The Ann Arbor Film Festival is the longest running independent and experimental film festival in the United States and an event I have been delighted to attend annually since 1998. I wait all year for AAFF, which to me functions as a local holiday. I take the week off from work and fully immerse myself in the films, in my friends, and in getting to know new people. I was lucky enough to attend much of this year’s festival with a friend who was experiencing it for the first time, while I have been going since middle school. I attended every day of the festival and maximized my time in order to see as much as possible.
AAFF always begins with the Opening Night Reception, which took place on Tuesday night, and ushers in the start of the event with an appropriately celebratory atmosphere. Many are decked out in all their best and there is always food and drinks from local businesses, and great music being spun by a local DJ, and an atmosphere of anticipation. The overall feeling is that finally, the local holiday you have been waiting for all year has arrived!
The festival is made up of many screenings over the course of the week and, because of the overlapping screenings, it’s always impossible to see everything. However the Opening Night screening is made up of shorter films and gives the attendees a taste of the majority of what will be featured in the days to come. Some of my favorites of the evening included Life with Herman H. Rott by Chintis Lundgren, a cute animated story of a tidy cat and rowdy rat in a dysfunctional relationship, as well as a sobering documentary called Hotel 22, about a 24-hour bus line in California that ends up serving as a mobile sleeping spot for the area’s homeless population. The short film A Visit to Indiana by Curt McDowell gave us all a preview of the McDowell retrospective scheduled for Thursday.
On Wednesday, I saw News From Home, the first of three Chantal Akerman films being shown as part of a retrospective of her work. This retrospective, along with the retrospective of Curt McDowell, wouldn’t have been possible without the work of Mark Toscano at the Academy Film Archive. News From Home was about an hour and a half of slow-moving, meditative, immersive footage of street scenes of New York City in 1976, with letters from Ackerman’s mother being read by the filmmaker over the footage. I especially enjoyed the sweetness of the letters and the great people watching as pedestrians, dressed in classic 70’s attire, strolled through the streets.
On Thursday, I caught the Curt McDowell retrospective. McDowell passed away in 1987, but his sister, the star of one of Curt’s longer films, Beaver Fever, was in attendance. Many of McDowell’s works were featured in earlier Ann Arbor Film Festivals. Most of the films were quite explicit, dealing with issues and representations of sex, the human body, and orientation. Some were simple, short, and funny, filled with dark humor and musical numbers. A few had never even been shown anywhere before, making their screenings at this year's AAFF their world premieres. Afterwards, the audience was able to ask questions of Curt’s sister, Melinda, who was gracious enough to introduce the event as well.
Late Thursday night is designated AAFF's Out Night, and there was a good selection of queer-oriented films. My favorites included Reluctantly Queer by Akosua Adoma Owusu, about his experiences as a Ghanaian immigrant to the United States, and his feelings of being out of place both here and in Ghana, and I Remember Nothing by Zia Anger, which told a haunting short story about a young queer softball player dealing with everyday life with the added complications of epilepsy.
To cap off an evening of great film, every night of AAFF is followed by an afterparty at a local bar, venue, or space. The Out Night afterparty, was held at the Aut Bar in Braun Court, where an endlessly entertaining conversation was fueled by the excellent nachos!
Though AAFF has a reputation for its plethora of shorter, more experimental films, I find myself drawn to the longer documentary works, which are often experimental as well. On Friday, I saw Chantal Akerman’s still and quiet D’Est, featuring captured footage of the Eastern Bloc nations around the time of the fall of Communism. This was Akerman’s effort to get footage of that way of life and aesthetic, before everything changed. However, the film, shipped all the way from France, had shrunken significantly and sections of the reel ended up burning in a few places, leading to the screening’s unfortunate cancellation halfway through the program. The first hour we were able to screen was absolutely worth it, and since it was non-narrative, I didn’t feel like I was missing too much.
