Published September 16, 2022
The Ann Arbor Film Festival commissioned essays from the curators of our special programs for the 60th AAFF, and published them in our program book. Enjoy this essay (plus a bonus essay from our Almost All Ages curator, Lalena Stevens) by Emily Martin, curator for Ann Arbor Film Festival x Video Data Bank: Medium Meet Medium.
The divides between the film and video mediums appear radically changed since the Ann Arbor Film Festival’s decision to include all film formats for its 41st edition and video for its 42nd. What was once a clear and heavily imposed divide between mediums in the film community and larger art world has become naturally eroded by technological advancement, the ever-evolving adoption of new mediums by artists, and the systematic and institutional demands to accommodate such work. The AAFF, at the outset, found itself deeply tied to the historical, cultural, and aesthetic branches of the film medium, especially 16mm. Nevertheless, this was never meant to solidify an essentialist and unchanging pool of film exhibition; rather, it was a marker of the film medium’s necessary and essential presence as a tool during the festival’s inception. Festival Founder George Manupelli in his “Letter from the Founding Director” for the 41st festival program guide explores this idea:
By 1955 there was a buzz. Artists were making films using the 16mm medium and, within a few years, the Ann Arbor Film Festival was showing these artist-made productions. But there was never anything sacred about the 16mm gauge. Regardless of original gauge, films submitted to the early festivals needed to be on 16mm because that was the only projection facility available. There was also nothing sacred about the film medium itself.
The AAFF’s transition to including video submissions was not simply an act to keep with the times without real purpose, but an important evolutionary moment in experimental moving image history, in which video finally began to find its due recognition alongside film. Accepting video submissions not only changed the type of work exhibited at AAFF—it altered the festival’s submission reviewing, theater exhibition, and operating structures. Since video’s emergence in the late 1960s, the video festival and distribution circuits were considered separate from the experimental film festival circuits, and such a decision provided a necessary unification of the sibling mediums. Linking organizations like the Video Data Bank and AAFF provides moving image artists with a wider field of resources, community, and a connected space for increasingly medium-fluid work.
As a collaboration between the AAFF and the VDB, this program, Medium Meet Medium, includes eight artists in the VDB’s collection that have screened work prominently throughout the last two decades of the festival. However, the works featured in the program have never screened at the festival (with the exception of Rebecca Baron and Douglas Goodwin’s Lossless #3 (2008)). Medium Meet Medium also includes one retrospective work by an artist never screened at the festival. The inclusion of Leah Franklin Gilliam’s futuristic pastiche video Apeshit (1999) addresses the absence of early video work at the festival, alongside the work of pioneer video-makers such as Barbara Latham Aronofsky in her early work Curtain: Untold Story (1979). Moreover, the Barbara Latham Aronofsky Award for Emerging Experimental Video Artist, in honor of the artist, created one of the first significant ties between the Video Data Bank and the festival. Since this award was added at the 46th festival, it has provided an inclusive and rewarding space for videomakers participating in the festival.
Notable film artists such as Abigail Child adopted the video medium into her practice in its earlier days as an artistic medium. Child was one of the first filmmakers included in the VDB’s collection in the 1980s, a collection which until then exclusively focused on video work. Much like the AAFF, the VDB encountered its own questions surrounding the sacredness of medium, but fortunately throughout its history and up to the present day, the collection recognizes the expansiveness of video and its indisputable relationship with the foundations of the moving, analog film image. Artists such as Child, Basma Alsharif, and Stephanie Barber represent some of the film work in the collection. These artists heavily engage with the film medium, while simultaneously representing versatility by fluctuating between film and video. A found footage film work such as Child’s Mutiny (1982), although comprised of celluloid images and edited originally on 16mm, came to the collection on videotape, beginning a trajectory into the current timeline in which film work often transitions into video form with only the aesthetic markers of the film medium remaining.
Stephanie Barber’s Healing (2002), although a video departure from her primarily film-based work, is carried by the meditative and foundational elements of the moving image in its usage of darkness and the hypnotic flashing of the central sphere. Another addition to the program that conveys the versatility of fusing elements from both film and video is Sky Hopinka’s Lore (2019), which takes the form of a diffused, yet colorful, overhead projector performance in reference to Hollis Frampton’s Nostalgia (1971). The work of Leah Franklin Gilliam, too, creates an atemporal merging of the mediums in Apeshit (1999) with its lifting from the cinematic classic Planet of the Apes (1968), intertitle cards from the silent film era, and futuristic video fuzz and frequencies. Baron and Goodwin’s third work in their Lossless series takes a similar approach to the remnants and fabric of the cinematic past as they distort, blur, and pixelate John Ford’s 1956 classic The Searchers. The final work in the program, Jesse McLean’s Curious Fantasies (2019), in a similar vein to Barber’s Healing, uses the simple bareness of overwhelming color, imagery, and sound throughout the work to mimic and dissect the hypnotic allure of perfume advertising, a form of advertising that heavily plays upon nostalgia and desire and their relationship to the senses.
The impulse of this program and collaboration is to fortify an intrinsic link between these two mediums, against a historical and institutional impulse to render them, at times, in opposition to one another. Surely the unique aspects of each medium remain their own, but perhaps we can begin to settle with their convergence and acknowledge their inherent connectedness from the start.
Emily Martin currently works as the Distribution and Communications Assistant at the Video Data Bank and is a recent graduate from the Dual MA in Contemporary & Modern Art History and Arts Administration & Policy program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her past experience includes various administrative, programming, and research activities at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Chicago History Museum, the Chicago Park District, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Reflections on Programming Almost All Ages
By Lalena Stevens
Hello. I’ve been going to the Ann Arbor Film Festival since I was 2, and helping my mom make the Almost All Ages program since I was in first grade. Programming is really fun. There are always such new, interesting, and amazing films to see each year. I think it’s terrific to see how different filmmakers think about things. It makes you wonder what you would do if you were making the same type of film. I like seeing the different materials people use to make a film, and how it turns out looking in the end. I really enjoy being able to arrange the films in order once we’ve picked them out. Being part of the festival and helping with programming is an eye-opening experience. It helps me think about things in ways I never had or would have.
Thank you to my mom, and Noel for programming with me and having really good input. Lastly, I would like to thank Moose for being a really good dog and snuggling with me while we were screening.
Lalena Stevens is 11 years old and in 6th grade, attending Ann Arbor Open.