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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
AAFF 2017 | All Ages, Animation, Black Diaspora, Globalization, LGBTQ & Sci-Fi
"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
Short Films in Competition 7: Animation
Shorts Program | New Media | Animation
March 24, 9:30 pm | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium
AAFF 2017 | Interview with Leslie Raymond, Executive Director
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.
Storytelling With Lessons -- & Jokes: "Mostly Functional Humans" podcast
It's the last Tuesday in February at Alley Bar, and Mostly Functional Humans co-hosts Rich Retyi and Andrew Dooley are sitting in a booth, preparing for their live podcast. Friends and fans pour through the doors in a steady stream, and the upscale dive bar takes on a party atmosphere. Back in the booth, the two co-hosts recall the origins of Mostly Functional Humans. Canadian transplant Retyi was working at MLive when he struck up a rapport with Plymouth native Dooley. Almost immediately, Dooley recognized they were on the same intellectual and comic rhythms, and after conceiving the podcast in this very bar, decided to take it into the studio. As luck would have it, the Ann Arbor District Library was more than happy to accommodate by recording Mostly Functional Humans in its podcasting studio. This is where Matt Dubay -- aka Engineer Matt -- enters the picture. The library’s production supervisor was tasked with recording the Mostly Functional Humans podcast. In a way, most of what you need to know about the tone of the Mostly Functional Humans podcast can be gleaned by noting that the two current sponsors are Alley Bar and Literati Bookstore. Literate yet far from pretentious, it appeals to the entire spectrum of listeners in the town that seems to value an IPA nearly as much as a Ph.D.
Fabulous Fiction Firsts #629, #630 & #631
Fabulous Fiction Firsts #629
Beijing journalist Lijia Zhang's debut novel Lotus is inspired by her grandmother's deathbed revelation that she was sold into prostitution at an early age.
Set in contemporary Shenzhen, China’s “City of Sins”, Lotus is one of the "ji" (Chinese word for chicken, a derogatory name for prostitutes) working at the Moonflower Massage Parlor. Originally from a impoverished village in northern China, she allows her family to think she waitresses in an upscale restaurant, sending her earnings home to support her family and to send her younger brother to university.
Knowing the shelf life of someone in her situation is finite, Lotus casts her eye among her regulars -- Funny Eye, Family Treasure -- hoping for a more permanent arrangement. In the meantime, she befriends Hu Binbing, a quiet and reclusive photojournalist who is hoping his documentary project on the lives of the "ji" will bring him the deserved recognition. But once his photographs of Lotus are published in a national magazine, his standing in the Communist party as well as their relationship is threatened.
"'A Newborn Calf Isn't Afraid of Tigers' is a typical chapter title in Lotus... Readers will find the entire text rich in Chinese proverbs, as well as folk wisdom of a more prosaic variety. Characters employ sage sayings in spoken form, as a kind of parlor game, and the author scatters aphorisms liberally throughout the narrative, with an effect that is both charming and thought-provoking....Some first novels, especially those birthed in creative writing classes, go heavy on self-consciously poetic language ...The images Zhang gives us, in contrast, are uncomplicated, concise and touching" (NPR)
"Pretty Woman but without all the glitz" (Library Journal).
Ann Arbor novelist Camille Pagán is generating buzz with "Forever Is the Worst Long Time"
A few weeks ago, InStyle magazine named Forever Is the Worst Long Time by Ann Arbor-based novelist (and health journalist) Camille Pagán as one of "7 Books You Need to Read in February 2017.”
We’re now in March, of course, but Pagán’s new tale of contemporary friendships and romance gone askew offers a temporary escape hatch appropriate for any time of year.
Forever is Pagán’s third novel; her debut was The Art of Forgetting (2011), followed by Life and Other Near-Death Experiences (2015), which was a bestselling Kindle First selection that got optioned by Jessica Chastain’s production company Freckle Films.
Forever tells the story of James Hernandez, a would-be novelist who ends up writing copy for U-M’s business school. (Pagán is a U-M grad who grew up in Dearborn.) Though James falls for his childhood best friend Rob’s fiancee/wife (Lou) upon meeting her, he buries his feelings, delivers a toast at the wedding, and tries to build his own life. But years later, when Rob and Lou’s marriage falls apart, James is torn between what he wants and loyalty to his friend. In the end, he can’t resist acting on his long-repressed attraction, and the consequences for all three are far-reaching and life-changing.
“I didn’t plan on writing this book,” said Pagán. “I’d planned on writing one about a married couple, and I was just slogging through that when I had the idea for the first chapter [of Forever], and in a day or two, I had the opening chapters done. I just felt like, I know who these people are, whereas with the other project, I didn’t know who I was writing about. … With every book it seems like there’s a fire under me, where I had to get the story out.”