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My Year with the Ann Arbor Film Festival

Published August 11, 2022

Cait, Thomas (me), and Megi at our Volunteer Thank You Party


My name is Thomas Macias and for the last year I’ve been the Communications and Marketing Manager for the Ann Arbor Film Festival. At the end of the month my wife and I will be moving to Houston to be closer to family, so I will be leaving this position effective August 18th. Before I go, I want to share some thoughts with you all about working for AAFF, through the lens of this unauthorized history by festival founder George Manupelli from the 47th AAFF in 2009.

The first thing you notice is how funny George is. He passed away five years after this speech in 2014, but the humor and passion with which he speaks about the festival is alive and well today. I got to meet so many artists throughout our 6-day festival, and I felt an immense amount of joy and laughter the entire week.

Next, within 2 minutes he mentions his international relationships. For the 60th AAFF, we received over 2,900 films from 90+ countries. We had 68 World, North American, or US premieres, and that just goes to show the truly remarkable audience of international filmmakers who submit to our festival every year.

George later speaks to our robust screening process, a cornerstone of our festival. We’ve transferred to a digital platform for review, but every film gets seen by at least two people before any decision is made. We’ve already started screening the more than 1,000 films we’ve received since July 1st of this year with a cadre of volunteer screeners. We’re again expecting nearly 3,000 films by time our submission window closes on September 30th.

He also speaks to how he (and thus, AAFF) pioneered the touring program - as a way to seek new filmmakers, inspire new filmmakers, and show great art in more places. This years’ tour has two great options for programming, complete with award-winning films from the 60th. Our staff watched the programs for quality control purposes in a board room at Office Evolution - one of our sponsors. It brought back so many great memories from the festival, and the programs were amazing. If you missed the festival this year, keep an eye out for our touring program, which could be scheduled for a city near you - or reach out to Megi, our Festival Coordinator, to book the tour yourself!

Lastly, George asked (and answered) the following question:

“Who does the festival belong to?”

It was important to George that AAFF was not a “taste-making” festival, and that idea is still here. AAFF would not be what it is without Leslie Raymond, our festival director. However, the key to our success is that the prestige generated by the festival isn’t because your film was selected by Leslie or anyone else on our advisory board. The prestige is generated by being shown at the Ann Arbor Film Festival - full stop.

George’s answer to his question?

“It belongs to the filmmakers & audiences”

George’s doctoral project involved making a film, as a way to introduce filmmaking as a fine art medium. That’s what AAFF brings to Ann Arbor every year. Contemporary artists and fine art. I believe this is where the festival truly began - not 61 years ago with an experimental film festival, but as an experimental way to defend a thesis.

And so the Ann Arbor Film Festival will continue to experiment, show great work, and put Ann Arbor on the international stage. I plan on staying in touch by participating in the submission review process remotely and marking my calendar for next years’ festival (March 21-26, 2023). If I can make it back, I hope to see you there.

With all my joy,

- Thomas

P.S. We had an amazing team help put together this 6-day festival. Lee & Mike L., thank you for getting our Box Office up and running, and running it through the week. Emma, Elizabeth, & Rich, thank you for getting all the finishing touches squared away for all of our artists, jurors, and volunteers. Tom, your experience in all things film and tech shines every time we meet, thank you for your commitment. Mike M., Mei, & Caleigh, thank you for all the work you put in to create a cohesive look and feel from the program book to the stickers, buttons, and cocktails. To all of our interns, thank you for putting in the work - getting to meet you and work alongside you for those days at the end of March made this experience extremely worthwhile.

And to Leslie, Megi, & Cait - thank you for everything.


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