Filmmaker contentment, favorable audience feedback, and general positive buzz summed up a fantastic week of cinematic celebration at the recently concluded festival. Thank you to the film and video artists, staff, volunteers, and supporters, including the board and the community, all of whom made the 57th Ann Arbor Film Festival possible — we could not do it without each and every one of you!
And, thanks to our fans across the country and around the world who voted AAFF the No. 1 film festival in North America last month. Your votes placed AAFF ahead of such giants as the Chicago International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, and Seattle International Film Festival.
Upon meeting Brazilian filmmaker Vado Vergara at the 57th AAFF filmmaker check-in, he reported that he had, in accordance with the rules of the contest, voted every single day. He was thrilled to be with us in Ann Arbor, and five days later, when the announcement was made on Winners Night that his film Flowers had won the Lawrence Kasdan Best Narrative Film Award, he was so deeply moved that he had to step out of the theater for a spell. He later posted “I'm a Streetwalking Cheetah with a Heart Full of Napalm!!!”
How did our modest, mom-and-pop experimental festival achieve top ranking, as voted by the people? It is likely thanks to a deeply engaged community that truly loves the space we have held open for makers for 57 years. AAFF is a place for the underdog, the outsider, and the artist. Through the pursuit of this mission, we are grateful to have earned the dedication of so many individuals who personally step up to pre-screen films, to drive and host and feed filmmakers, to take tickets and sell merchandise, to contribute time and resources, and to share their work with us.
The festival enjoyed a 20 percent increase in attendance this year. More than 100 film artists turned up to personally share their work with our audience of nearly 10,000 ticket holders. There were 133 short and 10 feature films in competition from 32 countries all over North America, South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa, including 16 world premieres, 21 North American premieres, and 17 U.S. premieres. Numerous expanded cinema projects proliferated out beyond the Michigan Theater throughout downtown Ann Arbor. From interactive and virtual reality artworks to live cinema performances and multi-channel video installations, the audience was challenged to confront the screen in unconventional ways.
The festival’s three distinguished filmmaker jurors, Bryan Konefsky, Akosua Adoma Owusu, and Stacey Steers, presented outstanding, free screenings of their own work. Special programs looked at the work of Dutch filmmaker Barbara Meter and Japanese animator Atsushi Wada, pushed against the walls of epistemological givens in ethnographic filmmaking, surveyed archival women’s video art as well as contemporary Chinese women artist’s videos, presented a recollection of global black experience with a predilection toward paths of healing, and celebrated the work of the late and great Robert Todd.
Finally, feedback that we received suggested that there was a strong feminine element in the festival this year, that it wasn’t overt, but instead was subtle, radical, subversive, and refreshing:
A seasoned film festival-goer said this was the first time they’d be able to say it was a celebration of the divine feminine, not laden with the male gaze. I think I agree. It almost seems we’ve turned a corner on that. It’s a whole cultural direction, and we reflected that movement. Three years ago, we would have resisted.
— Jonathan Tyman, AAFF board chair
The moving-image language spoken by AAFF filmmakers diverges considerably from mainstream and conventional movie making. We continue to champion the work of artists who push the boundaries to the edge of the medium and bring new stories to light in highly innovative ways. Thanks again to everyone who says YES to this.