Film: The Armor of Light

In a gripping portrait of courage, director Abigail E. Disney follows the journey of an Evangelical minister trying to find the moral strength to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in America. THE ARMOR OF LIGHT tracks Reverend Rob Schenck, anti-abortion activist and fixture on the political far right, who breaks with orthodoxy by questioning whether being pro-gun is consistent with being pro-life. Reverend Schenck is shocked and perplexed by the reactions of his long-time friends and colleagues who warn him away from this complex, politically explosive issue.

This film is being screened in partnership with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America of Washtenaw County.

Lights, Camera, Austen: the screen adaptations of Jane Austen

U-M graduate student instructor Anne Mecklenburg will discuss the many, many adaptations of Jane Austen's work. Have you seen every Jane Austen miniseries multiple times? Remain devoted to the Greer Garson/Laurence Olivier Pride and Prejudice? Really liked that one with the zombies? Loved Clueless? No matter your favorite, this event is a chance to learn more about the history and context of Jane Austen novels on film. Naturally, we'll be watching a lot of clips!

This event is a partnership with the University of Michigan The Life and Times of Lizzy Bennet Exhibit.

Los Angeles plays itself (Anderson [2003] 2014)

Maybe we live in Ann Arbor, a semi-dense municipality with a population of 118,000 and ranked as the most educated city in the U.S., so why would we be interested in a film about L.A., the sprawling concrete jungle that is home to 3.9 million and the interstices of Hollywood? Well for starters, this essay-film/documentary offers a fascinating analysis of the city behind the facade. It is a critique of the decay of Los Angeles in and through cinema.

Accordingly, director, Thom Anderson (professor at the California Institute of Arts) presents a study of how the city has been interpreted, represented, and obliterated through the movies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the critique reveals the failings of cinema to capture the true essence of a place as experienced by residents far removed from the screen. The film seeks to reclaim the city from cinema, and in so doing seeks to save cinema in itself.

Los Angeles plays itself (2003) was not released commercially and was originally only seen in film festival screenings and through file-sharing. Since garnering a larger audience, the film has won critical acclaim and was recently remastered in 2014.

Professor Anderson uses footage from what seems to be hundreds of films (and television shows) spanning from the 1920s to 2001, which are reassembled with his own shots of Los Angeles into a comprehensive, inside, and cinephilic perspective. The film is organized into two parts covering numerous themed essays around brilliant and lucid analyses of the city. These include the city as backdrop and character, past and future, high and low tourism, and modernist architecture and simulacrum that reveal the socio-economic conditions of the times. Although part one of the film at times drags on - when dealing with architecture - the second part is where it all comes together - when addressing urban planning.

In part two, Anderson's critiques become a fascinating historical recount of Los Angeles' public transportation system and the automobile, aqueducts and infrastructure, and working class and non-white neighborhoods. He takes the viewer from a Singing in the Rain Los Angeles to a Boyz in the Hood Los Angeles (see Mike Davis 2014).

In the finale, it is evident that Los Angeles plays itself is a celebration of cinema born of the city and not the other way around. Although the film is a few notches below the poetics of Italo Calvino, it seemingly serves as a tribute to his novel Invisible Cities (1978).

Here are a handful of the prominently featured and celebrated works in Los Angeles plays itself that are well worth brushing up on:

Dragnet (television series: 1951-1959)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (2003)
Blade Runner (2007)
Chinatown (1974)
Killer of Sheep (1977)

2 or 3 things I know about her : 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle (Godard 1967)

This 1967 French film by Jean-Luc Godard is part of the Criterion Collection and asserted by film critic Amy Taubin to be one of the greatest achievements in cinema. The film is largely a critique of Charles De Gaulle's Politics of Granduer, an economic infrastructure project in the mid-1960s in Paris that tore up the inner city with highways relocating the upper-middle-class into monstrous housing complexes in the outer arrondissements. In particular, Godard captures a social phenomenon of the time in which one in two housewives living in these high-rises had turned to part-time prostitution in order to maintain the self-necessitated class status.

2 or 3 things I know about her captures the banality and alienation of the bourgeoisie by following 24-hours in the life of Juliete Jeanson (Marina Vlady), a mother and housewife who traverses her own violation through that of Paris and the Vietnam War. Ultimately, the film is a critique of the fragmentation of capitalist society, as expressed through the indifference of "objects" such as cleaning products, magazine advertisements, fashion shopping, finger nail polish, children, and especially sex with strangers.

The film is perhaps most notable for its radical departures from narrative form through its documentary-essayist style, 360-degree camera pans, non-synchronous sound, seemingly random dialogue, and percussive editing. Godard's own voice is in the film, whispering in first-person to the viewer and off-screen to the actors via earpieces who are responding directly, often breaking the fourth-wall.

