The Ann Arbor Film Festival cruises into its 41st year with a new director and 112 films in competition for a fistful of prize money and the prestige of taking an award in the nation’s premier experimental film fest. Boasting a slate of documentary, fiction, animation, live-action and cross-genre short and feature-length films, this year’s fest deals with the controversy of the past, the turmoil of the present … and one little girl’s quest for the perfect breasts.
Led by rookie director Chrisstina Hamilton — no stranger to the fest herself, she has worked as AAFF managing assistant director since 1999 — the festival began Tuesday, March 11 and runs through Sunday, March 16 at the Michigan Theater (603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor). In addition to the films competing for festival prizes, more than 80 out-of-competition films will be shown. Among these are Awards Juror presentations by Nancy Andrews, a filmmaker and performance artist from Maine; Philip Hoffman, a faculty member at Toronto’s York University; and Elida Schogt, an experimental documentarian who will show her trilogy on her personal connections to the Holocaust.
The fest kicks off with Populi, a jouncy animated short that uses pixilation and time-lapse photography to follow a wooden stump carved into an angry-looking totem as it bops about Seattle to the beat of Gustav Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War” (a piece that’s no slouch when it comes to conjuring anger and fear). Other shorts worth catching are Burn, a live-action movie that features nonchalant characters draped in actual flames, and the outstanding animation Boobie Girl, a wise tale of a girl whose quest to increase her bust turns out to be a very large mistake. Also sure to be a gas is Friday’s late-night screening — which Hamilton calls the fest’s evening of vulgarity — beginning with U, a film about “the fine art of the fart,” and ending with Five Fucking Fables.
Although the bulk of the festival showings are short films, several feature-length movies will be screened. Of special note are the documentaries August: A Moment Before the Eruption and The Weather Underground. The former is a half-documentary, half-fiction piece by Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi. Mograbi heads into the streets of Tel Aviv to capture what he hopes will be the embodiment of the whole Israeli-Arab conflict as contained in the month of August, while at the same time arguing with his wife and producer back at his home — both of whom are played by Mograbi himself.
The Weather Underground (pictured above and below) is a film by Sam Green in which the filmmaker mixes interviews and archival footage to chronicle the evolution and history of the Weather Underground, the violent anti-war splinter group of the ’60s and ’70s that grew out of SDS and had roots in Ann Arbor. Green sits down with many of the former Weathermen — including David Gilbert, currently serving a 75-year prison sentence for killing a policeman — as well as those on the opposite side of the revolutionary fence, and juxtaposes these fascinating interviews with film clips of the very same characters from 30 years earlier. It’s an especially important film given the news of the day and the dissatisfaction many Americans are voicing over the president’s plans for the Middle East.
These are tenuous times for the AAFF, which has grown significantly in the past few years thanks in part to the recently built Michigan Theater screening room and a gaggle of off-site programming and events. Already taking a funding beating by a drop in corporate sponsorships, the festival received another blow with last week’s state budget announcement from Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Unsure of how state arts funding cutbacks will affect the festival — it’s not a question of if but of how much, as the festival gets a chunk of its annual funding from the Michigan Council for the Arts & Cultural Affairs — Hamilton and her crew will try their best to put aside worries about next year’s fest until after this one draws to a close.
“We’re not going to get freaked out about it until a few weeks from now. Right now, we’re just ready to have a really good time and enjoy the festival,” she says. “We’re bummed as hell, but the money will come from somewhere. It always does.”
The Weather Underground screens at 3 p.m., Saturday, March 15. The Ann Arbor Film Festival schedule and further info are available at www.aafilmfest.org or at 734-995-5356.Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]