60th Ann Arbor Film Festival: Documentary gives due to avant-garde film pioneer Sally Dixon

FILM & VIDEO REVIEW

Experimental Curator: The Sally Dixon Story

Filmmaker, enthusiast, advocate, meticulous curator, promoter, free spirit and nurturing mother of avant garde film.

Those are the words used to describe Sally Dixon in Brigid Maher’s documentary Experimental Curator: The Sally Dixon Story.

Dixon’s role as filmmaker, advocate, and curator of films at the Carnegie Museum made her a key if less-known figure in the emerging experimental avant-garde film movement. Her work was crucial to gaining recognition and financial backing for such key figures as Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Bruce Baillie, James Broughton, and Kenneth Anger. She was also an advocate for women filmmakers such as Carolee Schneemann. Women filmmakers often found it difficult to gain acceptance in the male-dominated field. Dixon opened doors for them.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival will screen Maher’s feature documentary at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 27, in the main auditorium of the Michigan Theater. The documentary will be followed by four short experimental films: Fist Fight by Robert Breer, Valentin de las Sierras by Bruce Baillie, Invocation of My Demon Brother by Kenneth Anger and Take Off by Guvnor Nelson.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival has long been a major home for experimental film. This documentary should be just the ticket for those seeking a little history on a movement that had a whole different view of what movies could be about than Hollywood.

60th Ann Arbor Film Festival: "Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over" is a revealing look at a confrontational avant-garde icon

FILM & VIDEO REVIEW

Lydia Lunch performs on stage with her band in a photo by Kathleen Fox

Lydia Lunch photo by Kathleen Fox

The title of director Beth B's film Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over derives from an archival performance clip in which Lunch, a confrontational New York City no-wave musician, performance artist, and icon, dissects the endless masculine predilection toward war. "You want to go on a suicide mission? Go on a suicide mission," Lunch says. "One man, one bomb, and leave the innocent women, the innocent children, and the innocent male civilians out of it. It's not my war."

But the title takes on greater significance as B and Lunch delve deeper into a very different kind of never-ending battle: Lunch's efforts to grapple with her childhood sexual abuse and resulting trauma. They take their time getting there, ping-ponging in a free-associative format between topics including Lunch's various musical projects, activism, and use of sex as a weapon and instrument of subversion. 

Now 62, Lunch is as much a force of nature as ever, rattling off poetic, angry, profane, and blackly funny rants with unfettered savagery directed toward the patriarchy and other institutions of oppression. "Lydia is a fuckin' doctor," musician Carla Bozulich says in one of the film's many interviews with Lunch's kindred artistic spirits. "Her kind of medicine is just a punch in the fuckin' face."

60th Ann Arbor Film Festival: Two lost souls meet on a small Bosnian island in "Looking for Horses"

FILM & VIDEO REVIEW

A still from the film Looking for Horses featuring a close-up of an older man with deep creases on his face, his chin resting on his right hand

Photo courtesy of Lightdox

Stefan Pavlovic’s Looking for Horses begins in a deep mist and heavy clouds. The image, shot with a hand-held camera, shifts wildly, moving from choppy lake waters to a menacing sky of black clouds. 

This sets the tone for a film about a rich, emotional friendship between the young filmmaker Pavlovic and a reclusive Bosnian fisherman.

Pavlovic is a filmmaker based in Amsterdam. He returned to his family’s native home of Bosnia where he met the fisherman, Zdravko, who has been living alone on a small island for 18 years. He rarely goes into the nearby town of Orah. He has set up living space in an abandoned chapel over the last five years, having lived in small shacks around the island. 

Zdravko was a soldier in the Bosnian war. He lost his hearing. Later he lost sight in one eye in an accident. His face is deeply wrinkled. He smokes cigarette after cigarette. He’s gruff but welcomes the attention of the young filmmaker, touched by the idea that he would be a worthy topic for a documentary.

60th Ann Arbor Film Festival: Japanese documentary "Shari" is an empathetic, dreamlike look at a changing planet

FILM & VIDEO REVIEW

A still image from Nao Yoshigai's film Shari featuring a person standing in a forest in winter wearing a large, strange, bulky, red, full-body suit

The subject of Japanese director Nao Yoshigai's Shari creeps up on you as unexpectedly as the hulking, crimson, woolly creature that shambles through the film in a series of dreamlike interludes. The film focuses on the Japanese town of Shari in 2020, and at first seems to be a series of well-observed vignettes chronicling the lives of its residents. But as we meet the townspeople—a baker, a fisherman, an eccentric art collector—they all return to a common topic: the tension between human life and the natural world. Shari's residents discuss feeling drawn in by their town's natural beauty, but they also describe a delicate push-pull between conservation, tourism, and industry. One resident offers the metaphor that Shari's natural resources are a principal upon which people should collect interest, rather than squandering the initial investment.

