REVIEW: Ann Arbor Film Fest Award Screening

Ann Arbor Film Fest Award Screening

On Sunday night, the Ann Arbor Film Fest holds a closing screening of the year’s award winning short films. I sat in for part one of the two part award show and saw a variety of films that took home impressive titles for this year. The evening opened with a short film made by – no artist in competition- but by audience members themselves. Over the course of the Festival, a dry erase board in the lobby captured the doodles and scribbles of patrons of the films. The final collection of drawings was compiled into a stop motion film and was presented as a prelude to the award winners. It was so gratifying to see audience work transform into something experimental and avante-garde over one week of time.

The sequence of winning pieces  included about 10 films from a variety of genres. Stills from my favorites of the collection are featured above. “Split Ends, I feel Wonderful” was a montage of vintage footage of women and men in hair salons getting cornrows. The shots  was overlain with the bourgeois accent of a man commenting on the coif and the culture that so often sports it. The short film carried obvious, but gentle, socio-political commentary.  The second film, which was my favorite of the whole competition, was called “Dad’s Stick.” The British filmmaker made a portrait of his late father, using a slide show of colored panels and a few of his personal belongings beneath short text that described the relationship between each item. It was a very touching film- surprisingly so- given how simple it was; I felt I knew the father so well after seeing only a few of his things. The final film of my top three favorites was one I had already seen at the animated short film screening. It was called “Bite of the Tail.” It told the story of a troubled marriage that was strained by the wife’s mysterious health problems and her husband’s obsession with hunting for snakes in an empty city lot. The narrative was very unusual and the animation was so human that it was captivating to watch.

While these three films were intriguing to me, most fell flat in my opinion. They were too experimental to be accessible; too epileptic and flashy to be pleasant to watch. I noticed a thread of commentary about film- the actual medium- by simulating VCR videos with digital recording devices. I adore the film fest so I was happy to see what this year brought, but I didn’t walk away feeling particularly fond of the selections. Perhaps I just don’t know enough about experimental film. maybe I need to study up before I go back for more screenings next year.

REVIEW: Ann Arbor Film Fest Animated Shorts

Ann Arbor Film Fest Animated Shorts

On Friday night, I attended my favorite film event of the festival: the Animated shorts. The screening 14 mini films ranging from 1 to 1o minutes. The style of each was highly varied, though the recurring theme remained the same throughout: darkness and sadness. While some films used traditional cartoon animation, others used collage, paintings, fibers, and other mediums of animation. Some used dialogue and human voice, dialogue, and narration,  while others used electronic music, abstract soundscapes,  and silence. With film makers from all over the world using influences from literature, personal biography, and political polemic, the series was a very strong curation of artwork.

However, the sadness factor was all-pervading. The films touched dark moments in the psyches, representing disturbed and distorted images that were transportive albeit harrowing. After the show, I ran into a woman I work with at the UMMA and she shared her opinion: “It’s this kind of a thing that makes everyone else think that all artists and depressed!’ It is true that it was depressing, but finely produced and worth seeing- had I had the caveat in advance.

On Sunday, the competition screens the cream of the crop, the winners from each category. I imagine that  one or more of these films will take him recognition at the end. They creative, unusual, and interesting to witness. To read about the animated film makers and watch clips from the animated shorts, click here. I hope you enjoyed the film fest and, if you didn’t make it this year, be sure to check it out in the future!

PREVIEW: Ann Arbor Film Festival

Ann Arbor Film Festival

The Film Fest is my absolutely favorite Ann Arbor event of the year. Every March since high school, I have visited the town during this celebrated week of film, friendly competition, and finest art. If you are trying to get your daily Starbucks this week and find that the line from the Michigan Theater is out the door and down the block, don’t panic. It’s just Ann Arbor voyeurs trying to get their art film kick!

With shorts, documentaries, animated’s, feature lengths, panels, lectures, opening receptions, after parties, juries, and more, the Film Fest takes over the the entire town in its revelry. From Tuesday, March 19th to Sunday March 24th, the Michigan Theater will host all the screenings of the festival. Restaurants like Sava’s, The Raven’s Club, The Bar, Arbor Brewing Co. and more will host the after-screenings. Tickets run at $7 for students and showtimes happen all day long. So if you are just catching a flick between classes, thats ok! With its range of genres and highly acclaimed status in the industry, this festival is not to be missed.

Click here for a full schedule of the lineup. Enjoy the show, and definitely see you there!

PREVIEW: Crush, Crumple, Fold: The Art of El Anatsui

Crush, Crumple, Fold: The Art of El Anatsui

As a part of the “EL Anatsui: When I Last Wrote To You About Africa” exhibit, UMMA will be hosting a film screening of a documentary on the artists work. This film will discus the process, inspirations, and challenges of the world renowned artist. Tuesday, February 19th at 7 pm in the Helmut Stern auditorium.  Read more information about the making of the film and its connection to the exhibit on UMMA’s website. Click here for a quick clip about the film and here to read a review. See you there!

REVIEW: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

For months, the word on everyone’s lips has been “Silver Linings Playbook.” As far back as  Thanksgiving break, my friends had been advising me to see it. I missed my chance because it left theaters, but after the big Oscar buzz struck, the film reappeared on the silver screen and is now playing at The State Theater. For the first time in….decades (?), all four major acting categories draw nods from one film: Best Actor/Actress and Best Supporting Actor/Actress. With that knowledge in mind, I had high expectations for the film. And yes! It absolutely met my expectations, and exceded them.

