The Ann Arbor Film Festival provides direct support to filmmakers through cash and in-kind awards that include film stock, film processing, and camera rental. Three jurors will attend the six-day festival, viewing films in competition and awarding each award.
An award from the AAFF not only confers prestige and financial support but also can 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.
Ken Burns 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.
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.
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.
Best Experimental Film
This award celebrates the film that most successfully showcases the use of experimental processes, forms, and topics.
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).
Best Documentary Film
This award recognizes the best nonfiction film in the festival program.
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 57-year friendship between Dominick’s pub and the AAFF and honors the memory of Dominick and Alice DeVarti.
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.
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, whose vision for the festival continues to this day.
The No Violence Award
In a culture that relies on images of violence to entertain, this prize is awarded to the film that best engages or informs audiences and explores or celebrates life while also rising to the narrative challenge of “No Violence Depicted.” The award is provided by Ann Arbor residents Matthew Graff and Leslie Lawther.
The No. 1 African Film Award
This award honors the film that best speaks to the historical and contemporary experience of living and dreaming in Africa. It is provided by the generous endowment of filmmaker Amy J. Moore, long term resident of southern Africa and producer of Botswana’s The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.
“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.
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.
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 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 \aut\ 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 firstname.lastname@example.org should you wish to help ensure that Keith and Martin’s legacy of support lives on forever.
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.
Best International Film
Granted to the film produced outside of the United States that most strongly wins over the jury.
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.
Best Michigan Filmmaker Award
$350 in kind
This award recognizes top Michigan talent. The winner will receive a one week rental, valued at $350, including one camera body and two lenses of any brand desired from CameraMall, Ann Arbor's camera store & photo lab, dedicated to supporting the Great Lakes photo community in learning, renting gear, and printing their work.
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.
$5,000 and above
Mma Pula Wahoo Charities Fund
$3,000 – $4,999
Lynne Sachs & Mark Street
$1000 – $2,999
The Aronofsky Family
Richard & Elizabeth Berman
Oscar Cardenas & John Seymour
Martin Contreras & Keith Orr
Martha Darling & Gil Omenn
David DeVarti & Ellen Rabinowitz
Lawrence & Meg Kasdan
The James and Helen McCaffery Charitable Foundation
$500 – $999
George Fisher & Kari Magill
Matthew Graff & Leslie Lawther
University of Michigan Credit Union
Jim & Susan Warner
$250 – $499
Lars Bjorn & Susan Wineberg
Rick Cronn & Myrna Rugg
Richard & Mei DeVarti
Vicki Engel & Dan Gunning
Dennis Hayes & Mary Ellen Rounsifer
Kohlitz Animation and Video Production
Bob Moustakas & Katharine Burnett
Deanna Relyea & Piotr Michalowski
$100 – $249
John Nelson & Deb Gaydos
$20 – $99