Benjamin Miller is a librarian living in Ypsilanti, where he has been living for just over a decade. He was born and raised in Ann Arbor and has attended the film festival in some capacity since high school. He lives the dream life, buying movies, comics, music, and yes, books for the library by day, and dancing, dreaming, and actualizing by night.
After the Rooted Not Retro panel, which was definitely a once in a lifetime experience, and getting dinner at Earthen Jar, always an Ann Arbor Favorite, I stopped by the screening room at 7 to see the screening of "All Divided Selves." My father co-presented this film on behalf of the Michigan Psychoanalytic Society / Institute and had quite a bit to say, having just missed seeing R. D. Laing . :) The film itself is an experimental documentary about R. D. Laing and his influence on psychiatry as well as his experiences growing up in working class Glasgow. The film was beautiful and powerful, definitely something I'll be looking on getting for the library. One of my favorite things about my current situation is that I can, by adding films I see at the Ann Arbor Film Festival to the library collection, expand the reach of the festival beyond those who attend. After the Laing film I stayed for the animation screening, which is always super entertaining. The main auditorium was completely packed as far as I could see, which attests to its popularity. Animations ranged from the very abstract to the cutesy to the hyper intense. "The Renter" and "BIRDBOY" were two of my favorites from this screening, both at the same time adorable and terrifying narratives.
One of the best aspects of having the festival pass is that you can make up your mind as you go. Sleeping late on Saturday, I made it down to the festival by 3, in time to catch the beginning of the Films of Amiralay screening but still making it to all of the Films in Competition 7 screening, getting to see a mix of short documentary work and meeting a friend of mine for the screening, the only one of which where I sat in the balcony. To get to see an early piece of Syrian documentary in praise of a new dam along with short films from Haiti, Mexico, Saskatchewan and a short personal documentary about the history of the travelogue itself was so great. Unfortunately I didn't make it back to the film fest after this because my friend was putting on a performance for her final project in Women and Gender Studies and I didn't want to miss it, but Saturday looked phenomenal, between "As Above, So Below," "Palaces of Pity" and the dance grooves spun by Amber Fellows, Shelley Salant and others. I just needed to go sleep though. :p
Sunday was a day I historically have gone with my dad to the winners in high school and college, but now that I go the whole week and watch everything I want, I'm less apt to go to the winners. That said, Sunday always has some great films, especially feature length ones. In Films in Competition 11, may favorite film was "Hold Me While I'm Naked," by George Kuchar. I believe I had heard his name thrown around but had never seen anything by him. Honestly, I loved it. It was so funny and so clever and it had a feeling and an aesthetic most independent films these days don't even capture. "The Evil Eyes" and "Kudzu Vine" were great too! After that I stayed for the feature length "Two Years at Sea," a largely wordless narrative following following an older man's every day life, living in the middle of the forest with only structures it seems like he has built himself. What was interesting is he never seemed to get bored. He found ways of being happy on his own, in solitude, amid the sylvan splendor. A film on contentedness in an alternative lifestyle was definitely the best way for me to end the festival. Honestly, I already can't wait until the next one!
Opening night was everything that I hoped it would be. My dad and I, who showed up separately, happened to be wearing the same silhouettes (three piece suit of classic material, bow tie). Many others were dressed up for the occasion, with Donald Harrison sporting a smart tuxedo! The opening night film selection was what I have come to love of the film festival. Opening night is always a mixture of lengths, formats, different narrative / non-narrative types.
Don Hertzfeld's "It's such a beautiful day," was my favorite and I was completely gripped by the film. Hertzfeld's simple, minimalist, yet poignant animated films are always crowd pleasers. This film finished up a narrative following a hapless man as he nears the end of his life. This time there were crazy colors and beautiful light effects, as well as an amazing final story, continuing far beyond the end of the world. Other favorites included "Irma" following the daily life of a retired female lucha libre wrestler, "Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke," with a strange science fiction looping story starring Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew, and "Pluto Declaration," which calls in to questions the politics behind the science of what is and isn't considered a planet.
Out Night with Barbara Hammer on Wednesday night was phenomenal. Some favorites included "Looking for Jiro," in which Tina Takemoto found and performed on film the little known narrative of one Queer Japanese American, Jiro Onuma, who was imprisoned at Topaz concentration camp during World War II. Using dance, music, film, and allusions to fistfucking, Takemoto brought to the forefront a silenced part of Queer and Japanese American history. "Jerovi," originally screened at the 3rd AAFF in 1965, used supersaturated color, beautiful setting, and lovely body motion to queer the myth of Narcissus, featuring a masturbation scene I could only describe as beautiful, moving, passionate and heartfelt, words not often lent to such an act.
The real star of the screening was Barbara Hammer herself. At 73 years old, she bounded upon the stage with a spritely energy and commanded the discussion with Donald Harrison with a vigor I can only hope for at that age, truly inspirational. My favorite film of hers was "No No Nooky T.V.," which I believe I had seen before, perhaps at one of the body exhibiting screenings during the controversy with MCACA. Using day glow graphics lovingly rendered on her Commodore Amiga computer, she creates a montage of graphics, text, and sound, of all the words and phrases we'd like to say, but often don't.