Its hard to decide who I fell more in love with, JLaw or BCoop, as my celebrity-savvy  housemate might call the duo. Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat,  has recently been released from a mental institution after serving a sentence for reacting violently to his wife unfaithfulness. In the process of recovery, he discovers that he suffers from far more severe personality disorders, which he inherited from his father- a relationship that still challenges him upon his return home. As he re-integrates into his former lifestyle, he struggles to forget his wife, but in the process discovers a love that is far more passionate and whole hearted.

Jennifer Lawrence’s character plays Tiffany, an equally wounded but independent and caring character who helps Pat get back on  his feet by teaching him to dance- literally (and figuratively I suppose). In the process she falls in love with him and waits for him to come around and realize how very much in love he also is with her. The chemistry between them is very natural but also electric. (I will add here that it is, indeed, a great movie date if you are looking for a way to celebrate Valentine’s day. I noticed  a good number of couples in the crowd).

The film did a very refined job of telling an atypical story while maintaing a sense of realism. It was about family, struggle, finding love, letting it go, and keeping it without getting too crazy. These characters were very familiar; it was not a period piece or a computerized fantasy story- often the winners of Oscar awards. The acting was  so real, so believable, and so authentic- that surely  is why this film has garnered so much praise. One particularly touching and truthful scene was when Robert Deniro,  an aging father, opens to his son for the first time about his love for him and his mistakes as a parent. I was moved  and nearly found myself in tears as well!

My favorite part about this movie was that I went by myself. If you’ve ever avoided going to a movie by yourself because you fear it will be uncomfortable and pitiful, the way a solo restauteur sometimes appears, I highly recommend you revamp your opinions. Going to moveis by myself is the most therapeutic alone time I can think of! I was so happy to spend my Monday evening watching this adorable movie. It’s only in Ann Arbor for the week, so get yourself to the theater- with or without a date!

REVIEW: State of Exception

State of Exception

Just inside the double doors of the Institute for Humanities is a small, discreet passage leading to a far away place  beyond Ann Arbor: the US/Mexican border. I see “gallery” and I  imagine photographs hanging on walls or statues on pedestals- not dizzying videos, dialogue about border control, and images of tactile, human  belongings staring me in the face.

As part of the Race Theme Semester, the Humanities Institute is featuring a striking exhibit about the immigration journey across the Mexico-Arizona border.  Anthropology professor Jason De Léon’s four year old “Undocumented Migration Project” is the organization behind this emotive installation. In collaboration with world renowned photographer Bill Barnes and curator Amanda Krugliak, the two created the ethnographic story of unauthorized migration through dangerous southern  border territory. Using techniques such as forensics and  archeology, the “Project” curated abandoned vestiges of migrant workers, such as backpacks, dirt encrusted toothbrushes, forgotten bottles, salvaging rosaries, Mother Mary’s, orphaned shoes and more.

As you enter the gallery, the space is dark and crowded. Disorienting videos of a rocky pathways project onto the floor as the viewer progresses through a dark tunneled entrance. She  follows the sounds of pensive, recorded voices speaking over each other repeatedly. Once inside, the viewer  sees two video projections playing simultaneously: one of six faces looking into  the camera and speaking their concerns, fears, and curiosities about illegal immigration; one with pastures, rough hills, and jagged fences rushing outside a moving car window. Opposite the running films, a wall of about one hundred crusty, recovered back packs blanket the walls, making the viewer appear  diminutive in their presence.

This instillation is intriguing because of its collaboration between academics and fine arts. The content of the “Project” clearly addresses issues of policy, social (in)justice, and race, while the imagery is skilled, creative, and artfully executed. This combination of disciplines “considers the complexities and ambiguities of found objects and what they may or may not reveal in terms of transition, human experience, culture, violence, and accountability.” The piece did a thorough job of emoting the urgency of these conflicts, especially by incorporating  lost baby shoes and tiny pony tale holders fit for toddler sized children. I wondered about the people who carried  those objects, wondered who struggled against all odds to cross suc treacherous barriers.

Skimming the guest book near the entrance, I noticed a variety of responses to the exhibit. Most were positive, conveying a sense of appreciation for the severity of the work. Some comments, however, conveyed a less than delighted reaction to the piece. One claimed it was an expression of “white guilt” and did nothing to transcend the issue of race and racism. Perhaps this reaction was because the voices in the film were mostly “white”. That was a very interesting, strategic choice on behalf of the artists to choose white, American voices to address these issues. I wondered whether it was intentional or whether it happened by default. It had a curious affect on the purpose of the piece and left me uncertain about how well  it affected me in the end. You’ll have to see and decide for yourself.

For more on State of Exception, click here. Click here for an LSA review of the event and here to see images and texts from the artists themselves. An most informative of all, click here to see a video of Prof. De Léon describe the details of his project and hear from his students. The gallery is located in the lobby of the Institute for Humanities. It is open 8:00 am to 5:00 pm through the end of Spring Break. Definitely relevant to this semester’s theme-  check it out!