Next I saw Deborah Stratman’s The Illinois Parables, which was an experimental historical documentary of Illinois in chapters. Each chapter was like a mini experimental film about a different chapter in Illinois history, ranging from collages of newspaper clippings about local natural disasters to a reenactment of the murder of Black Panther Party Illinois chapter chairman Fred Hampton. I love this kind of film, which is experimental in nature, but also applies elements of education and history! This piece was proceeded by a short film from 1969 about the protests surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, called Police Power and Freedom of Assembly: The Gregory March.
Later that night, I caught the screening of Animated Films in Competition, a total of fourteen films, all of which were very short. Among my favorites were Pearl Pistols by Kelly Gallagher, featuring speeches about civil rights, social justice, and revolution by legendary activist Queen Mother Moore with experimental revolutionary animation accompanying it, TVPSA by Brendt Rioux and Zena Grey, about the creeping commercialist effects of watching too much TV, and Dawït, by David Jansen, about a man raised by wolves who struggles with generational violence.
On Saturday, I caught two longer films again. The first was Fragment 53, by Carlo Gabriele Tribbioli. This was a meditation on the atrocities of war, focused on interviews of former generals from the Liberian Civil Wars. These men, now middle-aged (many were very young during the conflicts), reflected on their involvement in the war, the result of which was quite harrowing. The Host, by Miranda Pennell, was both a personal family narrative and a study of the activities of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now British Petroleum) in Iran, with which Pennell’s family was involved.
On Sunday, the final day of AAFF, I woke with anticipation for the films of the day, but with some growing sadness, knowing that the end was near. Bright and early in the morning, I caught the Regional Films in Competition, which focused on films by local filmmakers featuring southeastern Michigan and northwestern Ohio. Among my favorites were How to Rust by Julia Yezbick, a medium-length film about Olayami Dabls and the African Bead Museum in Detroit and Toledo, My Father by Carson Parish, a sweet film that followed Parish’s father as he reminisced about long-gone movie palaces and theatres in Toledo. How interesting to watch that in the historic, beautifully restored Michigan Theater!
Later that day, I saw the third and final Chantal Akerman film of the festival, No Home Movie, which captured the last months of her Holocaust survivor mother’s life, and, sadly, the filmmaker’s life as well. The last film of my AAFF experience was another feature-length documentary called The Event by Sergei Loznitsa. This documentary covered an event I knew little about, in 1991, after Mikail Gorbachev's introduction of glastnost and perestroika, there was an attempted coup by Communist Party hardliners. This prompted a large popular reaction in the form of public protests and uprisings. Loznitsa's documentary was put together from archival footage of the days of these events, which really put the viewer in the moment. With all the revolutionary fervor all over the world these days, it was interesting to see this peaceful uprising, which captured the energy of the time, and ultimately helped bring down the Soviet Union.
Overall, this year’s AAFF brought another full week of incredible films. The festival experience, different but familiar every year, is so incredibly joyful and essential for me. I always walk away with the same impression and the same thought: I can’t wait until next year!
Shoshannah Ruth Wechter is a librarian living in Ypsilanti and was not afraid to take off both shoes and sprint in order to be on time for the D'Est film screening.
A wager that women can’t be faithful and a bold experiment (with elaborate disguises to prove that point) form the plot foundations of Mozart’s famous comic opera Così Fan Tutte, to be performed by University Opera Theatre accompanied by the University Philharmonia Orchestra.
Deemed scandalous on its premiere, the opera had a troubled production history. Commissioned for the 1789-90 season, Così Fan Tutte received only five performances before the 1790 death of Emperor Joseph II. The new emperor did not hold the same cultural views as his predecessor and the new comic opera received only five more performances. It is rumored that Mozart, who died the following year, never even received full payment for his authorship.
Today’s audiences find this opera comical, yet touching. The complex plot (featuring mixed identities, declarations of love, and fiancée-swapping as two young men don disguises to woo their own girlfriends) is no longer scandalous but extremely amusing. The magnificent score includes such beautiful arias as “Come scoglio,” “Smanie implacabili,” and “Per pieta.”
