Ann Arbor's film fest — 5,000 films later
Bastion of indie spirit celebrates 50th year
Published: March 27, 2012
Executive Director Donald Harrison says that the festival's greatest value is in nurturing and developing new ideas slowly, like a germ culture growing in a laboratory. It is a process of seeding the clouds: It might not be any individual film or filmmaker that benefits from mainstream exposure, but the festival serves as a sort of laboratory to explore ideas and to share the results with other curious artists.
As Harrison explains: "You have somebody like Michael Moore, who came to the festival before Roger and Me and was very much influenced by a lot of the work that he saw on the screen. So it does play an important role within the landscape of cinema, especially for the artists who aren't already famous, but are at the forefront of shaping what's to come."
And not only do the festival's large, enthusiastic crowds get short films they'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. The opportunity to mingle with other creative people in the friendly, walkable and diverse city of Ann Arbor is also a major attraction.
Adds Harrison: "For us, our focus is really filmmakers who are working creatively outside of the commercial model. When you're not so caught up in trying to make a profit and in trying to fit it into this theatrical world, then you're more likely to make really interesting work. If you don't expect to 'make it' with this film, then you are going to make something that is wholly your vision."
Harrison believes that it is this independent, risk-taking spirit is the ethos that has run through the festival all these years, and helped to encourage artists to make timeless works.
Liberated from the grinder of the industry and commerce, the sort of films that play in Ann Arbor are unique, vibrant pieces that you're still unlikely to find anywhere else.
"To have an outlet where these films can kind of come from out of the blue ... it's like magic when you discover that there is this artist that made something beautiful and brilliant, and all of a sudden it's influencing other artists who've seen it and talked about it."
To use Harrison's term, that's how the art of film "regenerates." That's how this film festival regenerates as well.
The Ann Arbor Film Festival runs through Sunday at a number of Ann Arbor locations. See aafilmfest.org/50.
Corey Hall writes about film and performance for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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