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Local News / Entertainment

Sunday, 20 March, 2011 9:22 PM

49th Ann Arbor Film Festival kicks off on Tuesday at the Michigan Theatre

This year's festival runs from March 22 through March 27


The marquee at the Michigan Theatre during last year's Ann Arbor Film Festival.

by Jason Rzucidlo



ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) is the longest-running independent and experimental film festival in North America. The 49th Annual festival runs from March 22 through March 27 with most of the screenings and activities taking place at the historic Michigan Theatre. A total of 188 films, videos and performances are scheduled. Over 50 filmmakers and artists will be appearing at the event to take questions from the audience and meet festival goers. Films are coming from countries such as China, England, Spain, France, Japan, Finland, Croatia, Chile, Netherlands, Korea as well as Canada and the United States.

"We have more than 30 premieres of new works," said AAFF Executive Director Donald Harrison in an exclusive phone interview. "We have more than 25 countries represented so it's a very international festival. There's a lot of range in the type of work we show. A lot of the films we show are made by artists who are working within film. We have a lot of people who are doing pioneering work that's on the edge of cinema experimenting with different styles and techniques. It's an event that helps kick off spring in Ann Arbor in southeast Michigan."

How will the AAFF be different from the Detroit Windsor or the Detroit Independent film festivals?

"Well, we are the second-oldest film festival in the United States," he explained. "Our history is unparalleled in terms of our relationship to independent film. You can go back to the 1960's and see people like George Lucas who showed student work in our festival, Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol and Gus Van Sant. We have a history and a reputation that is international. We have filmmakers that fly in to come to this festival. We think it's a very special, rare type of event--not just in our region, but in the country. We get 2,500 films sent in for consideration each year."

What are some of this year's world premieres at the AAFF?

"Opening night we have the world premiere of Helen Hill's The Florestine Collection," Harrison added. "Helen Hill was a beloved filmmaker who was tragically murdered about six years ago in New Orleans. Her widower finished her last film and he's going to come to Ann Arbor to show it for the first time publicly. She very much loved our festival. She had been at awards juror in Ann Arbor before. We had shown other work of hers. Paul feels very honored to be able to show her final film in Ann Arbor on our opening night. That's going to be a very special night."

Can you tell me a little more about the panel discussions you have planned?

"We do quite a few free public events," he explained. "Education is an important focus of our festival. This year, we have two panels that are focusing on new directions in documentary film. We find that there's a lot of creative work capturing images from the real world and those issues will be explored at both panels. There will be two separate groups for each panel including Oscar-nominated director Sam Greene on the Friday panel. It's going to be really interesting discussions. We encourage anybody whose interested in film, especially documentary or experimental film to attend these discussions."

Let's discuss the location. Where are the films being shown?

"We are fortunate to have one of the best theaters in the country--the historic Michigan Theatre is our home venue," the executive director said. "That is where most of the festival takes place. We pretty much take over both screens of the Michigan Theatre for a week. We have artists that also help transform the look of the theatre. We have a gallery exhibition that is going to be at the Michigan Theatre. We also have artists that are going to be bringing floral life, bringing light boxes and helping transform it. It's not the same Michigan Theatre that you're going to encounter the rest of the year."

In terms of the awards -- what is planned for that?

"The awards are a tradition of our festival," Harrison explained. "It's our 49th year. We've been doing this since the inception, back in 1963. We're giving out over $20,000 in awards to participating filmmakers who enter our competition program. There are 114 films that are in the awards competition. Those will be watched by our three awards jurors. Those are guest filmmakers who we fly in from around the country. One filmmaker will be flying in from London. They will watch everything and at the end of the festival, they will decide which awards go to which films. We make the announcement on the final day, Sunday, March 27 at 6 o'clock. Then, we show many of the award winning films at 6 o'clock and 8 o'clock."

What are the ticket prices for this year's AAFF?

"We have the same standard ticket as the Michigan Theatre," he added. "So $9 regular admission. We have $7 tickets for students and seniors or members of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. We also have free shows so we have nine free programs. Some of those are screenings. Most of those take place Wednesday through Friday during the afternoon. We have two programs that are just $5 standard ticket. Those are going to be the music video showcase, which is called Amplitude & Scale on Wednesday, March 23 at 5 o'clock. That's a fantastic program, highly recommended. The Safe As Milk program on Saturday, March 26 at 11:15 a.m., which is family-friendly, also highly recommended for all ages. That is just $5 standard ticket."

On a side note, what is your position on Michigan's 42 percent tax incentive for the film industry?

"We think it's been great to have so much attention to film in Michigan," the executive director said. "We feel that it's strengthened film cultural in the few years since it's started. We'd like to see it continue. We are very much focused on the art of cinema and the initiatives are very much about the industry of cinema, but those things are very connected and very related. A lot of the filmmakers and artists that we work with also make a living in the commercial world, whether that's in Los Angeles or in New York or wherever they are. A lot of the films that we showcase are on the art side. The work that they're not necessarily concerned with commercial liability. We're known for some of the most imaginative, risk-taking and artistically-crafted films that you'll find anywhere."

For more information on the Ann Arbor Film Festival, visit

Related Story: 48th Ann Arbor Film Festival brings in crowds, especially with a spell of Anger



Ann Arbor Film Festival Executive Director Donald Harrison



Filmmakers Shambhari Kaul, Jesse McLean and Laura Kraning at the 2010 Ann Arbor Film Festival.



Ann Arbor Film Festival banners along Main Street





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