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Forget “Me” and Embrace “You" (A Personal Reflection by Shujun Li)

Shujun Li, Los Angeles, 2021

“As a screener, it is my job to meet the artists where they are,” said Deborah Greer during a screening salon in December. This virtual conversation was led by Greer, a former AAFF board member and longtime screener for the Festival, and brought together twenty or so of the seventy-plus volunteer screeners. They joined from their homes around the country (and the world) to watch and discuss several experimental films that were among the 2,743 films from 95 countries that had been submitted for the 61st Festival taking place March 21-26 (continuing online through March 29).

Coming from various backgrounds, many filmmaking and art-related but not all, we discussed the films we watched together based on multiple-level observations shaped by our personal experiences. We may have totally different ideas, but in the end, they all converged into one question: what is the filmmaker trying to convey?

I am the marketing and PR intern at AAFF, and part of my job is to consider this question in terms of the word “avant-garde” with avant-garde film being relatively unknown to a general audience used to films being depicted in a straightforward way. Like most of the screeners at the salon, I am personally tired of streamlined Hollywood works and could even predict their plots with high precision. When commercial production companies plan a film, most of them tend to ignore the individual and see their audience members as passive, superficial recipients.

So when I began my AAFF internship last September and completed the survey to become a screener, I craved something different, something that could ripple the waves, bringing me a new experience. In exchange for this unprecedented adventure in the spiritual world, I will temporarily give up who I am and immerse myself in the process of exploring the filmmakers’ ideas. I am like a sailor, tempted by Siren, who is willing to ship to the danger zone. I see the filmmakers’ pleasures, insecurities, determinations, and confusions, which mix to create the values that their stories try to convey.

In this digitalized era, we are gradually losing the ability to consume complicated content. Few of us desire meaningful talk, preferring, in the words of Neil Postman, to “amuse ourselves to death,” leading to the fall of film, a medium reduced to pure entertainment. But is this what we really wish for? Are we still passionate about exploring subjective reality, or do we still aim to be individuals being aware of our connection with others?

As a future filmmaker, I am still trying to figure out a clear answer. I am, however, more than happy to seek the answer by watching as many films as I possibly can, even though it sometimes means being willing to suffer!


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