THE ARTIST'S WAY WITH THE NEW
“A longstanding cultural organization needs to find a balance between honoring its history and focusing on its future. Hold onto the memories and experiences you've had with your favorite arts organizations and support them in growing and evolving.”
- Marianne James, Executive Director, The Ark
A Word from our Executive Director
When the Ann Arbor Film Festival began in 1963, 16mm film had become widely used in industrial applications and television. Portable and inexpensive, artists played around with it, and the 1960s became a kind of heyday for experimenting with 16mm as an art-making medium. Further explorations extended into expanded cinema forms, moving off the everyday screen and into 3-D space. This includes projects such as Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which appeared at the fourth AAFF in 1966, Stan Vanderbeek's Moviedrome, and Milton Cohen's Space Theater here in Ann Arbor.
Just a few years later, in 1967, the Sony Portapack came on the scene and made video technology widely accessible. What it lacked in image quality, it made up for with its inexpensive recording material and portability. The conditions of viewing video were different than the dark room required for film projection. In the realm of the fine arts, the large boxy monitors used for playback rendered video a sculptural medium. In addition to the display of “single channel” video in the art gallery, video installation art emerged.
When video art grew up to finally find itself in the center of the museum, film remained on the periphery despite, for example, the fact that MOMA began collecting art films in 1935, in part to establish the medium as a major art form.
When I was a young artist, I fell in love with film. The unmistakable beauty of light projected through the film strip falling onto the screen was breathtaking, seductive. Anything and everything looked beautiful on film. Even film grain was lovely. Analog video, on the other hand, was contrasty and its colors garish. I admired AAFF Director Vicky Honeyman's stand to protect 16mm as the Festival's chosen medium.
Fast forward to the turn of the century and the advent of digital video. The recorded video image that was formerly an analog electrical signal became, in the digital world, a pattern of 1’s and 0’s. The new technology opened up a world of infinite possibilities for image manipulation and non-linear editing. This energized and inspired me, and I knew that other artists were excited by its potential too. AAFF advisory board member Leighton Pierce was creating stunning, image-rich new work in digital video, but the Festival had no place for it in its competition programs.
The Festival made a choice to stay relevant to the media landscape of its time. When Chrisstina Hamilton assumed AAFF Directorship in 2003, she boldly embraced both digital video and 35mm film.
Fifteen years later, technology and art keep making strides. Screen-based image consumption has been freed from the constraints of the regularly scheduled programming provided by the big three commercial channels ABC, CBS, and NBC. Bandwidth that allows for video streaming on the internet has brought about entirely new distribution systems of the moving image. It is also simply remarkable that the cellphones of today bestow the power to shoot, edit, and publish high quality video from a ubiquitous pocket studio.
It is an artist's nature to embrace and explore the technology of the times to see what it wants to do, what it has to tell us, what it can reveal about ourselves and how it can be pushed beyond the intentions of its design.
A painter and collagist, Ann Arbor Film Festival founder George Manupelli approached 16mm filmmaking from the perspective of a visual artist. As he wrote in his introduction to the 41st AAFF program book, it was never intended that the Festival remain fixed in a single medium. I think it is safe to say that I am cut from the same cloth as George, in that we are both artists in dialogue with the contemporary moving image technology of our day.
The aim of the AAFF is to present-- as we always have-- the best moving image art of our times. Increased processing power of laptop computers have opened the door to forays into performance of the moving image. The advent of virtual and augmented reality and other moving image technologies have given rise to entirely new ways of experiencing physical space.
Following the artists' lead, we seek support in our efforts to grow, evolve and present the most innovative moving image art being made today.
AAFF Executive Director