Shari's residents are also all preoccupied in different ways by the same anxiety: the town has experienced its lightest snowfall in 40 years. There are fewer fish in the ocean, plant growth is stunted, bears are skipping hibernation because they can still find food, and the townspeople have an overall sense of unease.

Things are not as they should be. 

From Marsalis to Schubert: The Philadelphia Orchestra spent two evenings serenading Hill Auditorium with contrasting programs and conductors

MUSIC REVIEW

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra by Todd Rosenberg 

Philadelphia Orchestra musical director Yannick Nézet-Séguin photo by Todd Rosenberg

When Yannick Nézet-Séguin sprang onto the stage last Friday night at a packed Hill Auditorium, he was seemingly filled to the brim with energy. Though the Quebecois conductor and pianist is nearing 50, last weekend his every movement in front of the Philadelphia Orchestra seemed to be infused with a kind of youthful exuberance, from his stretch across the conductor’s podium to shake concertmaster David Kim’s hand prior to the performance, to the athletic exertions he subsequently made during the most bombastic moments of the evening’s program. 

Friday Five: Same Eyes, Saajtak, Hannah Baiardi, Chirp, Sean Curtis Patrick

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five: Same Eyes, Saajtak, Hannah Baiardi, Chirp, Sean Curtis Patrick

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features synth-pop from Same Eyes, art rock by Saajtak, smooth jams from Hannah Baiardi and Chirp, and ambient beauty courtesy of Sean Curtis Patrick.

 

When the Draft Is Done: Author and U-M professor Peter Ho Davies on "The Art of Revision"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Peter Ho Davies and his book The Art of Revision

Author photo by Lynne Raughley

How do authors go about the revision process?

In novelist and U-M professor Peter Ho Davies‘ new nonfiction book, The Art of Revision: The Last Word, he observes, "As a teacher of writing, I’ve often been struck by the sense that revision is an overlooked, underaddressed, even invisible aspect of our work: the ‘elephant in the workshop,’ if you will."

Davies goes on to discuss approaches to revision, the need for it, and a number of examples. 

Theories of writing, such as “write what you know,” do not lend themselves to revision well, Davies says, because writing instead serves as an act of discovery. The medium of typewriter or word processor changes the process from painstaking typing to countless drafts as new versions are saved over the previous one on a hard drive, useful in some ways and less deliberate in others. An author’s questions become, “What’s changed?” and “How do I know when a story is done?”

Davies proposes that "a draft might be seen as an experiment designed to test a hypothesis.” This perspective on writing reveals to the writer what they are thinking and then also guides revision. That hypothesis may or may not prove right as the writer proceeds. Davies says, "You make a choice, pursue it, discover it was wrong, and … go back to the previous draft. Is this wasted time, wasted endeavor? I’d rather call it a successful experiment."

In "Alien Miss," Ann Arbor poet Carlina Duan explores the multiple identities Chinese Americans inhabit

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Poet Carlina Duan with her book Alien Miss

Carlina Duan’s new poetry collection, Alien Miss, delves into the history and experiences of Chinese people, particularly how immigrants and their families face or have faced marginalization in the United States and also how they find success. Poems go back to the Chinese Exclusion Act barring entry to the U.S. for Chinese laborers and are later contrasted by cozy family meals while growing up in America.

The contrast stands out, as one line reads, “I pledge allegiance.  to history, who eats me.” 

These disparities between experiences pepper the poems. Family with its relationships and histories figures strongly into the experience, as in the poem “Love Potion”:

Welcome to "Paradise": Jennifer Metsker's new book of poems explores a bipolar mind

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Jennifer Metsker and her book Hypergraphia and Other Failed Attempts at Paradise

In Hypergraphia and Other Failed Attempts at Paradise, Jennifer Metsker’s poems articulate a bipolar person's thoughts as they unravel. The poems show the mind making associations outside of rules as obsessions, fears, and beliefs take hold. 

One of the poems, “Beta Waves Are Not Part of the Ocean and We Prefer the Ocean,” brings us to a psychiatric ward. People living there take on feline qualities and have cleaning duties, noting, “There’s no escape / from being a tidy cat.”

Amidst the mind’s chaotic adventures, the outlook remains bleak because: 

Friday Five: Vincent York, Declination, Seaholm, Fantishow, Visual Purple

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five: Vincent York, Declination, Seaholm, Fantishow, Visual Purple

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features straightahead jazz by Vincent York, thrash metal by Declination, emo by Seaholm, classic-style techno by Fantishow, and garage rock by Visual Purple.