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From the 1930s through the 1990s, Ann Arbor was home to a vibrant alternative/art/experimental film scene, led by University of Michigan student film societies. Before home video and cable movie channels caused their demise, the film societies offered Hollywood and foreign classics, curated series, and regional premieres year-round, sometimes seven nights per week. The societies also brought guests like Frank Capra, Jean-Luc Godard, Maya Deren, Robert Altman, and Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground to town; helped launch internationally renowned festivals dedicated to 8 mm and 16 mm experimental films; supported local filmmakers with equipment and screenings; and served as a film school for future notables like Ken Burns, Lawrence Kasdan, Owen Gleiberman, and Michael Moore. 

All of this happened with minimal support or oversight from the university, and the societies’ cutting-edge programming sometimes got them in trouble. In 1967, four Cinema Guild members were arrested by Ann Arbor police for showing the “obscene” short Flaming Creatures, and there were protests and even bomb threats over screenings of the racist The Birth of a Nation, the gay-stereotyping The Boys in the Band, and the pope-condemned Hail Mary.

Ann Arbor Film Coop Film Schedule Fall 1979
Ann Arbor Film Cooperative, 1979 Fall Film Schedule

In this collection, vintage flyers, photos, film schedules, and memorabilia trace how Ann Arbor became "one of the most cinematically saturated communities in the country," in the words of critic Leonard Maltin. The collection draws from AADL Archives content as well as material collected for the Fifth Avenue Press / University of Michigan Press book Cinema Ann Arbor by Frank Uhle.

You can browse all film schedules or flyers and posters for the film societies and other noncommercial film exhibitors. You can also read historical articles and search for documents by these individual groups:

Alternative Action Film
Ann Arbor Film Cooperative
Cinema Guild
Cinema II
Classic Film Theater
New World Film Co-op
Ann Arbor 8 mm Film Festival
Once Festival

We also have an Ann Arbor Film Festival Archive!