For those interested in urban planning this film gives a rare window into De Gaulle's Paris, which conjures urban histories from Haussmann's Paris (1850s-1870s), Robert Moses' New York City (1920s-1960s), and Lúcio Costa's and Oscar Niemeyer's Brasilia (1950s-1960s; excerpt from The Shock of the New narrated by Robert Hughes). The preface to David Harvey's book Rebel Cities offers a good setup for this film and even mentions it! (here is a link to an interview with Harvey).

Finally, if you enjoy French essay films, you may also appreciate Chris Marker's works, such as his 1977 film A Grin without a cat. Amusez-vous bien!

Free Radicals: a history of experimental film (Chodorov 2012)

[cover_image]|1424607[/cover_image] What is experimental film? How did it emerge? Who are the groundbreaking artists? What is the intention in the form? If you want to get polished up for the 55th annual Ann Arbor Film Festival, then this gem of a film is an excellent refresher! Free Radicals: a history of experimental film summarily captures a bricolage of formats from non-film stop motion, to etching on film (and leader), to mixed-medium nonlinear performances.

In this documentary, Director, Pip Chodorov narrates a personal journey that retraces his childhood through first-hand exposure to the pivotal figures of the avant-garde film movement in Europe and America. The film - an homage to experimental form itself - showcases precious archival footage, as well as the filmmaker's home videos that feature a rare and insightful interview with Hans Richter. Chodorov masterfully weaves the story of experimental film together through biographical interviews with notables Jonas Mekas, Peter Kubelka, Stan Brakhage, Ken Jacobs, and Robert Breer amongst others. Chodorov, himself an experimental filmmaker, actively supports the marginal form by documenting his personal journey and participation throughout the piece.

Surprisingly, the Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) - a key proponent of the experimental film scene - is not mentioned in this work. Perhaps this is because George Manupelli, founder of AAFF, had a different and less curatorial idea to supporting the art form. Rather than promote a certain taste, his vision was for a more inclusive venue to foster an emerging diversity of its form (see our interview with the festival's Executive Director, Leslie Raymond). Nonetheless, Free Radicals not only serves as a useful historical view into the genre but more so is able to stand on its own as a work of art.

I hope you enjoy watching this remarkable and informative 2012 documentary on the history of experimental filmmaking!

The Princess Diarist: Carrie Fisher rediscovers her diaries from the sets of the Star Wars films

In her new memoir The Princess Diarist pop culture icon Carrie Fisher revisits the wild days of filming the first Star Wars trilogy. Fisher, who, of course, plays Princess Leia in the movies (and is currently reprising her role in the latest trilogy), recently rediscovered her diaries from the time period when she was filming the original trilogy. She writes that she was astonished to see what her writing had preserved: not only the angst of her own early adulthood, but open and honest musings about the era, love poems she’d written while curled up on set, and intimate recollections of what happened behind the scenes of the blockbuster movies.

Beyond revisiting her younger years, Fisher also contemplates larger issues in The Princess Diarist. She writes about the joys and struggles of celebrity, her struggles with addiction, and the absurdity of being born to Hollywood royalty (she’s the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher). Star Wars fans will certainly enjoy the juicy details that Fisher shares about her life on set and her interactions with her costars (hint: she and Harrison Ford did more than “interact”), but even readers who aren’t fans of the movies or who aren’t as familiar with them will enjoy her insightful viewpoints on celebrity and pop culture as a whole.

Fisher is also the author of the memoirs Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic and of four novels, including Postcard From the Edge.

Film & Discussion: How to Let Go of the World And Love All the Things Climate Can't Change

Concerned about climate change?

This special screening of the latest film by Oscar-nominated director Josh Fox ([Gasland) focuses on the impacts climate change is having around the world. In "How to Let Go of the World and Love All The Things Climate Can't Change," Fox contemplates our climate-impacted future, focusing on the human qualities that global warming can't destroy.

"It's a fascinating, heartbreaking and ultimately inspiring ride." — Andrew O. Hehir, Salon.com

The screening will be followed by a brief discussion on global warming. This 127-minute film is not rated.

This event is cosponsored by the Ann Arbor Chapter of Citizens' Climate Lobby and 350 SE Michigan.

New Movies at the AADL!