Directed by Kay Walker Castaldo and conducted by Kathleen Kelly, the U-M production will be sung in Italian with projected English translations.
Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.
Performances run from Thursday, March 24 to Sunday, March 27 at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 N University Ave, Ann Arbor. For tickets, visit http://tickets.music.umich.edu or call the Michigan League at (734) 764-2538.
On Tuesday, March 15, University of Michigan students, faculty, and community members gathered in the Rackham Amphitheatre for the screening of the documentary No Más Bebés, followed by a lively Q&A session with the Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña.
The documentary, first released in June 2015 as a part of PBS’s Independent Lens series, tells the story of a little-known, but landmark event in reproductive justice, when a small group of Mexican immigrant women sued county doctors, the state, and the U.S. government after they were unknowingly sterilized while giving birth at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The film itself takes an unflinching look at the ugly realities of racism within medical and legal institutions, while also capturing the resilency of both a marginalized culture and the individual women who, against great odds and with few allies, filed this monumental, yet almost forgotten class action lawsuit in 1975. The film’s gaze is recognizably feminist, emphasizing the role of the early Chicana feminist movement that significantly impacted contemporary reproductive rights.
Central to the storyline are two whistleblowers, a young, unlikely, radical Jewish medical resident, who first brought evidence against his colleagues and supervisors. The other, Antonia Hernández, the now nationally recognized civil and immigration rights attorney, who first took up the case right after graduating from UCLA School of Law while serving as staff attorney at the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice.
By documenting those impacted through interviews and historical archives, the filmmakers give voice to the unsayable. Though many women testified, often their families were unaware due to familial and cultural shaming around infertility. In interviews, the women lament the children they never had, their grief permeating the veil between filmed subject and viewer. While the lawsuit, and its subsequent appeal were dismissed, the case ushered forth vital conversation about women’s bodies and racialized medicine. Improved policy and hospital proceedings soon followed including: the presence of bilingual literature, Spanish-speaking liaisons, and revisions to informed-consent policies.
Following the film was an informative Q&A session with filmmaker and professor, Renee Tajima-Peña. The audience seemed most curious about the tensions between Chicana feminist organizers, white feminists, as well as Chicano labor organizers, who both sidelined the needs of Chicana women during that time. Also of interest was Professor Tajima-Peña’s journey into filmmaking. Though she never attended film school, she felt passionately about human rights and aspired to be a civil rights attorney. It is clear in this film and others, that her work is largely informed by her interest in legal questions and issues regarding social injustice.
Most surprising was the early development of No Más Bebés. With her colleague Virginia Espino, Professor Tajima-Peña began the process of tracking down the surviving plaintiffs. This proved challenging having only old medical records and former addresses. Frequently, their investigative work led them to the children of the testifying women, who often knew nothing of their mothers' past political engagement. Though this case had national impact, Professor Tajima-Peña noted, the trauma and cultural stigma experienced by the women often resulted in secrecy.
Given the political climate of reproductive and immigration rights today, the story is relevant, potent and an eerie reminder of the continued fight for women’s bodily autonomy and security.
Community contributor CristiEllen Heos Zarvas is the Meetings and Special Events Assistant for the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan.
The Ann Arbor Film Festival offers a true marathon of screenings and events, with over 200 individual films screening over the course of just six days. This is not including the satellite events, such as off-site gallery shows hosted by the Work Gallery and Ann Arbor Art Center, various store front installations, panel discussions, workshops, and crowded after-parties hosted by local bars. It is, put simply, A LOT to see. It is also by design, simply too much to see, with many events happening concurrently between the Michigan Theater’s main auditorium and screening room.
I wanted to see it all.
So I designed and accepted this challenge for myself whole-heartedly, with nothing to lose, except perhaps sleep and daily exposure to vitamin D; I committed myself to spending two entire days at the festival. I wanted to watch every scheduled film possible, to experience the festival lifestyle, and to test my own endurance. I was not alone in this challenge--many other audience members became familiar faces and some of them became friends. There were audience members, including local Ann Arborites and those who travel annually to Ann Arbor solely to see the festival, all whom camped out in the theater for the entire six days. I couldn’t possibly compete with that.
