This time last summer, Meredith Finch was in the final stages of debuting her Nevertheless Film Festival, held at the Michigan Theater July 11-14.
"I have my fair share of stories of being the only woman or underrepresented person on a film crew," Finch told Pulp last year. "To combat this lack of representation, film festivals around the world have announced their own initiatives to increase representation in their programming within the next few years, but what I found myself thinking a little over a year ago was, 'Why not now?'"
The inaugural Nevertheless Film Festival featured 26 movies -- narratives, documentaries, shorts -- and the 2020 edition, which runs July 9-12, will include a similar mix by womxn creatives. But you'll have to imagine sitting at the Michigan Theater while at home viewing the films.
The new doc "Your Friend Andrew W.K." gives a brief but entertaining overview of the Community High grad's life
A new 48-minute documentary, Your Friend Andrew W.K., hit YouTube on June 13. It doesn't appear that Italian filmmaker Flavio De Feo interviewed W.K. for the film; instead, he uses clips from other interviews -- from MTV and Vice to Larry King and Glenn Beck -- to tell the story of the Community High grad who's known for three things: uplifting pop-metal music, motivational speaking, and partying hard (in a positive way).
The film is stylized -- with flashy edits and images overlaid as W.K. speaks -- and entertaining, but if you know a little bit about W.K.'s story, there won't be any revelations. And, yes, they do go into the whole "Steev Mike" thing that started in November 2004. It was claimed in various anonymous blogs and even in an alleged hack of W.K.'s site that he was, in fact, merely one of several actors playing the Andrew W.K. character, which was created by a group of creative individuals known as Steev Mike.
I hate winter. Especially Michigan winters. Gray, muddy, relentless ugliness.
But in the hands of Jared Van Eck, a recent Michigan winter day was turned into beautiful art.
Actually, it wasn't even winter -- see the word "relentless" up there -- it was on April 15, 2020, when the snow visited us again.
Van Eck, who's the technical director for the Michigan Theater Foundation, grabbed his fiancée's iPhone 11 Pro Max and a gimbal on that day, went to a west-side Ann Arbor nature preserve, and filmed the snow falling on fields, trees, and a pond. He edited the footage together, added some subtle effects, and composed a dreamy score on his iPad using the Cubasis and Korg Gadget apps.
The result is The Motions of Stillness, a lovely black-and-white, 60-minute meditation on nature.
The film is available to view for $3 via the Michigan Theater's virtual screening room or free for members.
I asked Van Eck about the inspiration for the project, his soundtrack, and some of his influences.
"Artist Spotlight: Tadd Mullinix" highlights the many personas and productions of one of Ann Arbor's most prolific musicians
Musician and artist Tadd Mullinix was scheduled to DJ at a party for the 2020 Ann Arbor Film Festival (A2FF). But when A2FF went virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mullinex took his set online with the rest of the fest. Now the A2 Film Fest has teamed up with Michigan Electronic Music Collective (MEMCO) member Jordan Stanton to release a short documentary on the multifaceted Mullinex, who records all sorts of electronic music -- from techno to avant-garde to drum 'n' bass to hip-hop -- under numerous pseudonyms (Dabrye, JTC, Charles Manier, James T. Cotton, X-Altera, etc.).
Stanton released his Impulse Ann Arbor documentary last November, which gave a 22-minute overview of Tree Town's techno history. Artist Spotlight: Tadd Mullinex is similarly brief, but the 8 minutes are enough to give a taste of Mullinex's background and music, which you should immediately listen to after you've watched this film. Start with any releases on his own Bopside label or the numerous records he's made with longtime partners Ghostly.
Donald Harrison's Welcome to Commie High documentary made its debut at this year's Ann Arbor Film Festival, which was held online, but he had another documentary brewing at the same time. Five Foot Sandwich Board: The Story of Jerusalem Garden was released to YouTube on April 26, covering the restaurant's last days at its first home, 307 S. Fifth Ave., which is now home to one of Chela's eateries. In 2015, JGarden moved to the much bigger 314 E. Liberty St. (the former home of Seva), and the 9-minute Five Foot Sandwich offers a brief overview of owner Ali Ramlawi moving the family business, which his father started in 1987.
Innovation & Education: "Welcome to Commie High" documents the history and influence of Ann Arbor's legendary school
The coronavirus pandemic is forcing teachers and administrators to improvise ways to serve their pupils academically, mostly through virtual learning and online academies. Other imaginative approaches will be introduced as the pandemic drags on, spotlighting the skills of educators and showing how resourceful they can be when not stuck on a treadmill of prepping kids for standardized tests.
But one school in Ann Arbor has been using innovative educational approaches for nearly 50 years.
