Like 60-degree days in March, the 59th Ann Arbor Film Festival snuck up on us this year and we didn't get a chance to screen any of the movies before the event launches Tuesday, March 23.
But here all the pertinent details to get you started on this year's edition:
The first time Basement Guy ate real cat food was the last time.
"Next few instances he was eating chili in a cat-food can," says Evan Greig, the director, co-writer, and co-star of Renting and Raving, a YouTube comedy show shot in Ypsilanti. "The fact that a lot of people find the cat-food scene to be gross is great. To me, it means we made it feel real—because it was."
"I remember we were shooting that night and the plan was to empty the can out and fill it with tuna," says Eric Pullins who co-stars as Bret and is a co-writer, prop master, and production designer for the show. "[B]efore we could do that Cameron just dove right in. Cameron is our star and he really commits. I would not have committed that hard."
The committable Basement Guy is played by the committed Cameron Greig, who is also a co-writer and key grip on the show.
This trio of characters comprises the core of Renting and Raving, which makes up with oodles of charm and smart-to-low-brow humor what it's missing in a budget and the occasional incongruity.
All 10 episodes of the first season, filmed before the pandemic, are now available on YouTube, and it's a labor of love for Greig, Pullins, and Greig, along with cinematographer Johannes Pardi, production manager Emily Weir, script supervisor Brent Bergeron, who also plays Evan's shady pal Tito on the show. Also, the brief but ear-worm-worthy theme song by Jeremiah Heiss will get stuck in your head and have you mumbling "Aw, yeah!" to no one in particular.
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: