When I talked to him on the phone recently, Michigan native Doug Miro was driving around Bogotá, Colombia, looking for a good coffee shop. He was shooting a few episodes for season three of the Netflix show Narcos, which he and collaborator Carlo Bernard created along with their partner and showrunner Eric Newman. Miro and Bernard, along with a team of writers, pen the scripts, and the two take turns filming episodes in Colombia and California.
Miro and Bernard have worked together for years now, writing screenplays for Steven Spielberg, Harvey Weinstein, and Jerry Bruckheimer, scripting films such as Prince of Persia (which starred Jake Gyllenhaal), The Wall (starring Matt Damon), Tintin, The Uninvited, and the television series Narcos, which Miro describes as more of a “20-hour movie."
Miro will give a free talk at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) on Wednesday, April 19, at 7 pm. The event is co-presented by the MOCAD and the University of Michigan's Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series.
It’s been over 20 years since the Banff Mountain Film Festival launched its “world tour,” bringing various films from the competition to over 40 countries and hundreds of cities around the world. Ann Arbor has been lucky enough to be a stop on the tour for more than a decade.
The film festival, which takes place at Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada each fall, features short films and documentaries about outdoor recreation of all sorts. Eight of the best films from the festival were shown at the Michigan Theater this past Tuesday evening.
This year’s selections offered a refreshing dose of unusual sports and unique humor. The festival opened with Metronomic, a 5-minute film from France about a team of “flying musicians.” The stuntmen swing off of tight-ropes and parachute off of cliffs, all while playing their respective instruments. Most amazing was the drummer, Freddy Montigny, who flew with his entire drum set.
Next was a film about canine sports, Dog Power, that covered much more than dog sledding. Focusing on the lasting relationships that form between athletes and their dogs in dog-powered sports, the film showed canicross (running with dogs), bikjoring (biking with dogs), skijoring (skiing behind a team of dogs), and various distances and team sizes of sled-dog racing. It was fascinating to learn about the breeding and care that goes into making dogs into athletes. One racer emphasized that the dogs are just as important a part of the team as the human. Banff Film Festival’s films often focus on skiing and snowboarding, climbing or mountain biking, so it was exciting and heartwarming to see a film like Dog Power.
Another feel-good film from the show was Four Mums in a Boat, the amazing story of four middle-aged British mothers who decide to compete in a race rowing a boat across the Atlantic Ocean. They all met one another while dropping their kids off at school, and took up rowing on the local river. After learning about the 3,000-mile race across the Atlantic, one of the mothers convinced the other three to sign up for it with her. The film showcases the trials and tribulations that the women undergo as they spend almost 70 days (20 more than planned) rowing across the ocean. From a loss of power (meaning they had to spend 10 hours a day hand-pumping ocean water through a filter to make it potable) and a broken rudder to rowing into Hurricane Alex, the women demonstrate admirable strength, endurance, and determination, and a great deal of humor.
Young Guns is a 30-minute film about two young rock climbers, was also a crowd-favorite. Kai Lightner was 15 years old when the film was made and Ashima Shiraishi was just 14. The two are gaining worldwide notoriety as the film opens, winning national championships and beating climbers much older than them. Friends both at the climbing gym and outside of it, they spend their spring break traveling together with their families to Norway, where extra challenging rocks put their skills to the test. Their quiet maturity and amazing climbing skills had the audience gasping with delight, especially when Shiraishi becomes both the youngest person ever and the first woman to climb a V15 boulder in Japan at the film’s conclusion.
Other films shown on Tuesday were Being Hear, a brief film about the importance of listening to nature, The Perfect Flight, a five-minute film about falconry, The Super Salmon, about the fight by many Alaskans to protect the Susitna River from being dammed, and Danny MacAskill’s Wee Day Out, a charming, amusing film about one man’s day mountain biking through rural Ireland. Banff Mountain Film Festival, which is locally sponsored by U-M’s Recreational Sports association, Moosejaw, and Bivouac, is a special treat each year. The films offer viewers the chance to see aspects of outdoor sports and life that often aren’t captured at the Olympics or other major televised sporting events, and the unique perspective that each filmmaker brings to his or her work casts each movie in a different emotional light. This year’s distinctiveness, with its focus on sports like falconry, rowing, and canicross, made for an extra special experience. Luckily for anyone who missed the festival -- or for anyone who is excited to see more outdoor films -- Banff Mountain Film Festival will be back in 2018.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.
The Banff Mountain Film Festival world tour stops in Ann Arbor at the Michigan Theater every April.
hashtag by Sherlonya Turner
Confession: Despite living in the greater Ann Arbor area for nearly 20 years, I have never attended any part of the Ann Arbor Film Festival.
The poster caught my attention. I’m a sucker for bright colors.
Seduced by the orange, pink, and yellow in this year's AAFF poster, I thought, "Wouldn’t it be funny if I watched as many episodes of Dallas as I can before the film festival and then went to the screening of Hotel Dallas?," which documents Romania's strange fascination with the TV show that ran from 1978 to 1991.
An experience was born, but instead of diving into Dallas, I decided to steep myself in the Ann Arbor Film Festival experience.
First, I had to learn about the thing, so I did some light research on the festival’s founder, George Manupelli. I stumbled upon a memorial blog for him and read the whole thing click-after-click on my phone. Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to create for myself the experience that this man would have appreciated.
I like to imagine that he’d approve of my plan to jump right in.
When the Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) put together the printed edition of its 2017 program, the organization did it the usual way: listing the dates and the movies underneath. Throw in the "Off the Screen" events and after parties, et voila: the program calendar for the 55th edition of this Ann Arbor mainstay.
