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The Ann Arbor Film Festival provides direct support to filmmakers. Our 2023 awards competition presented $24,300 to filmmakers through cash and in-kind awards that include film stock, film processing, and camera equipment rental. An award from the AAFF not only confers prestige and financial support, but can also qualify filmmakers for an Oscar® nomination by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the short film category. Qualifying awards include the Ken Burns Award for Best of the Festival, the Chris Frayne Award for Best Animated Film, and the Lawrence Kasdan Award for Best Narrative Film.

Many thanks to our awards donors. These valued donors make it possible for the Ann Arbor Film Festival to present awards to deserving filmmakers each year. Their generosity creates a positive impact on experimental film by providing support and recognition for talented artists.


Ken Burns Award for Best of the Festival

Presented to the film of any genre or length that best represents the artistic standards of excellence for the festival, this award is generously provided by influential documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, a graduate of Ann Arbor Pioneer High School.


Lawrence Kasdan Award for Best Narrative Film

Hollywood film producer and writer Lawrence Kasdan came to know Ann Arbor well during his years as a student at the University of Michigan. He keeps his connection to the town’s film culture alive in part through his support of this festival award. The distinction goes to the narrative film that makes the best use of film’s unique ability to convey striking and original stories. 


Tom Berman Award for Most Promising Filmmaker

Tom Berman was a student of AAFF founder George Manupelli at the University of Michigan, as well as an early festival supporter and close friend to many in the festival community. To honor his memory, this award—contributed by the Berman family—supports an emerging filmmaker who the jury believes will make a significant contribution to the art of film.


Kodak Cinematic Vision Award 
$1,500 in film stock

This award goes to the film that demonstrates the highest excellence and creativity in cinematography. The recipient will receive $1,500 in film stock from Kodak (This includes complimentary processing should the recipient select 16mm or 35mm color negative film stock at Kodak labs in NYC, Atlanta, and London).


Susan Dise Best Experimental Film

Supported by longtime AAFF volunteer Sue Dise, this award celebrates the film that most successfully showcases the use of experimental processes, forms, and topics. 


Best Documentary Film 

This award recognizes the best nonfiction film in the festival program.


The Barbara Aronofsky Latham Award for an Emerging Experimental Video Artist

This award provides support to the year’s most promising early-career video artist. The award was conceived by the Aronofsky family to honor the late Barbara Aronofsky Latham, a Chicago-based experimental video artist who passed away in 1984 and whose work is distributed by the Video Data Bank.


Chris Frayne Award for Best Animated Film

Chris Frayne was a key participant in the festival’s early years whose approach to life called to mind his colorful cartoon characters. This award honors the spirit of Chris by recognizing the animated film that delivers the best style, creativity, and content. Support for the award comes from several dedicated AAFF enthusiasts.


Gil Omenn Art & Science Award

Provided by Gil Omenn, who seeks to encourage a positive exchange between the arts and sciences, this award honors the filmmaker whose work best uses the art of film and video to explore scientific concepts, research natural phenomena, or embrace real-world experimentation.


Prix DeVarti for Funniest Film*

Supported by an endowment fund established by the DeVarti Family, this award goes to the film likely to create the most laughs in the festival. The prize recognizes the 60-year friendship between Dominick’s pub and the AAFF and honors the memory of Dominick and Alice DeVarti.


The Terri Schwartz Film Award for Parody and Satire*

This award goes to the film that best effectively turns familiar images, music, and assumptions on their heads— and perhaps uses gentle or barbed humor— to offer pointed insights about injustice. It honors Terri P. Schwartz (1952–-2021), a University. of Michigan alumna employed as a graphic designer in the Netherlands. Favorite films of hers included Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, 2019), a Nazi-mocking satire; Settlers of Brooklyn (Above Average Productions, 2015), a parody of gentrifying hipsters; and Pull My Daisy (Robert Frank, 1959), a parody of the Beat Generation.


The Eileen Maitland Award

Supported by several local AAFF fans, this award is given to the film that best addresses women’s issues and elevates female voices. It was created to honor the spirit and memory of Eileen Maitland, who was a dear friend and longtime supporter of the festival, as well as a patron and practitioner of the arts.


George Manupelli Founder’s Spirit Award

With lead support from brothers Dave and Rich DeVarti, this award recognizes the filmmaker who best captures the bold and iconoclastic spirit of the Ann Arbor Film Festival founder, the late George Manupelli, founder of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, whose vision for the festival continues to this day. An endowment fund initiative is currently underway. Please contact should you wish to help ensure that this award in honor of George Manupelli lives on in perpetuity.

CameraMall Best Michigan Filmmaker Award
$515 in kind

This award recognizes top Michigan talent. The winner will receive a $50 gift card and a one-week rental for a camera body and two lenses, valued at $465, from CameraMall, Ann Arbor’s camera store and photo lab, dedicated to supporting the Great Lakes photo community in learning, renting gear, and printing their work.


Lawther/Graff No Violence Award

In a culture that too often uses images of violence to entertain and inform, this prize is awarded to the film that best engages the audience while meeting the challenge of “No Violence Depicted!”