But over the course of 48 hours, beginning promptly at 7:15 pm Thursday evening and concluding at who-knows-when Saturday night, I viewed over 50 short and feature-length films. Fifty! More importantly, I experienced what truly makes the Ann Arbor Film Festival special: its spirit, its devoted community, and its sense of collective experience.
My personal challenge began with Thursday evening’s Films in Competition 3 program. It was a beautifully curated program, combining short films by different makers that explored different facets of landscape. Nicky Hamlyn’s Gasometers 3 offered a series of time-lapses, painstakingly made with a 16mm film camera. The stunning time-lapses highlighted the movement of the sky, as clouds and sunlight shifted around sturdy metal gasometer structures that stood still, revealing time passing. The film was silent. And in a theatre packed with people, restless legs, squeaking seats, and small coughs interrupted the silence, which was admittedly frustrating at first. Until I considered how amazing it is, and how rare it must be, for an audience to fill a theater and watch a silent 16mm film.
On Friday, I was excited for the screening of Chantal Akerman’s D’est (From the East).The festival screened three of Akerman’s feature films, celebrating and honoring her career, after she passed away in 2015. Considered a “cinematic elegy,” this 1993 film depicts the filmmaker’s travels beginning in East Germany towards Moscow as the warmer seasons transition to winter. The film was presented in its original 16mm format. The shots are long and revealing, often beginning without action. One shot opens on an empty sidewalk; an older woman wearing a brown dress walks into the frame. The camera follows as the woman shuffles onward, swinging a red plastic bag at her side. Seemingly minute, the small action gains meaning as it continues. The 16mm film print was a bit wobbly on screen. It bounced unsteadily until one staggering moment in which it stopped. A section of film caught in the gate of the projector and burned, visibly onscreen, to an audible and collective gasp. The image bubbled, turning murky brown, and then evaporated entirely. The projector was turned off; the room went dark.
The sense of loss was palpable. People whispered in the dark, pulled out their cell phones, and waited. It was later determined the film print was too damaged to continue (but only after a second, gut-wrenching burn). This event, this shared experience of both pleasure and loss, overshadowed the day’s later screenings. It was a singular experience, one that brought strangers together, perhaps more so than the film itself.
On Saturday morning I returned to the theater only slightly sleepy-eyed for the 11 am Films in Competition 5 (Ages 6+). The theater was starting to feel more like home than my real home. Having become so comfortable there, I could feel a change in the space - the theater was stirring. The audience included many children. They ate popcorn and kicked their small feet in anticipation for the films to start. The program included Standish Lawder’s Catfilm for Katy and Cynnie. In one section, the screen was just a wash of white. There was a vague image, but it didn’t look like anything at all. I worried that it wasn’t captivating enough for the young audience. I looked around to gauge their interest. I looked back at the screen, and slowly, the white started to move. Collectively, we realized we were watching cat tongues lapping at milk, and that our perspective was from underneath the bowl. Pink cat tongues and noses pushed milk around the glass surface and children squealed. It was delightful, funny, not unlike the joy of an Internet video, except that we were all experiencing it together, at the same time.
My 48 hours at the Ann Arbor Film Festival showed me that the movie theater is still a magical place. I saw films that made me laugh, moved me, and tested my patience. I saw films with many strangers. I ate popcorn for dinner two nights in a row. And I decided that next year, I would like to do it all again.
Elizabeth Wodzinski is a Desk Clerk at the Ann Arbor District Library and she wishes that Catfilm were available on YouTube so she could watch it over and over.
Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate life’s endurance through hardship and turmoil with a performance of the Yamakiya Taiko Ensemble at the Fukushima Tribute Concert March 22nd at the Power Center! Special guests include the Great Lakes Taiko Center - Raion Taiko from Novi, MI.
