Giving: ‘Just a sense
Eighteen years ago, when Robin and Ron Sober, a couple from just outside Toronto, travelled down to Ann Arbor on an ordinary March weekend, they had no idea how much surprise this casual weekend getaway would bring them. After a whole day wandering in downtown, they decided to watch a movie — and that was their first encounter with the Ann Arbor Film Festival.
“We didn’t know much about experimental films at that time, but we decided that it would be something worth seeing,” Robin recalled. “And, of course, we were totally blown away by it. We love the vibrancy, creativity — it is captivating.”
In fact, they loved it so much that they’ve never missed one year of AAFF since then. Especially after they officially moved from Canada to Ann Arbor a year later, they were able to get more involved with the festival. “We’ve been taking vacation time off for the past seven years to attend the festival,” Robin said. “We reserve the whole week for AAFF — we try not to miss any film showings.”
When asked about AAFF’s positioning as an avant-garde film festival, which appeared to be a distant, niche concept for the public, the couple described their 18-year experience at AAFF as a “tremendous learning journey.”
“I find experimental films conceptually exciting and intellectually challenging.” Robin said. “They are not the stereotypical movies you always see from Hollywood. Filmmakers here do not conform with the norm and (they) challenge our paradigms around traditional film. They are bold and innovative, addressing different concepts by creative expressions through various media channels.”
Her favorite piece was “Dot Matrix” (Richard Tuohy), presented at AAFF two years ago. “Dot Matrix” involves two almost completely overlapping projected images of dots, where the drama of the film emerges. The product they make is greater than the parts. The sounds heard are those that the dots themselves produce as they pass the optical sound head of the 16mm projector. Robin said she loved the idea of “exploring the nature of dots, pattern and colors that emerged from the black and white images.”
Under AAFF’s mission “to support bold, visionary filmmakers, advance the art form of film and new media, and engage communities with remarkable cinematic experiences,” artists are given the highest degree of freedom in filmmaking.
Penny Lane, winner of the Ken Burns Award for Best of the Festival at the 51st AAFF, for “Our Nixon,” commented, “In Ann Arbor, your films show in a packed, beautiful theater. When the big audience laughs and cheers and then asks you really good, thoughtful questions afterward, it’s incredible, unlike any other festival I’ve been to.”
As the 54th AAFF approaches (March 15-20), film-goers like Robin and Ron Sober are able to again launch this adventure and dive into a world they’ve never visited. Some concepts and techniques may seem difficult to digest, but as Nic Sims, an avid attendee, says, “It’s an oasis of bizarre creativity, profound insight and luscious imagery in a dreary, winter-trodden landscape.” As Executive Director Leslie Raymond once told the audience, “You don’t need a special language to understand this, just a sense of adventure.”