Normally, you might come into the library, talk to someone on staff, get some recommendations, perhaps share a few of your own, and we'd go on our merry ways, content we could engage in a positive social interaction while discussing whatever book, movie, TV show, music, or more that came up.
Art is life and life is people.
But we've not seen most of you since March 13, the last time the Ann Arbor District Library was fully open to the public—and to the staff. While many AADL staffers have returned to the buildings to do important behind-the-scenes work since the summer, many others have been working from home since the closure. And we miss being able to share what we're currently loving not just with patrons but also with each other.
So, to staffers and patrons alike, these are the movies, TV shows, music, books, and more that helped the AADL crew get through 2020.
Artists performing songs being driven around in a car by a congenial host. Sound familiar?
But Whip Jams isn't Carpool Karaoke.
Host Nadim Azzam doesn't fuss around with wacky comedy. He gets right to the point with his guests, reciting a short bio, picking the musician up in his car, letting them perform, and concluding with a brief interview.
The first episode of this YouTube show clocks in at 4 minutes, 57 seconds. A quick ride indeed.
In the Whip Jams debut on December 9, Ann Arbor's Ki5 performs a song in Azzam's vehicle by sampling his voice with the Boss RC-505 Loopstation sitting in his lap. That kind of compact setup works fine for him, but some future episodes will feature artists holding acoustic instruments—might get a little cozy in Azzam's Honda Civic.
He's about to add filmmaker to his resume after traveling around Jamaica in May 2019 to film Blood & Fire, "a documentary on anti-colonial narratives in Jamaican music and culture," Haywood said, with one of the biggest stars in the movie being Lee "Scratch" Perry, reggae's eccentric genius. Haywood is still editing the film, but while in Jamaica, he also shot footage for several music videos, one of which has just debuted: Israel Voice's "Nyomi," which features the sweet-voiced veteran crooner looking for spiritual love; the roots-reggae tune was co-produced by Earl "Chinna" Smith. Haywood filmed part of the video at Chinna's yard as well as the surfing hot spot Bull Bay.
We asked Haywood about the making of the video, so he wrote a narrative on the process and also updated us on the other music videos he has planned and where he's at with Blood & Fire.
The Genesis of "Abiro": Ben Willis and Dr. Pete Larson discuss the new animated video for the Cytotoxic Nyatiti Band
This post contains mature content.
In Genesis 3:5, the snake convinced Eve to eat forbidden fruit: "your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."
Then God punished the snake for telling the truth and sharing the knowledge.
But according to Larson 10:27:2020, a different story is told: And the man said of the serpent, "Snakes are just really cool."
And rather than kill the serpent, Dr. Pete Larson celebrated it.
He asked Detroit bassist and illustrator Ben Willis to animate a video featuring the slinky reptiles for "Abiro," a song off last summer's radiant, joyful, self-titled album by Dr. Pete Larson and His Cytotoxic Nyatiti Band, which mixes hypnotic Kenyan folk music with psychedelic rock.
"There's not a culture on the planet—at least in temperate zones—that doesn't include snakes in its legends and folklore," said Larson, an epidemiologist with the University of Michigan who also runs the Dagoretti Records label. "Snakes are just this odd, mythical, and fantastic animal that's associated with evil and malevolence, but actually plays an incredibly important role in maintaining the balance of ecologies around the world."
Burnout Society Film Club's 8 Ball Movie Night and Introvert Movie Night offer group viewings of cult flicks
One day in 2017, Samir Asfahani was surfing Facebook during his lunch break. The guitarist in Ann Arbor stoner-metal band Wizard Union, Asfahani belonged to a music enthusiasts’ group and a member started a thread about peoples’ favorite cult movies.
“I was immediately interested because I've always been fond of those types of films, so I started name dropping all of the movies I liked,” he said.
A fellow member of the Facebook group suggested they start another group for cult movies, from old psychotronic stuff to modern horror films.
“Right away, I said ‘I’m on that!’ and within 10 minutes I came up with the name," Asfahani said of the Burnout Society Film Club (BSFC). "The joke is that it would read as BS Film Club without actually calling ourselves the Bullshit Film Club.”
What began as a place for chatting about movies blossomed into a Facebook page in addition to the group, a blog with movie reviews, Instagram live chats and streaming, and shared movie experiences including 8 Ball Movie Night and the Introvert Movie Night.
Over the past year, University of Michigan student and Michigan Electronic Music Collective (MEMCO) member Jordan Stanton has put together three smart, stylish videos: one traced the history of electronic music in the city (Impulse Ann Arbor), another documented the work of one of the genre's most important local artists (58AAFF Artist Spotlight: Tadd Mullinix), and a new music video features the two recent artists on the scene, producer Scary Steve (Steve Klingbiel) and rapper by A.N.G.E.L.I. (Kamryn Thomas).