But when AAFF was putting together its website, the staff noticed a theme -- or several.
"We did set the [film] programs first," said Executive Director Leslie Raymond to Pulp in this recent interview. "Later when we looked back at them, we recognized some recurring themes and some things people would be interested in that we could pull together -- a few different film programs. People have told us that it's great and it can really help them to figure out what they want to do at the festival."
It made a lot of sense to us, too. Film festivals often group their movies by themes, which helps viewers hone in on their primary interests rather than root through a calendar to see what movies match their tastes on a specific day.
With Raymond's guidance, we identified the 55th Ann Arbor Film Festival's major film tracks as listed on its website, reviewed the primary movies or collections within them, and previewed the rest of the screenings or events in the series. Below is a list of our theme-based coverage for AAFF 2017:
Amazing Stories | Features in Competition
My dad often bemoans the lack of color in today’s movies. Back in the day, he says, the colors were more vibrant and jumped out at you from the screen. The reds were deeper, the yellows brighter, and the blues like the color of the ocean. If Dad was not in Florida enjoying a well-deserved retirement, I would insist that he come to the screening of Following Seas. Filmed by the Griffith family on their epic around the world adventures in the '60s and '70s, the ocean blue smacks you in the face and you are happy to let it do so.
Bob and Nancy Griffith met while on their respective boats in Honolulu Harbor. A successful veterinarian, Bob retired early to fulfill a lifelong dream of sailing the world. He and Nancy fell in love, married, and set out on the adventure of a lifetime all the while shooting film and still pictures to document their travels.
The Following Seas documentary by Tyler Kelley and Araby Williams highlights the family's voyages with their young child on the Ahwahnee boat.
"Axes of Dwelling: The Video Art of Yuan Goangming"
Asian Focus | New Media | Short Films
We've all seen countless homes, city streets, and natural landscapes in our lifetimes -- but never seen them quite the way Yuan Goangming does. The Taiwanese video artist's work is full of such commonplace imagery, but through innovative presentation and perspective, Yuan imbues familiar sights with surprising new feelings of both wonderment and unease. A wide variety of his works will be shown during the career retrospective "Axes of Dwelling," for which Yuan will appear and participate in a discussion with University of Michigan professor of Asian cinema Markus Nornes.
Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present
Feature in Competition | Music
For a man who was a paragon for expanding the paradigms of what constitutes art, music, and film, the subject of Tyler Hubby’s documentary Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present looks like any other rumpled khakis-and-button-down-shirt-wearing older professor. But when Conrad opens his mouth and the words begin to tumble out, his flowing imagination, sense of mischief, and singular view of the world make him anything but a tenured bore.
After graduating with a degree in mathematics from Harvard in 1962 and working as a computer programmer for a year, Conrad spent the rest of his life rebelling against anything as structured as those disciplines.
“He’s definitely got issues with authority,” says Tony Oursler, an artist and frequent Conrad collaborator.
"Post-Internet and the Moving Image"
New Media "> Shorts Program
"Film was the medium of the 20th century," video artist Jaakko Pallasvuo somberly intones in voiceover in his short video Bergman. "Film is radio. Film is painting. Film is a drawing on sand, about to be swept away by the ocean."
The descriptor "video artist" is used pointedly here, rather than "filmmaker," because Pallasvuo makes that distinction quite clearly himself in Bergman. Pallasvuo's short essay on the great director Ingmar Bergman juxtaposes brief clips of Bergman's films with recognizable icons of the internet age, like the Gmail and PayPal logos. Pallasvuo drily asks: "Do all video artists fantasize about becoming directors? It's a fantasy about traveling in time."
In Andrew Rosinski's curated program "Post-Internet and the Moving Image," Bergman is just one of 13 offerings that are ostensibly short films but assert themselves as something other in their embrace of technology. Rosinski characterizes the program as an attempt to define the nascent genre of "post-internet cinema," noting that most of his selections were created to be viewed online, not in a movie theater.
Socrates of Kamchatka
Political | Amazing Stories | World Premiere
The first thing that strikes you as you enter the world of Socrates of Kamchatka is that your experience is being intermediated by the whimsical soliloquy of its titular world-weary horse. This gives the film a fable-like sheen and makes the central dramatic arc -- a rural community’s struggle to adapt to unceasing waves of national economic and political change -- at once both familiar and strange.
Socrates is no mincer of words, and he tells his story with deft aplomb, fully realizing the benefits of his equine perspective on human happenings and behavior. “Mother always bit my thighs for asking questions,” our narrator confides, before adding, “But then why name me Socrates?”
The Pink Egg
Features in Competition | Totally Out There | Classic AAFF
If you're going to make a film that fits the aesthetic of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, Luis Bunuel makes for a near-perfect starting point. Director Jim Trainor begins The Pink Egg with a quote from the celebrated surrealist: "You can find all of Shakespeare and De Sade in the lives of insects." That sentence offers a pithy declaration of artistic intent, and Trainor follows through, offering viewers a one-of-a-kind evocation of the animal world.
Employing boldly minimalistic and colorful sets that could double for an unhinged, low-budget children's program, Trainor casts humans clad in long-sleeved, hooded unitards to act out the mating rituals, lifecycles, and surprisingly human experiences of various wasps, bees, and insects. Alternately humorous, tragic, and inspiring, The Pink Egg remains a defiantly uncommercial picture due to the lack of dialogue, and the seemingly bizarre actions of the nameless characters. You may find yourself asking why some of the female characters paint pink and blue tubes with lotion, meant to represent seminal fluid, and why those tubes suddenly change color.