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Letter from the Director

From the land of the Chippewa, Huron, Ottawa, and Potawatomi, the banks of the Huron River: What a year. When we concocted new methods to reach you all last March online, we never imagined being here again, one year later. Did you?

Thanks to National Endowment for the Arts CARES funding, a forgiven PPP loan, and the generosity of our donors, members, sponsors, and grantors we made it through. Your dedication to the festival makes it possible for the best experimental film art to reach your screen, and also supports our work towards a more equal and just society.


In my festival introduction last year, as the lockdown unfolded, I asked: What is important? What is meaningful? And how do we wish to be in the world? The weight of the pandemic motivated us to reaffirm the festival’s dedication to underrepresented voices, to supporting artists, and to nurturing dialogue about the art.

We offered BIPOC artists a submission reduction on par with our alumni filmmakers. We are paying all films-in-competition screening fees for the first time. We quadrupled the number of screening groups led by university professors, increasing rigor in our review process as we welcome new viewers to watch, assess, discuss, and learn about experimental film.

Thanks to the generosity of three supporters (all filmmakers!), we are jubilant to announce three new endowed AAFF awards: the Best Experimental Animation Award, the Barbara Hammer Feminist Film Award, and the third will be made public later this year. We hope that the timing of the announcement of the mystery award, in advance of the July call for entries, will draw more participation from Africa.

Springtime and the AAFF go hand-in-hand. As sunny, warmer weather portends the Michigan thaw, the prospect of more snow is possible through festival week. From our winter caves, we are poised to meet the filmmakers at the screen. The films can unfurl, wave upon wave, directly into our living spaces.

What You’ll See at the 59th AAFF

116 films in competition from 30 countries comprise 15 shorts programs and 11 feature films. Five special programs highlight animation by BIPOC artists, trans-made films, Native American experimental work, Swiss contemporary video artist Pipiolotti Rist, and French feminist artist Sylvanie Tendron. There are three juror presentations, two winners shows, and a profusion of In the Screen! salons, performances, and after parties, as well as a virtual gallery and physical storefront installations.

This year’s online festival offers many options for experiencing the work. Feature films and special programs are available throughout festival week, to be viewed at any time, with pre-recorded filmmaker discussions. Short films in competition and juror programs will have an initial live screening, with audience-participatory Q&As following each program. These will then be available on-demand for the remainder of the festival.

It was a sweet surprise to see an abundance of film and hand-processing in the work submitted this year. Artists have stayed in tune with the utter beauty of the celluloid aesthetic. And beyond 8mm, S-8mm, 16mm, and 35mm, you will witness an embrace of antiquated video such as VHS, miniDV, Wobbulator, and Sony Portapak.

At the 59th AAFF, you will encounter films constructed from footage unearthed in archives both personal and corporate, private and from the commons. You will see movies animated using video game engines and other digital architectures. You will witness portraits of people, situations, and settings; stories about isolation and singularity, and also some that celebrate being together. And then there are a handful of rituals and conjurings; laughs, heartaches, bravery, and beauty.

See you there.


PS: Meet us in the lobby!

Major thanks to our community!

Additional major thanks to:

Amy Balough and Tom Bartlett (111 S. 4th), Sean Donovan, Joe Dougherty (Didaktikos), Andrew Cohen and the rest of the staff at the (Ann Arbor Art Center) Vicki Engel, Michael Fox (Ann Arbor Distilling Co.), Deborah Greer, Dan Gunning, Eli Neiburger and staff (Ann Arbor District Library), Carrie Hawks, Heidi Kumao, Jeri Hollister, the InfoReady/Festivant team, Amanda Krugliak (U-M Institute for the Humanities gallery), Phillip Lenhardt, Marion Lévesque-Albert (Vidéographe), Mike McGowan, Allison Morris (NEW Center), Mark Murell, David Olson, Ron and Robin Sober, Jason Jay Stevens, Lalena Stevens


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