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The Ann Arbor Film Festival First-Timer's Guide

For a first-timer, going to the Ann Arbor Film Festival can be puzzling, or even daunting. But there are plenty of ways to enjoy yourself while viewing films that probably will never appear on HBO!

This year everyone can join us online for our virtual film festival, for free! In anticipation of many potential newcomers to the Ann Arbor Film Festival, we are providing some tips to help orient those who have never seen experimental film before.

Here are some tips for you, festival newcomer:

Stay calm, it's just a movie.

We've all been to the movies. Commercial movies have a stake in being understood, using plot, recognizable characters, and familiar structures to help viewers flow along. Films in the AAFF do away with familiar formats to free the medium for the full range of human expression. If you don't get it (or don't think you do), don't worry. Some films are evocative and strange. Some are meant to be experienced in the moment. They may make sense weeks later, or never. And that’s okay.

Don't expect a blockbuster

Expect to be surprised. There will be all kinds of films: documentaries, animation, films that tell a story and films that don’t. You may see a film that's Oscar-worthy. AAFF is one of only a handful of film festivals that qualifies films for Academy Award consideration. What you won't see: The Avengers. What you will see: A unique cinematic experience.

Check out the program book

Our program book is available as a .pdf download. We put a lot of work into it for a reason! A film's title is often the first clue to what the filmmaker is trying to convey. The program synopsis may be enlightening, or it may leave you with questions. Stick around after each screening for online, moderated Q&As with the filmmakers to hear from the people who made the films.

Actively watch and question

Every movie is a selection of a thousand choices, careful selections, and thoughtful omissions. Assume everything you see on screen is there for a reason. Try to guess why this color? Why that sound? Ask “What am I seeing?” instead of “What is the meaning?” Beethovan’s Fifth Symphony may not have a specific message, but describing the experience of what you hear and feel can lead to new insights. AAFF films are a visual experience, and one you won't see often.

It's OK to feel bewildered, talk it through with a friend

Review the schedule and pick a program that you and your friends want to watch at home. Skype, Zoom or Facetime to talk about what you've just seen. You might just stumble upon the perfect interpretation as you try to put it into words. Maybe you and your film buff buddies have entirely different experiences and thoughts on the film-- that's what's part of the fun, to discover something new through conversation.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is like an art museum, but the images are moving

The films shown at the Ann Arbor Film Festival are made by artists. That is why it’s best to imagine that instead of going to the cineplex, you are heading into the art museum. Some films are more traditional in that they will take you on a ride, but many of them make room for the viewer to think about and question what they are watching. You may not enjoy everything you see but just wait. Most films are short so something else will be along soon, like walking into the different galleries at a museum.

Make shelter-in-place an opportunity to experience the cultural richness of film

Normally, the festival takes place at the incredible Michigan Theater in the heart of the Ann Arbor community. That is not an option this year, but we’re excited to take the Ann Arbor Film Festival online for the first time ever! Filmmakers and AAFF fans are eagerly anticipating seeing the festival live stream. We hope you’ll tune in March 24-March 29 and be sure to participate in the moderated Q&As following each program.

For the latest updates, sign up for our eNews and follow us on social media. #AAFFLIVE @aafilmfest

We think you’re ready to attend your first Ann Arbor Film Festival, put these tips to use and to the experimental film festival that has been bending minds since 1963.

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