The Ann Arbor Film Festival provides direct support to filmmakers. Our 2020 awards competition presents $22,500 to filmmakers through cash and in-kind awards that include film stock, film processing, camera equipment, and digital scanning services. 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, the Lawrence Kasdan Award for Best Narrative, and Best Experimental Film.

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’s 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.


Kodak Cinematic Vision Award

$2,000 in film stock

This award goes to the film that demonstrates the highest excellence and creativity in cinematography. The recipient will receive $2,000 in film stock from Kodak. (This includes complimentary processing should the recipient select s16 or 35mm color negative film stock).


Best Experimental Film


Supported by Ann Arbor residents Ron and Robin Sober, this award celebrates the film that most successfully showcases the use of experimental processes, forms, and topics.


Best Documentary Film


Supported by Ann Arbor residents Jonathan Tyman and Deborah Bayer, this award recognizes the best nonfiction film in the festival program.


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.


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.


Cutters Studios Archival Film Award

$1,000 in film scanning services

For the best film of the festival using a significant amount of archival film footage—including home movies and found footage—this award bestows on the recipient $1,000 in 16mm and 35mm film scanning services from RingSide Creative, an integrated media studio based in Southeast Michigan.


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 56-year friendship between Dominick’s pub and the Ann Arbor Film Festival 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 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 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 long-time supporter of the Festival, as well as a patron and practitioner of the arts. 


PROCAM Best Regional Filmmaker Award

$750 in kind

This award recognizes top Michigan talent. The winner receives $750 in store credit from PROCAM, a family-owned and family-operated company based in the Detroit metro area that strives to combine special attention to customer care with a diverse product line and competitive prices.

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.


UMCU Audience Award


Sponsored by the University of Michigan Credit Union, with additional longtime support from an anonymous friend of the festival, this award—affectionately dubbed the Vox Populi Award—goes to the most highly rated audience-selected film in competition this year.


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.


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.


Tíos Award for Best International Film


Granted to the film produced outside of the United States that most strongly wins over the Award Jury, this award is provided by Tíos Mexican Café, serving Ann Arbor since 1986.


\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, owners of the locally known and loved \aut\ BAR, contribute this award to highlight the diversity of voices that achieve excellence in filmmaking.

Overture/Wazoo 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—this award is supported by Ann Arbor’s beloved and independently owned Wazoo Records and Overture Audio.


Jury Awards


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


PO Box 8232 Ann Arbor, MI 48107

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Ann Arbor Film Festival 

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EIN: 38-2379836