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62nd Ann Arbor Film Festival Free Encore Screening of the Special Program What Are Words For?

April 3, 2024

The 62nd Ann Arbor Film Festival will present a free encore screening of the special program What Are Words For? on Sunday, April 7, 4pm at the Michigan Theater.  The program, available in the online festival through Sunday, April 7, is also presented free of charge.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival was very excited for last week's presentation of What Are Words For? and deeply regrets that some in-person attendees were turned away from the event on Wednesday, March 27 due to an inoperable elevator at the State Theatre. We learned at the time from the staff of the Michigan Theater Foundation (from whom we rent the spaces for the festival) that there was no alternate way to access the screening spaces in the State, which meant some festival guests were unable to attend. AAFF apologizes for the incident and offers the in-person screening free of charge at the accessible Michigan Theater on Sunday, April 7 (4pm) and free online access to this program, which like other special programs was originally not offered online. We feel that this is an especially important event and are saddened that this program about accessibility was not accessible for our festival attendees.

Curated by Darrin Martin, What Are Words For? considers ways in which an array of artists, most of whom identify in some way as disabled and/or D/deaf, redefine the tropes of accessible media accommodations. By activating unexpected usages of open captions and/or audio description, these works transcend notions of disability access as an afterthought by building worlds beyond the scope of translation. Narrative, performance, communication, misinterpretation, and play are unexpectedly nuanced and call upon the potential of language and text to bridge intersubjective experiences. 

In the work of Christine Sun Kim and Liza Sylvestre, captions are transgressed through poetic reinterpretations of their conventional purpose. In Charles de Augustin’s film, layered audio description and open captions create rich modes of storytelling, while in her film Alison O’Daniel adds another layer to the two by including American Sign Language (ASL) to complicate narrative devices. Louise Hickman and Shannon Finnegan’s collaborative endeavor makes transparent the work and human relationships behind live captioning over the ubiquitous technologies of Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), Zoom, and screen-sharing. Malic Amalya and Darrin Martin use very different methods to restage or reimagine past film works, whether they be iconic underground gems or educational films, through both staged and improvised modalities.  

Captioning on Captioning

Louise Hickman & Shannon Finnegan

London, UK | 2020 | 7 | ProRes HD 

In Captioning on Captioning, Louise Hickman and Shannon Finnegan, in collaboration with a real-time writer named Jennifer, unveil invisible labor and care required in speech-to-text translation work and producing access.

Mission Drift by Charles de Augustin | 2023 | 13 minutes

Mission Drift follows a nonprofit art gallery worker who tries to stay afloat when a horny, sadomasochistic philanthropist infiltrates the organization. Through this story of subjugation, the film links insufficiencies across commercial, nonprofit, state, academic, and DIY institutions to the broader American disdain for public services.


Song for Rent, After Jack Smith by Malic Amalya | 2019 | 7 minutes

With Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” looped in the background, experimental filmmaker Jack Smith starred as Rose Courtyard—a drag character based on Rose Kennedy—in his 1969 film Song for Rent. In this adaptation, Barbarella Bush joins Rose in a campy exploration of the tensions between queer assimilation and denunciation of US nationalism. 


[Closer Captions] by Christine Sun Kim | 2020 | 8 minutes

Berlin-based artist Christine Sun Kim thinks about closed captions a lot. And she lets us in on a not-so-well-kept secret: they suck. Christine shows us what closed captions could be, in a new story featuring original footage she captured and captioned herself.


The Tuba Thieves—Scene 61: The Kaleidoscopic Window by Alison O’Daniel | 2018 | 6 minutes

Deaf artist Christine Sun Kim signs the story of Nyke, the main character of The Tuba Thieves, skinny-dipping with her boyfriend, Nature Boy. Three narrative versions are encountered: the written screenplay in yellow, ASL, and a voiceover by hearing composer Steve Roden, captioned in blue, reciting a translation of the ASL into directly translated (but not interpreted) English.


Clouds and Perception by Darrin Martin | 2012 | 14 minutes

Produced at a residency investigating the potentials of building accessibility into artwork at their very inception, where the residents themselves are tethered together by a 16mm natural science film. Two cameras pan the length of it as the subjects describe the sections they are holding. A moving greenscreen fabric frames them, haphazardly keyed with the film in question.


Captioned: Channel Surfing by Liza Sylvestre | 2017 | 12 minutes

When films fail to include access methods such as captions, I do not have full access to them, so I add my own captioned interpretations. My captions shift from visual observations, plot assumptions, and the thoughts that cross my mind as it wanders due to the boredom and strain of the event. 

Darrin Martin is an artist who works with video, sound, sculpture, and installations that engage the synesthetic qualities of perception. Concerned with the process of translation as mediated through both obsolete and novel technologies and influenced by his own experiences with hearing loss, his projects consider the use of tactility, sonic analogies, captions, and audio descriptions. Martin occasionally curates exhibitions and screenings and is a professor and the chair of Art Studio at the University California, Davis.

Education Partner: U-M Department of English Language and Literature

Community Partner: AMP!

Donors: Deborah Bayer & Jonathan Tyman

Free online tickets for this program are available here. 

For more information about the Michigan Theater screening visit

The 62nd Ann Arbor Film Festival ends online at midnight April 7, 2024. 

Image: The Tuba Thieves – Scene 61: The Kaleidoscopic Window  by Alison O’Daniel (from the special program What Are Words For? Curated by Darrin Martin for the 62nd Ann Arbor Film Festival)


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