Barbara Hammer Feminist Film Award*

Barbara Hammer was a filmmaker with a profound commitment to expressing a feminist point of view in her work. In 2020, filmmaker Lynne Sachs received the Oberhausen Film Festival Grand Prize for a film she made with and for Hammer. With funds from the prize, Lynne created this Ann Arbor Film Festival award for a work that best conveys Hammer’s passion for celebrating and examining the experiences of women. Qualifying work by artists of any gender will be considered. The Barbara Hammer Feminist Film Award endowment is now fully funded, which will ensure that Hammer’s legacy lives on through the AAFF.


Best Experimental Animation Award 

This award recognizes the best experimental animated film that most successfully showcases the use of experimental processes, forms, and topics. Established by Deanna Morse, the award is endowed and in memory of Erik Alexander, an aficionado of the Ann Arbor Film Festival.


Leon Speakers Award for Best Sound Design

This award for excellence and originality in sound design is provided by Leon Speakers, which has been installing custom-built high-fidelity speakers in home theaters throughout Ann Arbor since 1995.


Martin Contreras and Keith Orr FILM Award for Best LGBTQ Film

This award honors the film that best addresses and gives voice to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer issues. Longtime festival supporters Martin Contreras and Keith Orr, former owners of the locally known and loved \aut\ BAR, contribute this award to highlight the diversity of voices that achieve excellence in filmmaking. An \aut\ FILM Award endowment fund initiative is currently underway. Please contact should you wish to help ensure that Keith and Martin’s legacy of support lives on forever.


The No. 1 African Film Award*

“It is only the story … that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather, it is the story that owns us.” – Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah

This award honors the film that best speaks to the historical and contemporary experience of living and dreaming in Africa.  It has been endowed through the generous contribution of filmmaker Amy J. Moore, long-term resident of southern Africa and producer of Botswana’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.


Peter Wilde Award for Most Technically Innovative Film*

Peter Wilde was a long-time projectionist for the festival and a master of special effects. This award honors his creativity and pursuit of new techniques by recognizing the film that displays the most pioneering technical innovations. Generous donors to the Peter Wilde Award Endowment Fund include Bernard Coakley, Constance Crump and Jay Simrod, Bill Davis, IATSE Local 395, the LaBour Foundation for Non-Institutional Living, John Nelson and Deb Gaydos, Glenda Pittman, Woody Sempliner, Kevin Smith, and Robert Ziebell and Elizabeth Ward. Additional support was provided by Peter Wilde’s sister and brother-in-law, Susan and Jim Warner, in loving memory of Peter and Susan’s brother, the late Alan C. Wilde.


The Terri Schwartz Asian Film Award*

Given to the film that best speaks to the cultures and experiences of Asians or Asian Americans, this award is a tribute to Terri P. Schwartz (1952–-2021), a University. of Michigan alumna employed as a graphic designer in the Netherlands. From Europe she passionately pursued interests in film, music, and Asian people and culture, including travels and stays in nine Asian nations. She was also sensitive to the challenges faced by immigrants and refugees in the Netherlands and elsewhere.


UMCU Audience Award

Sponsored by the University of Michigan Credit Union, this award—affectionately dubbed the Vox Populi Award—goes to the year’s most highly rated audience-selected film in competition.


Award for Best Music Video

Designed to recognize excellence in the art of music video—which stems from the special collaborative relationship between a musician and a film or video maker.


Juror Awards

Provided by friends of the festival and distributed at the discretion of the jurors, the remaining prize monies confer special recognition for films of distinction and artistic accomplishment.

*This award is fully endowed.  For information on how you can help other AAFF awards reach full-funding, please contact Festival Director Leslie Raymond (

No. 1 Africa Award


These valued donors make it possible for the Ann Arbor Film Festival to present awards to deserving filmmakers each year. Their generosity creates a positive impact on experimental film by providing support and recognition for talented artists. 


Huge thanks to all of you!


Randy K. Schwartz


$3,000 – $4,999

Ken Burns

Estate of Barbara Hammer

Barbara Twist


$1,000 – $2,999

The Aronofsky Family

Todd Berliner

Richard & Elizabeth Berman

David DeVarti & Ellen Rabinowitz

Susan Dise

Lawrence & Meg Kasdan


Gil Omenn & Martha Darling

Ira Sachs


$500 – $999


Rick Cronn & Myrna Jean Rugg

Matthew Graff & Leslie Lawther

Richard & Mei DeVarti

Leon Speakers

Jim & Susan Warner

Kari Magill & George Fisher

University of Michigan Credit Union

$250 – $499

Lars Bjorn & Susan Wineberg

Katharine Burnett & Bob Moustakas

Vicki Engel & Dan Gunning

Dennis Hayes & Mary Ellen Rounsifer

Kohlitz Animation and Video Production

Piotr Michalowski & Deanna Relyea

Keith Orr & Martin Contreras

Cauleen Smith

$50 – $249

Stephen Anker

Howard Besser

John Nelson & Deb Gaydos

William Kennard

Laura Mendez

Jeanne Finley Montgomery

Tomonari Nishikawa

Jennifer Reeves

Claywood Sempliner

Deborah Stratman

Marcus Watts

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