60th Ann Arbor Film Festival: "Rock Bottom Riser" digs into the cultural and physical roots of modern Hawaii

FILM & VIDEO REVIEW

A still from the documentary Rock Bottom Riser showing an overhead shot of flowing lava

Hawaiian lava flows in the impressionistic profile of the island in Rock Bottom Riser. Image courtesy of Cinema Guild.

How fascinating to watch two movies back-to-back for the AAFF, both of them focused on different island chains. While Archipelago is about the myriad islands of the St. Lawrence River and often reflects a playful, calm mood, Rock Bottom Riser by Fern Silva is much more fractured and fraught with danger.

Through a collection of film segments, Silva explores some of the clashing cultural beliefs of modern Hawaii: spiritual, traditional, scientific. With little context or introduction, we see the people and places of Hawaii and are left with our own impressions.

60th Ann Arbor Film Festival: The animated "Archipelago" traces the communities along the St. Lawrence River

FILM & VIDEO REVIEW

A still from the animated film Archipelago featuring an abstract background with small bodies and a cow looking like they're struggling

What would you create if you wanted to convey the entire history of a place—the people with their personal struggles and giant conflicts, their loves and everyday lives, the music they listen to, and the story of the land itself?

Make a painting, write a novel, take pictures?

Archipelago, with its impressionistic mixture of animation and historic film footage, comes remarkably close to achieving the impossible task of capturing and reflecting the memories of a place on Earth.

Director Félix Dufour-Laperrière turns his attention to the islands and cities of the 800-mile-long St. Lawrence River to tell their stories and bring them to life. Admittedly, the St. Lawrence River, which originates in Lake Ontario in northeastern Canada, sounds like a dull topic for a feature-length film. But the vivid and wonderful expression of each stop in this fantastical travelogue is uplifting and hopeful.

Touching From a Distance: “A Thousand Ways (Part 2): An Encounter” explores emotional connections between strangers

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Two women touch hands with a pane of glass between them while sitting at a table in 600 Highwaymen’s A Thousand Ways (Part 2): An Encounter

After months of isolation and “Zoom socializing,” many of us are probably feeling pretty rusty when it comes to face-to-face conversations with strangers—which seems a raison d’etre of 600 Highwaymen’s A Thousand Ways (Part 2): An Encounter, presented by the Ann Arbor Summer Festival and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

This intimate, interactive theater experience positions you and a stranger across from each other at a table, with a glass partition between you, in an empty room at UMMA. You take turns reading from a stack of cards—a black arrow indicates which of you the card is for—and you read aloud from it, or follow instructions like, “Imagine what keeps this person up at night,” or “wink with each eye,” or “with your partner, make a box with your hands against the glass.”

60th Ann Arbor Film Festival: Documentary gives due to avant-garde film pioneer Sally Dixon

FILM & VIDEO REVIEW

Experimental Curator: The Sally Dixon Story

Filmmaker, enthusiast, advocate, meticulous curator, promoter, free spirit and nurturing mother of avant garde film.

Those are the words used to describe Sally Dixon in Brigid Maher’s documentary Experimental Curator: The Sally Dixon Story.

Dixon’s role as filmmaker, advocate, and curator of films at the Carnegie Museum made her a key if less-known figure in the emerging experimental avant-garde film movement. Her work was crucial to gaining recognition and financial backing for such key figures as Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Bruce Baillie, James Broughton, and Kenneth Anger. She was also an advocate for women filmmakers such as Carolee Schneemann. Women filmmakers often found it difficult to gain acceptance in the male-dominated field. Dixon opened doors for them.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival will screen Maher’s feature documentary at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 27, in the main auditorium of the Michigan Theater. The documentary will be followed by four short experimental films: Fist Fight by Robert Breer, Valentin de las Sierras by Bruce Baillie, Invocation of My Demon Brother by Kenneth Anger and Take Off by Guvnor Nelson.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival has long been a major home for experimental film. This documentary should be just the ticket for those seeking a little history on a movement that had a whole different view of what movies could be about than Hollywood.

60th Ann Arbor Film Festival: "Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over" is a revealing look at a confrontational avant-garde icon

FILM & VIDEO REVIEW

Lydia Lunch performs on stage with her band in a photo by Kathleen Fox

Lydia Lunch photo by Kathleen Fox

The title of director Beth B's film Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over derives from an archival performance clip in which Lunch, a confrontational New York City no-wave musician, performance artist, and icon, dissects the endless masculine predilection toward war. "You want to go on a suicide mission? Go on a suicide mission," Lunch says. "One man, one bomb, and leave the innocent women, the innocent children, and the innocent male civilians out of it. It's not my war."

But the title takes on greater significance as B and Lunch delve deeper into a very different kind of never-ending battle: Lunch's efforts to grapple with her childhood sexual abuse and resulting trauma. They take their time getting there, ping-ponging in a free-associative format between topics including Lunch's various musical projects, activism, and use of sex as a weapon and instrument of subversion. 

Now 62, Lunch is as much a force of nature as ever, rattling off poetic, angry, profane, and blackly funny rants with unfettered savagery directed toward the patriarchy and other institutions of oppression. "Lydia is a fuckin' doctor," musician Carla Bozulich says in one of the film's many interviews with Lunch's kindred artistic spirits. "Her kind of medicine is just a punch in the fuckin' face."