This youth ensemble, ranging in age from 12-21, was nearly hopelessly scattered after the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. Their commitment to music and each other has kept them together, but some of the members are graduating from high school and preparing to move on. This concert will be, as they describe, “a thunderous expression of gratitude and optimism to the world - a concert in the US, that might encourage all to remember what Yamakiya members have learned to remember daily - namely, that which is precious in one’s own heart.”
If you can't make the Tuesday evening performance, there's one more opportunity to see them perform. The Yamakiya Taiko Ensemble was featured in the movie Threshold: Whispers of Fukushima, which will be screened at Stamps Auditorium on Thursday, March 24, 2016 at 7:00 pm – followed by a brief post-concert by Yamakiya Taiko! You can watch the film's trailer here.
The group is here as part of the University of Michigan Center for World Performance Studies Artist Residency program. During their stay, the Yamakiya Ensemble will also conduct taiko workshops at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
The Yamakiya Ensemble are performing a free concert on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, at 7 pm at the Power Center (121 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109). In addition to the concert, there is a free screening of the film "Threshold: Whispers of Fukushima" at Stamps Auditorium (1226 Murfin Ave. Ann Arbor, MI 48109) on Thursday, March 24, 2016, at 7 pm. Both of these events are free and open to the public and are brought to you by the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater & Dance (SMTD), the Center for World Performance Studies (CWPS), and the Center for Japanese Studies (CJS).
There's a brand-new theatre group in the area. Founded by Kristin Anne Danko and Aaron Dean, who recently relocated to the area from Chicago’s experimental theatre scene, Neighborhood Theatre Group is based on the belief that theatre can bring individuals together.
The company, based in Ypsilanti, intends to cultivate a welcoming and collaborative environment for local theatre artists and has assembled a talented group of singers and performers for their March production, Rise Up Cabaret. Featuring songs of many different genres and styles all centered on the theme of rising up, this musical evening shines a bright, positive light on current, difficult, and important social issues.
Directed by Kristin Anne Danko, Rise Up Cabaret features Nick Brown, David Galido, Eric Hohnke, Emily Rogers, Mary Rumman, Angela Tomaszycki, Craig VanKempen, and Kelly Rose Voigt, with Tom Hett on piano.
Neighborhood Theatre Group has also partnered with Ypsilanti’s Ozone House for this production, and representatives from the organization will attend each performance with information on Ozone House and its mission.
So, why not try something new? Neighborhood Theatre Group promises a memorable musical evening filled with uplifting songs. Local audiences can also look forward to future Neighborhood Theatre Group productions including original works, sketch shows, cabarets, and self-produced videos.
Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.
Rise Up Cabaret runs from Thursday March 24th through Saturday March 26th at Dreamland Theater, 26 N. Washington St. in Downtown Ypsilanti. All shows are at 8 pm. To reserve seats, or for more information, email email@example.com.
Judging by the ebullient standing ovation welcome received by public radio talk show host Diane Rehm at Rackham Auditorium on March 17, Mick Jagger isn’t the only septuagenarian rock star out there.
Stepping onto the stage in black high heels, and an elegant, knee-length, long-sleeved black dress, Rehm – with her trademark mane of thick, white hair – acknowledged the sold-out crowd appreciatively before taking a seat facing Michigan Radio Stateside host Cynthia Canty.
The event, which ran just over 90 minutes, was part of a national tour to promote Rehm’s new memoir, On My Own, which chronicles the end of her husband’s life and his struggle with Parkinson’s; Rehm’s transition to a life without her partner of 54 years; and her ongoing fight to promote “death with dignity,” or patients’ rights to have a say in how and when they arrive at their life’s end.
Thursday’s program began with a discussion about how, after Rehm’s husband John had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for 9 years, he announced that he was ready to die. The doctor in John’s room at an assisted living facility sympathized, but because of legal, moral, and ethical reasons, he couldn’t help.
“After the doctor said that, John said, ‘I feel so betrayed,’” Rehm told the audience. And when the doctor suggested John could determine his own fate by no longer eating, drinking, and taking his medications, John began his 10 day descent toward death.
