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A Word from our Executive Director

The Ann Arbor Film Festival was born in the early 1960s when avant-garde film was experiencing a high point. It was also a time of great cultural upheaval. Typical of art, the experimental films shown at the Festival reflect the social, cultural, and political zeitgeist. The audience wanted to be challenged and the Festival took risks. Political and erotic content was screened. Over time, however, AAFF drifted away from the overt political elements characteristic of its roots.

The less obvious, more quietly political tendency that remained was to challenge the common conventions of the movies. Let us not overlook the fact that mainstream forms of storytelling, such as commercial films and broadcast news, are influenced by economic and political mechanisms. As always, AAFF films continue to specialize in unique and individual expressions in film and video. An expression of the individual voice, especially when it is underrepresented in commercial culture, is political.

Now, the new presidential regime has ushered in a devolution of our political system. The moral questions of our time such as racism, sexism, and the privilege of the ruling class are more crucial than ever. The AAFF declares our steadfast commitment to the variety of individual voices expressing their respective realities. And as the tide turns, we proclaim our embrace of the subversive, as articulated in recent 55th AAFF programs:

1. Freedom of Speech

Former AAFF Director Christen Lien made a special appearance to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of her work with the Festival to protect First Amendment rights. Under Lien’s directorship, the Festival fought and won the historic AAFF v. State of Michigan lawsuit. Lien was joined by ACLU Legal Director Michael Sternberg and former AAFF Board Member Russ Collins in this panel discussion about that fight against censorship targeting artists and institutions seeking government funding to support their work.

2. Underrepresented Voices

The Festival received a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts to show films of the black diaspora at the 55th and 56th Festival. This year included a presentation by Ja’Tovia Gary and Chanelle Aponte Pearson, New York-based members of the New Negress Film Society, a collective of black female filmmakers. Another program in the series, “A Prerequisite for Rebellion,” was curated by Detroiter Ingrid LaFleur and featured films that examine how black people respond to trauma inflicted by racist social systems.

There were a significant number of special programs featuring Asian work this year. This includes a screening of the historic Japanese avant-garde film Page of Madness, which was accompanied by benshi Karaoke Ichiro with original music composed and performed by Little Bang Theory; an installation and video program by Taiwanese new media artist Yuan Goangming; and the program “Video Bureau, Selections from an Archive in China.”

In our effort to level the playing field and seek out new voices, this year marks a return to a more egalitarian submissions and screening process. In this regard, we were thrilled to present the world premiere of Blair McClendon’s film America for Americans which won an AAFF Jury Award.

The 16th AAFF Out Night featured six LGBTQ-themed films including one world premiere and one U.S. premiere, with Walk for Me by Elegance Bratton and Princessboy by Sosi Chamoun both winning awards.

3. Political Experimental Documentary

Several feature films presented at the 55th AAFF unpack important political topics, including Abigail Child’s Acts & Intermissions, Irina Patkanian’s Socrates of Kamchatka and Furusato by Thorsten Trimpop.

4. Sex

AAFF founder George Manupelli would have been as proud as we were to present the world premiere of Anne Oren’s feature-length experimental film Deux Femmes (for Man Ray). Oren was motivated by Man Ray’s preoccupation with the female body as sculpture and the eminence of amateur pornography today. The 84-minute film challenged the audience with its aesthetically beautiful, excruciatingly slow depiction of women having sex. A lively post-screening discussion with the filmmaker followed.

5. New Media

Artists always push the cutting edge of media tools, and at this time technology has made it increasingly possible to pioneer new territory with the moving image. Our presentation of several performative works that incorporate expanded use of the moving image is an indication of the direction we hope to grow. This year’s offerings included Simon Tarr’s Blood Lust of the Wolf, a live cinema remix of Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North and Drone by Osman Kahn, an expanded cinema performance incorporating 15 live musicians and video footage shot by drones.

The AAFF continues to champion the individual and personal stories articulated by artists in the form of moving image. We expect direct and indirect responses to the unavoidable, noxious political atmosphere of our time, and we will persist in our presentation of those responses through unforeseeable future Festivals to come.

Leslie Raymond

AAFF Executive Director

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