The AADL has just added a plethora of new movies to our collection, from more obscure older titles to films that came out just this year. Here’s a peek at some of the brand new additions:

Everybody Wants Some!!, directed by Richard Linklater, is a hilariously accurate depiction of a 1980s baseball team and their antics the week before college classes start. Freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner) is excited to start college, move into the baseball house and make new friends (and meet girls, of course). Although he feels pretty cool as he rolls up to his new home in his powder-blue car, record collection in tow, Jake realizes that he has a lot to learn about where he fits in among the ranks of his teammates. A weekend of parties, disco-hopping, honky tonk bars, drinking games and, of course, baseball, puts Jake in his place… but that place turns about to be a pretty good spot to be in. Everybody Wants Some!! is the best of lighthearted fun with a killer soundtrack, surprisingly good performances from a number of previously-unknown actors, and lots of classic 80s fashion. (This blogger admits a slight bias because she loves 80s fashion, Blondie and baseball.)

The Nice Guys, starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, was one of those movies that, had it tried to take itself the least bit seriously, would have been a total bust. Luckily, director Shane Black knew better, and the movie is an outrageous comedy thriller that in many places makes no sense… but it doesn’t really matter. The Nice Guys follows a pair of private eyes, down-on-his-luck, yet still prideful Holland March (Gosling) and tough guy enforcer Jackson Healy (Crowe) who somewhat inadvertently get involved in the investigation of a missing girl. The movie features mysterious fires, amateur filmmakers, unnamed thugs that attack you in the night, investigative journalism and the dramatically delivered line, “what’s good for Detroit is good for America.”

Slow West is a classic western film starring Michael Fassbender that was quietly released in 2015. The story of a 16-year-old boy searching for his lost love in the nineteenth century American West, the movie is as much a great road trip (well, trail trip) film as it is an action-packed western. Young Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travels to America from Scotland to search for his childhood love, Rose. Upon his arrival, he encounters a bounty hunter, Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), whom he hires for protection. Unbeknownst to Jay, however, Silas has his own reasons for working for the young boy. As the two travel together seeking Rose and her father, they encounter all of the typical trials and tribulations that you might see during a game of Oregon Trail, along with much, much more. Although the movie is action-packed, one of the best parts are the serene, glorious shots of the scenery that Silas and Jay travel through on their journey. It’s increasingly rare these days that true western movies are made, and Slow West is made even more of a treat for its unarguable claim of that categorization.

Want to see what other great movies we’ve just put into the collection? Click on the “New DVDs” link under the catalog search bar!

Film and Discussion: We Rock Long Distance

The documentary "We Rock Long Distance" weaves together the sounds and stories of three Twin Cities hip-hop artists – M.anifest, Maria Isa, and Tou SaiKo Lee – as they journey home to Ghana, Puerto Rico, and Thailand to create unique and unexpected connections across generation and geography.

Following the film screening, director Justin Schell will discuss the film and its creation.

Starting in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, one of the best-known sites for underground hip-hop, the film follows M.anifest to his home in Accra, Ghana, where he connects with hip-life artists from across the country, performs in front of his family for the first time and explores connections with his world-renowned grandfather, the composer, poet, and scholar J. H. Kwabena Nketia. The film joins "Sota Rican" Maria Isa as she explores the links between hip-hop, reggaeton, and the folkloric arts of Puerto Rico she grew up performing, bomba and plena. Follow her as she traces her musical and familial genealogy from San Juan and Loiza to the campos of Vega Baja. In Thailand, We Rock Long Distance follows Tou SaiKo Lee's ongoing work using hip-hop and poetry to create new and stronger bonds between Hmong Americans and Hmong in Southeast Asia, as well as between youth and elders - some of whom have never heard of hip-hop. Tou SaiKo Lee also learns more about kwv txhiaj, a Hmong practice of oral poetry, in an attempt to build a bridge to this centuries-old practice through hip-hop.

In addition to overturning dominant stereotypes and creating unexpected cross-generational connections, each of these artists are well-known for strengthening their local and global communities through their words, music, and actions. "We Rock Long Distance" amplifies their stories, offering an intimate look at the process of creation while engaging artists and audiences in conversations about music, home, tradition, and family that resonate long after the recording sessions have ended and planes have left.

"We Rock Long Distance" is not rated and runs for 87 minutes.

The 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival is Here!

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is here again, and with it comes another year of films, events, and community partnership. AADL will once again be an official AAFF community partner, this year for Films in Competition 5, on Saturday March 19 at 11 am in the main auditorium. This screening features films especially for viewers and filmmakers age 6 and up.

You can see the festival's entire schedule and buy tickets on the Ann Arbor Film Fest’s website. Make sure to enter the code AAFF54_AADL for a dollar off your advance ticket!

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is the longest-running independent and experimental film festival in North America. The 54th AAFF takes place March 15-20, 2016 and presents over 200 films from across the world with dozens of world premieres. For more information, please visit the Ann Arbor Film Festival’s website.