The video blends computer-generated landscapes and real-world places -- a Michigan forest in the fall, an Ann Arbor alleyway, Club Above -- along with the deadpan delivery of A.N.G.E.L.I. delivering a speedy rap over Scary Steve's skittering beats.
The song and video are both excellent, so have a look and listen.
New films by or featuring two Ann Arbor-ites -- and conversations with both of them -- are landing at the Michigan Theater.
Writer and filmmaker Kevin Smokler seems more comfortable in a different era; maybe one from 30 to 40 years ago. Or at least Smokler's really comfortable covering a different era -- and we liked his book Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies so much we interviewed him twice (October 2016 and June 2017).
Smokler's new film, Vinyl Nation, is about the past decade-plus revival of LPs, which no matter their cult popularity now, are still totems of the pre-CD '80s.
As an Ann Arbor native, Smokler was blessed with numerous fantastic records stores here while growing up, and he's lived in San Francisco for the past 20 years, another place where vinyl records never truly went out of style. Vinyl Nation is co-director and co-producer Smokler's love letter to the vinyl format, and the film is coming to his hometown starting Friday, August 28, at the Michigan Theater's virtual screening room.
Smokler and Vinyl Nation co-director and co-producer Christopher Boone will also do a virtual Q&A about their documentary on Wednesday, September 2, 7 pm (Facebook event link).
The Fight documents the frontline lawyers for the ACLU fighting for abortion and trans rights, as well as trying to fight for the children and families who have been locked up thanks to the current administration's draconian immigration policy. You can also rent this movie from the Michigan Theater's virtual screening room, but first you can listen to an interview with one of the stars of The Fight, Brigitte Amiri, an Ann Arbor native and deputy director at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. Amiri talks to the Michigan Theater's Behind the Marquee podcast about the ins and outs and ups and downs of her profession and being the subject of a documentary.
Check out the trailers for both films:
Back in January when the inaugural Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (IFFY) was announced, the plan was to hold it at the Riverside Art Center, April 16-18.
We all know what happened next.
Between August 20-22, numerous short films curated by Juliet Hinely and Hafsah Mijinyawa will stream each evening at iffypsi.com, though the kick-off evening will be free on Facebook or your can go to the the Normal St. parking lot at Cross by the Ypsi water tower for a drive-in screening.
Here's the schedule and links to trailers for the films in IFFY 2020:
"Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine" documents how the Detroit-born publication rose to the top
Creem magazine was the 1970s dirty rock 'n' roll branch of The New Journalism practiced in the 1960s by Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, and others. The magazine's salty, raunchy prose and passion-first stance helped crack the egg of music journalism, scrambling it into a form that had as much attitude as the music Creem was covering.
Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine is a new documentary by Scott Crawford -- director of the essential Salad Days chronicling the D.C. punk scene he grew up with -- that captures the mag's spirit of chaos, tracing Creem's rise and fall with open-eyed honesty.
Started in 1969 from Detroit's Cass Corridor, Creem spent 20 of its 30 years publishing out of Michigan and helped launch the careers of influential music journos Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, documentary co-producer Jaan Uhelszki, and more. The Creem documentary treats Bangs, Marsh, and cantankerous publisher Barry Kramer as the heart of this dysfunctional band of misfits, many of whom not only covered rock 'n' roll but also lived the lifestyle. Kramer and his wife, Connie, were no exception, and the film's co-producer JJ Kramer deals with his parents' issues with grace during his on-camera interviews.
Before he became a documentary filmmaker, Crawford published numerous fanzines and magazines, including the well-known indie/roots/rock mag Harp, which was influenced by Creem and featured many of its writers. Crawford and I worked for the same company that took over publishing Harp for a few years, and I caught up with Crawford about his latest movie, which is currently available to stream at the Michigan Theater's virtual cinema. This chat was edited for length and clarity.
Innovation & Education: "Welcome to Commie High" documents the history and influence of Ann Arbor's legendary school
This article originally ran March 25, 2020.
We're rerunning the story to highlight the launch of the "Commie High" archive at aadl.org/commiehigh:
This site serves as a supplement to the independent, feature-length documentary about Community High School in Ann Arbor, MI—produced by 7 Cylinders Studio—providing extensive extra content available for public viewing and research. Additional materials and development are anticipated in future editions.
There are video extras, historical and making-of-the-film photos, a music database documenting the school's numerous bands and musicians, digitized yearbooks, and news articles.
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.