uhle's personal collection as well as material he gathered during his extensive research while writing Cinema Ann Arbor. (Additionally, Uhle and AADL's archives team are posting material to an online repository at aadl.org/cinemaannarbor.)
We'll speak to Uhle more in-depth about Cinema Ann Arbor when it comes out this summer (though you can pre-order it now). Our interview below is specifically about the cinema societies that helped influence Ann Arbor culture for nearly 70 years as well as his AADL exhibit.
Friday Five: Abigail Stauffer, Eye O Mighty, Hannah Baiardi, MEMCO Exposure Mixes, Jason Adam Voss
Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.
This week features soulful pop by Abigail Stauffer, rap by Eye O Mighty, jazzy pop by Hannah Baiardi, MEMCO Exposure Mixes by Goodmother and Naphtha, and experimental piano by Jason Adam Voss.
Three Years Later "The Fourth Messenger" Gets Midwest Premiere at The Ark on March 18
Three years ago, The Ark was set to be the venue for the Midwest premiere of The Fourth Messenger, a musical with a modern perspective on the life and teachings of the Buddha. Then the pandemic hit and the musical was canceled.
Now, almost three years to the day, The Fourth Messenger, with book and lyrics by Tanya Shaffer and music and additional lyrics by Vienna Teng, will finally get its Midwest premiere at The Ark on March 18. The concert-style performance will be a benefit for The Ark, Ann Arbor’s popular home for folk, jazz, and alt-country.
In an interview with Shaffer in 2020, she described what inspired the musical while she was on a spiritual retreat.
“The idea came to me on a nine-day silent retreat when I was supposed to be clearing my mind,” she said. “I was thinking about the story of Buddha’s enlightenment, where he was found under a tree and vowed not to get up until he found enlightenment. Then for many days and nights, all the temptations of the world are trying to get him up. And it came to me that it would be cool as a song and dance, the temptations standing under a tree and then thinking the whole story would be a musical because it has that scale of a hero’s quest, and so I got excited on the retreat and for many hours forgot about my breath and I thought about the musical.”
Shaffer didn’t pursue the idea for another five years. She said she had trouble deciding how to handle the story about the historical Buddha and his teachings.
“I started to think how would people view this story if it was a woman, and I wanted to update it and make it feel very relevant and contemporary,” Shaffer said. “So it took me five years to find my way into it and then many years to workshop.”
The Fourth Messenger premiered at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley, California, in 2013 and was presented at the New York Musical Festival in 2017.
Stephanie Heit's New Hybrid Memoir Poem "Psych Murders" Examines Shock Treatment, The Aftermath, and How Time and Memory Move in Unexpected Ways
What do you do when the brain “acts more colander than container?”
Poet Stephanie Heit tests out an answer: “Strengthen your faith in electricity.” Her hybrid memoir poem, Psych Murders, reports on the decision to experience and recover from electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as a treatment for bipolar disorder. Psych Murders contains a number of sections, often titled with questions such as “What brings you pleasure?” and “Are you safe?”
This journey with shock therapy and other attempted remedies takes the poet to a point where:
How to swim.
Lose any sense
This path also later reaches a place where, “Hope became a location.” The poet expresses some bitterness that, “I thought they’d figure out the code. No lack of rigor. But my body didn’t respond the way the data predicted.” Still, the side effects like memory loss and frustrations do not fully define the process for Heit. Instead, Heit concludes with the poem, “Testament,” which consists of a series of “I am” statements that embrace all parts of her identity.
Shortly after the start of the book, the Murderer appears, often described in third person, but always menacing and forming his own character, as the poet observes, “…I’m not alone. I have Murderer stalking my every move.” In a distressful twist in the poem, “The Murderer: Primetime,” he gets a chance to speak and shares his goal to reach her because he states of the poet that, “She haunts me—the one who slow danced in my grip. I’ll wait.” Despite his persistence, the Murderer’s interest in suicide nevertheless does not come to fruition, a victory for the poet and us readers.
Instead, Heit describes learning to live with the circumstances. The poem, “Chronic,” shows a begrudging acceptance that:
Chronic sounds like forever. Persistent forever. With a twang to the way the “ic” sticks in the throat. Almost guttural. Starts out ok. Chron, like chronological, that domino effect, out of control falling because gravity exists. But the ending turns. I am stuck with Chronic the rest of my life. Better than Terminal unless it refers to airports. Though at least with Terminal there is beginning, middle, end. Chronic is middle with no way out.
The poet shows us how, on the one hand, Chronic comes with its downsides, but on the other hand, Chronic means being alive.
Heit is a queer disabled poet, dancer, teacher, and codirector of Turtle Disco, a somatic writing space, based in Ypsilanti. We spoke to Heit about her writing, teaching, latest book, and next project.
Friday Five: Ben Miller and The Sensorium Saxophone Orchestra, cv313, Benoît Pioulard, Joanna Sterling, Seaholm
Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.
This week features experimental sounds by Ben Miller and The Sensorium Saxophone Orchestra, ambient dub by cv313, shoegaze by Benoît Pioulard, indie-folk by Joanna Sterling, and pop-punk by Seaholm.