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Notable Events from the 61st Ann Arbor Film Festival

The 61st Ann Arbor Film Festival went swimmingly. Major thanks to our filmmakers and audience, donors, members, sponsors, volunteers, hosts, drivers, screeners, interns, contractors, full time staffers, and all who made the 61st Ann Arbor Film Festival possible.

We had perfect movie going weather– warm and cloudy– for the entire week! Our egalitarian impulse runs deep, making it especially difficult to choose favorites, but here are a few highlights from the festival.

Tish Stringer photo: Frank Uhle fixing the loop on one of Scott Stark’s projectors, Wednesday, March 22

Wednesday, March 22

For many years live cinema performances have been featured in shorts in competition programs at AAFF, and this is the first time that a full program, Expanded Cinema Performances, has been dedicated to them. The evening opened with the lyric and electronically organic Microstars by Le Desert Mauve. Next, Senem Pirler and Monica Duncan enacted a playful and bold abstraction of real-time video with Surface Connection. Scott Stark’s enthralling double 16mm projection Night Out of Song and Brent Coughenour’s mesmerizing The Sick Sense 2023: The Year We Make Kontakte (or, My Friend Flicker) closed out the program.

Senem Pirler & Monica Duncan, Surface Connection (excerpt), Wednesday, 3/22

Thursday, March 23

Matthieu Hallé presented May Waves Rise From Its Floor at the Ann Arbor Art Center. His captivating performance using a custom 16mm projector with candles, broken crystals, and live music by Ann Arbor performer Chien-An Yuan and Detroit percussionist Jonathan Barahal Tayler played to a packed, standing room audience that remained under his spell for the work’s 30 minute duration despite the rising temperature.

Matthieu Hallé presented May Waves Rise From Its Floor at the Ann Arbor Art Center, Thursday, 3/23

While Sam Green’s 32 Sounds, presented by the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, was a clear festival week highlight, the special program later that night, Radical Curiosity: Short Films by Sam Green (2000-2021) and in particular his conversation with the audience that followed the films, was intimate, generous, and truly exceptional. The audience asked interesting and informed questions that elicited a profusion of intriguing stories from Sam.

Sam Green, Q&A following the special program Radical Curiosity, Thursday, March 23

Friday, March 24

In the latter part of the 20th century, the U-M student cinema clubs created a rich terrain of cinema culture in Ann Arbor – one that allowed the Ann Arbor Film Festival to be born and flourish for 61 years and counting. The panel Cinema Guild and Campus Film Societies: Their History and Legacy attracted a full house at the U-M North Quad Space 2435. Led by Frank Uhle, panelists Hugh Cohen (Cinema Guild faculty advisor; lead defendant in the 1967 Flaming Creatures trial, and juror at the second AAFF), Dave DeVarti (Alternative Action film series), Philip Hallman (Ann Arbor Film Cooperative), and Anne Moray (Film Projection Service), shared colorful stories from their personal experiences as student cinema club members.

Frank Uhle, author of Cinema Ann Arbor, moderating the March 24 panel discussion

Following the panel, the Films in Competition 6 screening of 35mm and 16mm films was held in the U-M Kinesiology Auditorium, formerly known as “NatSci,” where so many of the film society screenings took place. The program was introduced by Dave DeVarti, and was notably attended by all seven filmmakers with work in the program.

Dave DeVarti introduced Films in Competition 6 and led the Q&A will all 7 filmmakers present, Friday 3/24

The popular Animated Films in Competition program later that night opened with You’re Not Listening, a stop motion animation tribute to artist, programmer, and archivist Craig Baldwin, created by Jeremy Rourke who accompanied in real time on acoustic guitar and vocals. While the presentation by itself was outstanding, a technical problem with the “confidence monitor” on the balcony set the stage for a whole added level of performance. A consummate entertainer, Jeremy interacted with the encouraging and receptive AAFF audience and launched into an impromptu Q&A that elicited questions like “What is air for?” and “What is your favorite color?.... Can you elaborate?” Michigan Theater Co-Tech Director Greg Mazure contributed a surprise “cameo” as he ran about the theater to solve the technical issue.

Jeremy Rourke, You're Not Listening (complete performance), March 24, 2023

Saturday, March 25

Jurors Amir George, Christine Panushka, and Koyo Yamashita screen Answering the Sun, Saturday, 3/25

My morning started early, and perfectly, with a private jurors’ screening of Rainer Kohlberger’s Answering the Sun in the Michigan Theater main auditorium – an ideal venue.

The day only got better when I wandered into the Pickle Fort Film Collective Joy of LOOPing workshop, which was heavily attended by a healthy mix of the general public, film artists, interns, staffers, and programmers all happily crafting and projecting 16mm film loops.

Joy of LOOPing workshop with Pickle Fort Film Collective, U-M North Quad, Saturday, March 25

Sunday, March 26

Toledo’s all female drumline Bitch, Thunder thoroughly boosted the energy for the awards screenings!

The big bonus this year was solving the “awards ceremony challenge” with tech director Tom Bray’s help. I honestly could not endure one more mechanical reading of the awards. The solution was described beautifully by Anna Johnson, whose film In Passing had its world premiere and which received a Juror Award at the festival this year: “The awards ceremony was the most loveable, hilarious, anticlimactic, anti-celebrity event possible: instead of announcing names one by one from the stage, they simply handed out a sheet printed with the award winners as we entered the theater, and then played a reel put together by Tom Bray, the tech director, that scrolled through our names and awards as fast as possible (illegibly), before screening a program of the films. Pro-art, anti-ego!”

61st AAFF Awards Announcement introduced by Amanda Krugliak, Sunday, March 26, 2023

The 61st was remarkable, and I can’t wait to see what we do next year for the 62nd!


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