No Restrictions: Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti returns with a full slate


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When Martin Thoburn and Donald Harrison launched the Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (iFFY) in 2020, they offered cinema fans socially distanced, drive-in-style screenings and a momentary reprieve from the pandemic, which had shuttered movie theaters across the country.

Three years later—and one year after finding a new home at the Riverside Arts Center—iFFY is solidifying its spot on the local film scene with an ambitious scope and schedule, running April 19-23. 

"There's also double the amount of programming. An extra day-and-a-half," said Micah Vanderhoof, iFFY operations manager and a University of Michigan alum with a bachelor's degree in screen arts and cultures who previously worked as a programmer for the Portland International Film Festival.

"Michigan-ish," a competitive program of a dozen short films produced in and around the region, kicks off the fest on Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30 pm, followed by an after-party at Ziggy's featuring DJ sets and decorations by House of Jealous Lovers.   

For his "Michigan-ish" entry, Saline's Mike Ambs offers an atmospheric and elegant single-shot short, Falling Forward Into an Unknown and Dangerous Future, inspired by the 2022 conversation between two Google employees and a seemingly sentient AI. Ambs used the transcript from the AI's side of the conversation for his film, which questions the impact of artificial intelligence on society.

Ambs has used AI to help streamline the film-production process and said, "It has been helpful," but his tone becomes concerned when pondering the world his young daughter will grow up in. He thinks the public has the potential to be profoundly affected by AI and should also have a say in the implementation of the emerging technology.

"I just don't think these decisions should be happening behind closed doors at companies who have the potential for tremendous profit to grab hold of by being the first and the fastest," Ambs said. He cites the rushed release of Chat GPT-4 and the revelation Microsoft recently laid off the company's entire AI Ethics and Society team as potentially problematic as we continue to fall forward into that Unknown and Dangerous Future

The rest of iFFY continues with a mix of screenings and workshops, all at Riverside Arts Center. The afterparties are at Keystone Bar and Arcade (Thursday), Bellflower (Friday), and The Tap Room (Saturday). 

Thursday's activities kick off at 5:30 pm with a reception and then a talk by interdisciplinary artist Parisa Ghaderi who presents a new video installation, For Dancing in the Streets, which "explores the power of dance to embody shared experiences of suffering, resistance, and solidarity" in response to her native Iran’s compulsory veiling laws.

Then at 7 pm, culture and collective consciousness merge in Ypsilanti-based designer and illustrator Hafsah Mijinyawa's "Sounds From Our Memories" program, a "mixtape" of cinematic styles ranging from documentary to speculative science fiction that includes Showing Up and Showing Out, a thoughtful meditation on Motown past and present. That's followed at 9 pm by the feature film Hundreds of Beavers, which is described as a "silent supernatural winter epic" about a "drunken applejack salesman" who must "become North America’s greatest fur trapper to defeat hundreds of beavers." 

Friday features two shorts programs. Cineastes with a sense of wanderlust shouldn't miss Toko Shiiki's "Gems From Across the Seas" program at 7 pm, which features films from South Africa, Mexico, Hong Kong, and more. Then at 9 pm it's the Vanderhoof-curated "Hauntologies," a collection of "alternative horror" shorts exploring everything from the future potential of artificial intelligence (A.I. Mama) to the perils of self-pleasure (In the Flesh). 

Saturday is iFFY's busiest schedule, beginning at 1 pm with "Cinematography on a Budget," a workshop by local filmmaker Garrett Sammons that will offer tips on turning out a professional-grade image on a budget. Other creative workshops that day include "AI-Powered Production," which will examine how tools such as ChatGPT can help streamline the production process, and Gary Schwartz's "'Kinda iFFY' Overhead Projection Shadow Puppet Animation Workshop." Both workshops start at 2:30 pm. (The puppet workshop repeats on Sunday at 2:30 pm.)

"People were crazy-inventive in figuring out ways to make movies during the pandemic," said Vanderhoof, and iFFY's Saturday animation programs prove that point. The "Best of the Children's Film Festival Seattle 2022" at 1 pm offers a colorful selection of international shorts for the whole family, while the "London International Animation Festival" at 7 pm program displays dazzling proof of animation as art.

Other Saturday events include "Radio Campfire" at 3 pm, a "live listening" event that features audio stories, and "Unfinished Film Series: A Paranormal Periscope" at 4:30 pm when Adam Sekuler speaks with Jen Proctor about her aborted documentary on communications with ghosts.

The festival peaks Saturday night at 9 pm with "Underground Picnic #2," a mind-bending microdose of psychotropic shorts beamed directly to your third eye.

Jason Buchanan is a writer and movie fanatic living in Ann Arbor.

The Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (iFFY) runs April 19-23 at the Riverside Arts Center, 76 North Huron Street, Ypsilanti. Visit for tickets and the full schedule.