Craig Baldwin's Thursday lecture in the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished speaker was titled Masochism of the Margins of the Society of the Spectacle. Baldwin tore us collectively through the history of the underground and how it relates to films, cutting in and out with examples of mashiups and films made from found footage. At the end some may have been scratching their heads, but those who managed to keep up were surely invigorated by his dynamism.
Friday's panel discussion, "Rooted Not Retro" drew upon the collective consciousness and rich institutional memory of the Ann Arbor Film Festival with panelists including previous AAFF directors, film makers, and festival goers, as well as us in the crowd, the "peanut gallery," so to speak. With current and recent festival directors in the audience, as well as others important to the history of the festival, many hot button issues were discussed and sussed out along with the stories of the "good old days," to give us young'uns perspective. There was fiery debate over preference for setting the festival in the Michigan Theater as opposed to the smaller theater in Lorch Hall as was done before the Michigan Theater's renovation. Some advocated for the smaller, more intimate vibe, that while it may have been inaccessible, drew in those who were truly dedicated to the festival. Others cherished the use of the beautifully restored Michigan Theater in which to showcase the festival. It was so interesting to see multiple sides of debates that I could never have even formed an opinion on, only having been going to the festival since the 36th festival in 1998. Whether a longer, fuller, festival schedule, once even referred to as a catalog was an improvement over the shorter simpler list, with no descriptions of the films, perhaps not even listing the length of the films or cities of origin was discussed. Also whether or not to list the names of the filmmakers of all submitted films, including the "reject list," alternately called the "also submitted list" or "time permitting list," brought passionate discussions with multiple solutions. There was also discussion about descriptive titling to the screenings and whether or not they should be all mixed together or grouped around themes. People had chances to sum up in few words, their ideas of what the festival was all about, ranging from my local secular holiday idea with ties with ritual and ceremony, to a necessity, to a community experience.
In the end, Donald put it well, mentioning that the festival is all about trying new things and seeing what works, and it doesn't get more experimental than that!
Our family grew up Jewish, officially, though I had stronger beliefs in the Greek myths my dad told me as a child. I was in disbelief when I was told that the Trojan War and Cincinnatus might not have been real in college Latin! What developed a level of importance over time for me was a set of local, secular holidays. These included Totally Awesome Festival, Shadow Art Fair, and of course, the Ann Arbor Film Festival.My dad had been taking our family to the Film Festival at least since I was in high school and I always looked forward to opening night, with all the festivities, music, and people dressed up. There was always a magic and a buzz in the air, of anticipation, of something special. It always seemed so interesting to me that people would send in films from all over the world to be in this festival in our little town of Ann Arbor. When I went in high school, we would often just go to opening night and then catch all of the winners at the end. My dad would explain this because we all had homework and he worked late. We always saw so many great films but I always felt like I was missing so much! In college I started going to more and more of the festival, though because of school work I still missed more than I wanted to.When I finished college, my life opened up and I started going every single night! I was lucky enough to have a job which allowed me to sleep late and go to things in the evening. The Film Festival started to feel different to me. I remember as a younger kid that I felt like the youngest one there, always. After college, I started to notice more and more cool looking people my age there. I feel like the festival has pulled in more and more young people and has done so much more to reach out to cool kids in their communities. At that point the film festival developed from something I went to with my family, to a new secular holiday that was part of my own life.While the Ann Arbor Film Festival is known worldwide for its showing of short films and experimental films, I have always been drawn to the longer documentaries. Most of the best documentaries I have ever seen, I've seen at the Film Festival: documentaries about unknown communities ("B.I.K.E.", "Off the Grid : Life on the Mesa", "Foreign Parts") our food systems ("The Future of Food"), art ("A New American Century", "Making the Balkans Erotic"), and politics ("The People’s Advocate, Tehran has No More Pomegranates"), and the intersections between a surprising array of subjects, all from perspectives I would never have imagined. The first that effected me was "Human Remains" by Jay Rosenblatt at the 37th Film Festival, when I was in high school. This film contrastedthe mundane personal lives and minutiae of Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Franco, and Mussolini with visual footage of their larger impact. Other feature films I saw here that I'll never forget include "Wassup Rockers" by Larry Clark and "Some Days Are Better Than Others" starring James Mercer of the Shins and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney.One of the most impressive aspects of the film festivals are the featured film makers and other special events, presenting works you might never see anywhere else. Toshio Matsumoto presenting ascreening of his Japanese experimental films including "Funeral Parade of Roses"; the "Geography of the Body" screening, at least partially in reaction to MCACA withholding funding on allegations of the festival showing pornography (the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stepped in and helped out); Don Hertzfeld's presentation of his animated films; Daniel Barrow's presentation of "Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry", a live film performance in collaboration with the Dreamland Theater in Ypsilanti; as well as the ever popular Out Night screenings, Just for Kids screenings, and animation segments.The Ann Arbor Film Festival continues to impress, every year. I'm very excited about Poetic Injustice : Short Films from the Arab World, Don Hertzfeld's newest animation, Out Night (always fabulous), the afterparty on Saturday night at the Red Room in the Necto, more films I don't even know about yet (I don't pick up the full program til opening night), and of course, the opening gala (dressing up for the 50th!). It looks like this will once again be a phenomenal fest, a secular holiday of local and international scale, an event to remember!