Ann Arbor's Community High School started in 1972 with a "school without walls" concept. A handful of other schools across the country adopted similar approaches, where structured curricula were abandoned in favor of flexible programs that best fit individual students' needs, with a focus on real-world education.
But the Community model never expanded deeply into the mainstream.
Until now. (Kinda.)
A heavily modified variation of Community's wall-free education approach is being tested during the coronavirus pandemic, and it seems inevitable that some of these outside-the-box ideas will be incorporated into schools once this over and society deals with our new normal.
Welcome to Commie High, a new documentary by Ypsilanti-based filmmaker Donald Harrison, shows the school's unique approach to education, from its hippie-era beginnings to its place in the modern landscape, talking to students and teachers from the past and present about what makes Community special -- and effective.
The movie was to premiere as part of the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF). But with the entire event being moved to a livestream on Vimeo due to the lockdown, Harrison and the AAFF are are offering Welcome to Commie High as fundraising rental. The movie will be available to rent for $9.99 from 10 am, March 30 to 10 am, April 1; each rental will be active for 48 hours. The rental fee will be split two ways: 50 percent of the proceeds will go to the AAFF to help offset costs and the rest will be put toward the distribution of the documentary. Click here to pre-order the rental.
Harrison answered some questions via email about Welcome to Commie High.
On March 13 when the Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) canceled all in-person events for its 58th edition due to the coronavirus, the organization stated that it's "committed to finding an alternative means to present the 58th AAFF online, which honors the filmmakers’ rights and integrity and fulfills the mission of the festival."
With remarkable speed, the AAFF has done just that: starting at 4 pm on Tuesday, March 24, the festival will be streamed at vimeo.com/annarborfilmfestival. The films won't be archived; the fest is being run the same way it would be in the flesh, with each film or program being screened on a certain day and time (albeit at different times from the calendar published when AAFF was to be its usual in-person event). The difference is there's no ticket fee for the viewing the virtual version of the festival; all films will be streamed for free, as will the various moderated Q&As with the filmmakers following certain screenings.
Click here to see the full streaming schedule for the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival.
Welcome to Commie High, the documentary about Ann Arbor's Community High School, is the one film previously scheduled for the festival that will cost money to watch. The film movie will be available to rent for $9.99 from 10 am, March 30 to 10 am, April 1; each rental will be active for 48 hours. The rental fee will be split two ways: 50 percent of the proceeds will go to the AAFF to help offset costs and the rest will be put toward the distribution of the documentary. Click here to pre-order the rental. (Check back to read our interview with Commie High filmmaker Donald Harrison.)
While Welcome to Commie High is the highest-profile film in the fest with local connections, numerous short entries by Ann Arbor- and Michigan-based moviemakers are part of the festival. Below is a list of those films, their screening days and times, and AAFF's descriptions for each work:
The Ann Arbor Film Festival announced that it is proceeding online this year:
The 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) will be presented as a free live-streamed six-day event March 24-March 29, 2020! We made the decision to suspend all in-person events for the 58th AAFF due to growing health concerns surrounding COVID-19, and instead present short and feature films in competition entirely online.
The online event is designed to be accessible for everyone and will be streamed through Vimeo. Moderated live Q&As with filmmakers will be streamed following the film screenings in order to continue discourse between filmmakers and our audience. Jurors will fulfill their commitment of reviewing programmed films in competition in order to confer the $22,500 in awards.
Each program is different. Films are not rated. All programs are intended for mature audiences, unless otherwise noted. Some films have imagery of a stroboscopic nature.
Check out the entire livestream schedule here.
Washtenaw County is renowned for its cinema events, from the predominant Ann Arbor Film Festival (March) and the Sundance/Cannes/etc.-affiliated Cinetopia (May) to the new Nevertheless (July), which focuses on female-identifying filmmakers, and all the traveling fests and U-M-sponsored foreign-film series.
But all of those events happen in Ann Arbor, primarily at the Michigan Theater.
Filmmaker Donald Harrison, who runs 7 Cylinders Studio, and multimedia artist Martin Thoburn want to make another part of Washtenaw Country an important destination for cinephiles, so they've launched the annual Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (IFFY).
"I've imagined a film festival happening in Ypsilanti for almost a decade," Harrison said via email, "but venue options have been limited. Last year Martin expressed interest in starting it with me -- it was especially appealing that the festival's identity would be IFFY -- so we set things in motion."
AADL 2019 STAFF PICKS: BOOKS, MUSIC, MOVIES & MORE
Below you will see that 41 Ann Arbor District Library employees composed 18,000 words listing arts and culture that made an impact on their lives in this calendar year. While movies, books, and music released in 2019 figured prominently among our picks, we never limit our selections to material from the past year. Not all timeless art can be discovered and absorbed in a mere 365 days, so we're like Master P: no limits.