AAFF Brings Vibrant Global Film Culture to Treetown

It says a lot about contemporary society that everyone both acknowledges that we have an epidemic of loneliness and also that it has been an acknowledged problem for so long that even bringing it up has become cliché. Media – social media, the echo chamber effect, the news media – all have a big part to do with that, but not all of media.

However, the Ann Arbor Film Festival was the opposite. Once festivities kicked off on Wednesday, March 26, it became clear once again that the event was a chance for lovers of cinema from all around the globe to show up, connect, network, geek out about mind bending films, and above all: socialize.

“It’s a festival that was started out of need and love and the openness to all forms of art,” Pat Oleszko, who has been part of the festival pretty much from the beginning, said. “It’s a place that has taken great care in curating, programing, and it is open to all.”

Some of the most important and influential film makers of the previous century got their start by winning awards at the AAFF. And it was made official at 5 p.m., Sunday, that their ranks will be joined by:

  • The Sketch by Tomas Cali, which won the Ken Burns Award for Best of Festival
  • Bolero by as Laborde-Jourdàa, which won the Lawrence Kasdan Award for Best Narrative Film
  • Minus Plus Multiply by Chu-Chih Le, which won the Tom Berman Award for Most Promising Filmmaker
  • Amaranth by Justin Black, which won the Kodak Cinematic Vision Award
  • Mast-del by Maryam Tafakroy, who won the Susan Dise award for Best Experimental Film
  • Domus de Janus by Myriam Raccah won Best Documentary Film
  • This Is A Story Without A Plan by Cassie Shao won the Barbra Aronofsky Latham Award for an Emerging Experimental Video Artist
  • Chasing Birds by Una Lorenzen won the Chris Frayne Award for Best Animated Film
  • In the Ice, Everything Leaves A Trace by Christopher Oschger and Giana Molinari won the Gil Omen Art & Science Award
  • Getting OK With Being OK That Things Are Not OK by Zoe Irvine and Pernille Spence won the Prix DeVarti award for the Funniest Film
  • Catalog ’93 by Grau del Grau won the Terri Schwartz Film Award for Parody and Satire
  • Nothing Special by Efrat Berger won the Eilen Mailand Award
  • Is Heaven Blue? #2 by Paul de Nooijer and Meno de Nooijer won the George Manupelli Founder’s Spirit Award
  • Kyubabe by Bem Willis won the CameraMall Best Michigan Filmmaker Award
  • Two On Two by Shira Avni by won the Lawther/Graff No Violence Award
  • Between you and me by Cameron Kletke won the Barbara Hammer Feminist Film Award
  • Intersxtion by Richard Reeves won the Best Experimental Animation Award
  • Matta and Matto by Bianca Caderas and Kerstin Zemp won the Edge of Your Seat Award
  • Poem of E.L. by Maya Gurantz won the Leon Speakers Award for Best Sound Design
  • Esther Newton Made Me Gay by Jean Carlomusto won the Martin Contras and Keith Orr Award for Best LGBTQ Flim
  • Loving in Between by Jyoti Mistry won the No. 1 Africa Film Award
  • Universe of Language by Guagli Liu and Bai Li won the Peter Wilde Award for Most Technically Innovative Film
  • I Would’ve Be Happy by Jordan Wong won the Terri Schwartz Asian Film Award
  • Brief Space of a Time by Fernando Antonio Saldivia Yáñez won the Vox Populi Award
  • Ghost Song by Joseph Keckler and M. Sharkey won the Best Ghostly International Award for Best Music Video

There were also half a dozen juror awards:

Hundreds of films were played across Ann Arbor, selected from a pool of 2,971 from 92 countries submissions this year. Every single one of these films are intriguing and innovative in their own way.

In the case of Brief Space of Time, Chilean director Fernando Antonio Saldiva Yáñez described his film to the audience in a Q & A period after it made its North American debut at the festival as “a portrait” of an indigenous Chilean family focusing on “the intimacy” and a “truthful” depiction “of the rhythm of life” in the Chilean countryside. Yáñez spent three weeks of his aunt and uncle’s farm, occasionally popping up in frame himself, often letting happenstance dictate the flow of what was captured – he didn’t predict the installation of a water tank, on the birth of goats while he was there, for example. It provides a nice, authentic feeling whose slow nature captures the pace of life that they experience. While the film acknowledges the history of colonialism and ongoing oppression, and the struggle to keep the local indigenous language alive, it is only in passing; emphasizing real life on the community’s terms, refusing to allow it to define the whole community.

There were plenty of short films on top of the selected features of course. This included Midnight Rising, a documentary” on the Asian migrant club scene in London” directed by Dublin-based film maker Aileen Ye. The submission of this film marked Ye’s AAFF debut.

Ye said on opening night that the film “is about migrant communities finding joy and how it’s always political. I wanted to create a film that archived this moment because there’s not much know about the migrant Asian club scene.” This scene has come into being in the last few years, Ye said “because they were just sick of going to KTV parties and doing all of the basic stuff, so thy were like ‘why don’t we just have a club night for ourselves?’ And it’s queer focused, so they are trying to really embody all of the sub-communities within the community, so they are creating their own kind of culture.”

The festival started in the pre-internet days and went fully remote during the pandemic. The post-pandemic version is hybrid and spread out well beyond the Michigan and State Theaters to include multiple screenings, and gatherings across the University of Michigan and an intriguing multimedia art and film instillation, Dope Women In Media.

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