“Jenny (the Rehms’ physician daughter), on the phone, said, ‘But Dad, we can keep you comfortable,’ and he said, ‘I don’t want comfort. I’m ready to die,’” Rehm recalled, noting that John also, just one day after making his decision, “looked great. He said, ‘I feel better than I have in months.’ And I think it was because he’d taken his life back into his own hands.”
On the final night of this 10-day period, Rehm said she’d been trying to sleep on two chairs that she’d pushed together in John’s room when, at 2 am, she pulled out her iPad and “began writing – what I was thinking and feeling and how awful it was… He couldn’t carry out his death in the way he wanted to.”
When a caregiver arrived, Rehm went home to shower and walk the dog. Though she hadn’t planned to be away long, she soon got a call telling her she needed to return immediately, and when she got back to the facility, John had died 20 minutes earlier.
“I hated not being there to hold his hand,” Rehm said. “I’d held his hand half the night.”
The on-stage conversation’s tone shifted significantly, when Canty asked Rehm to talk about how the couple met. Rehm beamed at the question, saying he looked like a football player, with broad shoulders developed by working on the rock quarry at his father’s farm, and a crew cut.
“I heard John before I saw him,” said Rehm. “He had this huge, booming voice.”
John worked as a foreign trade attorney, while Rehm had a secretarial job at the State Department. Rehm hadn’t attended college, and because the people around her were so educated, she strove to learn more on her own, and had gathered a stack of books – Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, etc. – on her desk. The collection of classics intrigued John, who asked her about them, and soon they made a bet on the World Series (Rehm won) and made a dinner date.
The rest, as they say, is history. And while Rehm told stories of cooking together and dinner party crises, she also took pains to be candid about the struggles in her marriage, emphasizing the idea that no marriage is perfect.
“John was raised by himself,” said Rehm. “For John to share his life with one other person was very hard.”
Rehm spoke of John’s intense need for solitude (while she was gregarious), and the way he would sometimes not speak to her for weeks at a time. Even so, Rehm maintained they generally had a good marriage. She said that now, each morning, when she starts work and records promos for her show, “I look through the glass behind me…and I look up at the sky and I talk to John. That’s part of my grief. That’s part of my connection to him. And I swear he talks back.”
When Canty asked Rehm to define grief, the radio host confessed that she didn’t believe in closure, and said, “Grief is taking the pillow from the left side of the bed and, after 54 years, moving it to the center.”
Rehm also talked about her plan – made before her husband’s death – to retire this fall (“the younger generation needs to hear younger voices,” she said), but told the crowd, “You and I have had such a long relationship that it’s hard to leave.”
The point Rehm returned to again and again, though, is the need for everyone to have a candid conversation with those closest to them about what they want, regarding treatment, when confronted by death.
“It’s something we need to plan for as carefully as we plan and save for college,” said Rehm, who also later noted, during the Q&A, “Medical students are taught the importance of keeping patients alive. You try the next treatment, you try another therapy. But too often, what they’re not taught to do is listen to what the patient wants… We here in this country are death-averse. We shy away from it. But our population is aging. We’ve got to confront the reality that death is as inevitable as birth.”
Rehm also noted that she didn’t believe that death was an end. “It was raining outside once, and John said, ‘I wonder if there’s rain in Heaven. Maybe the drops will be bigger,’” Rehm recalled. “I thought that was wonderful. He was looking ahead.”
The Q&A portion of the night began with a fan asking Rehm to imagine being on stage with Donald Trump instead of Canty. “I don’t think I would be here,” quipped Rehm.
In the end, not every fan who lined up behind two microphones got to ask a question – if they did, the event might still be going – but after Rehm finished her final response by saying, “By the way, I love you, too,” the night ended as it began: with a thunderous standing ovation.
Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.
Artist David OReilly has worked in a variety of media from film to video games to concept art, but he added a new medium to that list Wednesday night at the Michigan Theater: public speaking. OReilly appeared as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, presented in conjunction with the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival. Taking the stage after an introduction he self-deprecatingly described as “hyperbolic,” OReilly immediately sought to manage his audience’s expectations. “I don’t know how to follow that up,” OReilly said. “This is going to be a total letdown.”