60th Ann Arbor Film Festival: Two lost souls meet on a small Bosnian island in "Looking for Horses"

FILM & VIDEO REVIEW

A still from the film Looking for Horses featuring a close-up of an older man with deep creases on his face, his chin resting on his right hand

Photo courtesy of Lightdox

Stefan Pavlovic’s Looking for Horses begins in a deep mist and heavy clouds. The image, shot with a hand-held camera, shifts wildly, moving from choppy lake waters to a menacing sky of black clouds. 

This sets the tone for a film about a rich, emotional friendship between the young filmmaker Pavlovic and a reclusive Bosnian fisherman.

Pavlovic is a filmmaker based in Amsterdam. He returned to his family’s native home of Bosnia where he met the fisherman, Zdravko, who has been living alone on a small island for 18 years. He rarely goes into the nearby town of Orah. He has set up living space in an abandoned chapel over the last five years, having lived in small shacks around the island. 

Zdravko was a soldier in the Bosnian war. He lost his hearing. Later he lost sight in one eye in an accident. His face is deeply wrinkled. He smokes cigarette after cigarette. He’s gruff but welcomes the attention of the young filmmaker, touched by the idea that he would be a worthy topic for a documentary.

60th Ann Arbor Film Festival: Japanese documentary "Shari" is an empathetic, dreamlike look at a changing planet

FILM & VIDEO REVIEW

A still image from Nao Yoshigai's film Shari featuring a person standing in a forest in winter wearing a large, strange, bulky, red, full-body suit

The subject of Japanese director Nao Yoshigai's Shari creeps up on you as unexpectedly as the hulking, crimson, woolly creature that shambles through the film in a series of dreamlike interludes. The film focuses on the Japanese town of Shari in 2020, and at first seems to be a series of well-observed vignettes chronicling the lives of its residents. But as we meet the townspeople—a baker, a fisherman, an eccentric art collector—they all return to a common topic: the tension between human life and the natural world. Shari's residents discuss feeling drawn in by their town's natural beauty, but they also describe a delicate push-pull between conservation, tourism, and industry. One resident offers the metaphor that Shari's natural resources are a principal upon which people should collect interest, rather than squandering the initial investment.

Shari's residents are also all preoccupied in different ways by the same anxiety: the town has experienced its lightest snowfall in 40 years. There are fewer fish in the ocean, plant growth is stunted, bears are skipping hibernation because they can still find food, and the townspeople have an overall sense of unease.

Things are not as they should be. 

From Marsalis to Schubert: The Philadelphia Orchestra spent two evenings serenading Hill Auditorium with contrasting programs and conductors

MUSIC REVIEW

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra by Todd Rosenberg 

Philadelphia Orchestra musical director Yannick Nézet-Séguin photo by Todd Rosenberg

When Yannick Nézet-Séguin sprang onto the stage last Friday night at a packed Hill Auditorium, he was seemingly filled to the brim with energy. Though the Quebecois conductor and pianist is nearing 50, last weekend his every movement in front of the Philadelphia Orchestra seemed to be infused with a kind of youthful exuberance, from his stretch across the conductor’s podium to shake concertmaster David Kim’s hand prior to the performance, to the athletic exertions he subsequently made during the most bombastic moments of the evening’s program. 

U-M's Basement Arts theater troupe used "The Visit" to explore the dangers of group-think

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Graphic for the Basement Arts production of The Visit. It features an image of Lady Justice wearing an mask with dollars in the place where her eyes should be.

Image courtesy of Basement Arts

It doesn’t take a genius—or a grand performance on stage—to reveal how people will do anything for money.

On February 25 and 26, Basement Arts, a U-M student theater organization, gathered at the Newman Studio in the Walgreen Drama Center and performed Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Visit, which shows how far people will go.

First published in 1956, The Visit tells the tale of millionaire Claire Zachanassian who returns to Güllen, the small town where she grew up. Excited by her visit, the townspeople decide to take this opportunity to better their town and their lives as they’ve fallen on hard times. But Zachanassian has a different plan in mind: In exchange for a one billion dollar donation to Güllen, she wants the townspeople to kill Alfred, the man who she became pregnant with, then jilted her.

Ann Arbor's Creal Microgallery offers tiny exhibitions for unsuspecting pedestrians

VISUAL ART REVIEW

A photo of Jim Cherewick's paintings at the Creal Microgallery

Installation view of Inspire/Expire exhibition, paintings by Jim Cherewick at Creal Microgallery. Photo by Joe Levickas/Creal Microgallery.

The first reaction a pedestrian might have upon encountering the Creal Microgallery in suburban Ann Arbor might be amusement. This tiny, breadbox-sized art space on Creal Crescent, not far from the North Maple Road and Miller Avenue intersection, resembles one of those little free libraries often found on residential streets. It provides curbside delivery of fine art to passers-by from dawn to 11 pm daily. This may not be a grand structure like the elegant Stettheimer dollhouse in the Museum of the City of New York, with its tiny masterpieces by Alexander Archipenko, Gaston Lachaise, and Marcel Duchamp, but it’s no joke either. 

The microgallery’s founder and curator, Joe Levickas, was inspired to start the project by dislocations in his life during the COVID-19 pandemic. He describes bringing up his idea for the gallery with his wife. “What if we put up a gallery in our front yard?” A real team player, she replied, “You should totally do it.” He acquired a 16”x10”x12” box with a glass front, painted it robin’s egg blue to match his house, and the rest is (art) history.