However, OReilly proved himself a more than capable speaker over the course of his nearly 90-minute presentation, entertaining, inspiring, and at times genuinely dazzling the crowd. OReilly began by examining how he developed his unique style of 3D animation, which he’s now best known for. After early attempts to emulate Austrian artist Egon Schiele’s expressive figure drawings, OReilly became involved in animation through a job as a concept artist. Around 2004 he became fascinated by the untapped potential he saw in 3D animation, a field dominated at the time by many Pixar imitators and very few individual auteurs. OReilly described working with 3D animation software as “a constant process of the thing falling apart,” and early on he started maintaining a computer folder of the various glitches that resulted from his experiments. “All of these felt like something the software wanted to do, the trajectory of what it wanted to do,” he said.
So OReilly developed an artistic style that welcomed the quirks of his medium and drew attention to its rougher edges, rather than hewing towards a perfectly polished finished product. He demonstrated the evolution of that style from his 2007 debut short film RGB XYZ to 2009’s Please Say Something. OReilly described the former, an extremely glitchy acid-trip tale of a creature moving to the big city, as “pretty awful.” But the latter showed just how quickly OReilly developed his talent. Please Say Something, a very funny and surprisingly affecting tale of a tumultuous marriage between a cat and a mouse, embraces those glitches and rough edges with intent and artistry.
OReilly has since done a variety of work, including an episode of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, animated segments of the movies Her and Son of Rambow, and music videos for U2 and M.I.A. In between commercial works he’s also found time for more personal projects–like his 2014 video game Mountain, which creates a personalized mountain on which players can watch slow and often surreal changes in real time. Typical of his unpretentious presentation, OReilly said he enjoys commercial work as much as his pet projects. “I don’t know if it’s ideal if I just stayed doing my own stuff,” he said. “Every time I do a job I end up getting out of my comfort zone, being forced to learn stuff that I’m not familiar with.”
OReilly saved his best for last, presenting an extended demo of his forthcoming video game entitled Everything. The game presents a universe in which one can play as literally anything. OReilly began by exploring a sunny field in the character of a bear, which moved around by comically rolling head over tail. From there he jumped into the characters of a clump of grass, bouncing along at ground level, and then a Douglas fir, which moved majestically over the landscape. Those demonstrations were entertaining, but OReilly had only scratched the surface of the world he’d developed for the game. He jumped down to a smaller scale to explore the microscopic world between blades of grass, playing as various molecules and germs. The audience broke into applause, but OReilly still wasn’t even close to finished. Taking a trip to the other end of the cosmic scale, he played as a continent swimming around the earth, then an asteroid orbiting the planet, then as a galaxy spinning in space. Surrounded by other glittering galaxies, OReilly’s galaxy joined up with them and moved in a rhythmic “dance” as numerous audience members uttered audible gasps of wonder.
Those gasps, and the laughter and applause that permeated the presentation, were proof positive that OReilly has repeatedly hit on something singular, accessible, and human in his highly unconventional works. Refreshingly, the man behind them was consistently, exceedingly humble. OReilly closed by noting with some bewilderment that he’d been asked to address in his presentation how his work “fits into the bigger picture of humanity.” He tackled that request by reading a scathing critical review of Mountain, followed by a letter he received from a mother who thanked him for the way the game had drawn her autistic son out of his shell. “That kind of response is worth more than all of the impact in the world,” he said. “I feel very privileged to get to have that effect, as small as that is.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He can be heard most Friday mornings at 8:40 am on the Martin Bandyke morning program on Ann Arbor's 107one.
On Tuesday night, the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival began with an Opening Night Reception and a screening of ten short films from around the world. The reception was a packed and energetic event, completely filling the main lobby of the Michigan Theater with donors, filmmakers, and excited movie-goers. The music was loud, the bites of local food were delicious, and the vast space was packed to the rafters with anticipatory chatter. The total variety of people and apparel gave off the vibe of unadulterated welcome. Some were dressed to the nines in neckties or heels and floor-length dresses, and some were wearing their usual old jeans, sneakers, and plaid shirts, so no matter what, it seemed that this event was made for you.
This was my first experience at AAFF, or a film festival of any sort, and I was a bit apprehensive. Part of my newcomers’ fear was that I’d choose a movie I didn’t enjoy and be stuck with it for the two-hour duration, so it took the pressure off to discover that the Opening Night Screening consisted of a number of short films. The experience was more of a sampler: all the unique flavors of films that you might encounter at AAFF, helpfully squashed into one session.
The films themselves were a mixed bag of narrative, documentary, animated, and experimental, and they ran the emotional gauntlet—from sad and serious, like Hotel 22, a documentary about the homeless taking refuge at night on a 24-hour bus line in San Francisco, to hilarious, like Discontinuity, a film about a couple losing touch with each other and with reality, amongst a sea of disappearing and reappearing cats.
Some films were so experimental that I didn’t even recognize them as films, like REGAL, a fuzzy 2-minute interlude that appeared to be clips of an old pre-movie disclaimer reel interspersed with Internet icons and occasional pauses for buffering. I didn’t realize it was a movie until it was over and my companion clued me in. My first film of the festival and, technically, I missed it.
While some of the films were as avant-garde as I had worried they would be, I found them each to be surprisingly stimulating in their own way. Back Track, a remix of 1950s black-and-white films, had a captivatingly dark, noir vibe. Curt McDowell’s homey A Visit to Indiana effortlessly harnessed the drama and comedy of everyday conversation. Drive In, a close-to-home look at one of the last drive-in theaters in the Detroit area, evoked feelings of sunny summer nostalgia while The Place, a documentary about an isolated weather station, plunged the audience into the cold stillness of a Polish winter. The charmingly untidy animation of Isola del Giglio gave sketch-like impressions of a cozy Sunday morning on an Italian island, while Life with Herman H. Rott told the wordless yet highly comic story of a chain-smoking, drunken rat whose life is tidied up by a neat and proper cat with a love for cleanliness and classical music.
Even when lost among the swirling colors and fuzzy images of an experimental film or staring deep into the impossibly still and dull Polish snowscape, each movie pulled me in and left a genuine impression. I entered the event unsure of what I would find, and when I left, while still unsure what more I would encounter, it was with much more eagerness than apprehension.
Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and she hates popcorn, so this has been a harrowing experience on many fronts.
This weekend, Skyline High School Theatre presents Charley's Aunt.
Long before Tootsie or Mrs. Doubtfire - 122 years ago, in fact - the cross-dressing comedy Charley’s Aunt has been keeping audiences in stitches. Playwright Brandon Thomas wrote this British farce about a couple college buddies who rope a third friend into dressing up as an elderly aunt/chaperone for their girlfriends. They hope “she” will be a more reasonable alternative to the girls’ over-protective and overbearing male guardian...but of course it turns out to be a little more complicated than that.
“Charley's Aunt is the quintessential British farce,” says director Anne-Marie Roberts, explaining that the show isn’t just entertaining for the audience, it’s also educational for the participants. “Exposing the students to a gem of the British theater is one of the goals for educational theater.”
Skyline's production features Jianmarco Barbeau and Jakub Hann as the college friends; Leah Bauer and Amanda Wilhoit as the girlfriends; Riley O'Brian as the guardian; and Theo Billups as "Charley's Aunt". Rounding out the cast are Peter Dannug as Sir Fancis; Madison Burk as wealthy widow Donna Lucia De Alvadorez; Sonja Mittlestat as her young ward Ela; and Luke Wertenberger as Jack's put-upon butler, Brasset.
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Charley’s Aunt runs March 17,18, and 19 at Skyline High School Auditorium at 7:30 pm each night. Tickets are available at www.showtix4u.com for $8 for adults and $6 for students and seniors. Tickets will also be available at the door for $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors.