Film fest: Off the screen! Sort of on the street

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Ayşe Gül Süter’s “Wheatfields and the Sea or: How to feel deprived of sensation” is on display in the Ann Arbor Art Center’s Aquarium Gallery. | Jim McBee

If you’re strolling through the galleries around downtown Ann Arbor and it seems like there’s an excited buzz in the air, it’s most likely because of an innovative new project called Off the Screen! On the Street. Through Saturday, you can check out exhibitions of moving images from artists all over the globe, including Ann Arbor, Detroit, Nashville, Taiwan and Turkey — for free. These experimental, prize-winning pieces are sure to captivate public interest during the 55th annual Ann Arbor Film Festival.

According to the festival’s executive director, Leslie Raymond, Off the Screen! On the Street was born in a summer meeting in which the board brainstormed ideas for getting the word out about the festival. Because the staff is small, options were limited. Finally, the team decided they could generate enthusiasm by drawing public interest with moving-image exhibits. They are also setting up information kiosks with ticket booths for the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Several talented artists, local and nonlocal, will have their work featured in this exhibition. Holly Fisher is an Ann Arbor Film Festival alum, and is displaying her film, “2×2.” This work emerged from Fisher’s arbitrary decision to cut together two of her recent short films, “Goldfish Variations” and “Ghostdance for a New Century,” which were created with very different intents and used music by two very different artists: Lois V Vierk and Ha-Yang Kim. Such thematic juxtaposition serves  “to shed light on what we have in common,” Fisher said. After answering a call for submission, Fisher’s work was selected for its length, content and structure. Other prominent artists include Jonathan Rattner and Ayşe Gül Süter, whose two-part mixed-media installation “Wheatfields and the Sea or: How to feel deprived of sensation” will be on display in the Aquarium Gallery on S. Ashley Street near W. Liberty. The Michigan Theater alley will feature Mat Rappaport’s 3D animation and video projection, “Copiousness of Learning.” 

The road to the debut of Off the Screen! On the Street  hasn’t been smooth. The project’s biggest challenge has been a projection structure for 4th Avenue and Washington Street. The festival board received permission from the Downtown Development Authority to put a screen up and even ran a test before being told to take it down. Now they’re working to get the screen back up, which has been a complicated process requiring the mayor’s permission.

Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, said the projection screen had to be taken down because it was installed without permission. The screen can’t be restored until “satisfactory information [is] provided about how the screen would be secured, as well as proof of insurance covering the DDA, the city, and Republic Parking.” Pollay and other officials are especially concerned because of the turbulent 60 mph windstorm that blew through Ann Arbor just a couple of weeks ago, causing trees to fall onto power lines and create serious damage. The DDA staff were concerned that the projection screen “could easily have loosened and fallen, hitting something or someone below, or it could have caught the wind and either bent the guard rails or rubbed off the paint.” Pollay added that the promotion was denied due to city rules prohibiting the projection of moving images in the right of way unless it’s within a city-approved street closure, as moving images can distract drivers.   

The Ann Arbor Film Festival staff believe the projector is crucial to Off the Screen! On the Street because “it really pulls everything together.” With this feature, someone would have been on hand to answer questions from passersby about the festival. 

The goal of Off the Screen! On the Street is to raise awareness of the festival, which organizers say puts Ann Arbor on the national arts radar. People travel from across the nation for the festival. Being able to provide people with a sense of what Ann Arbor Film Festival aims to achieve through Off the Screen! On the Street will hopefully give local people a sense of agency. Off the Screen! On the Street also aims to place art more visibly into the public sphere. Raymond and her team believe easy access to experimental films spreads the word about up-and-coming artists. The Film Festival committee envisions that the city will one day make room for year-round projections similar to Off the Screen! On the Street. This would ensure that anyone would easily be able to access these forms of art from the comfort of their own familiar streets. 

Katie Zhao

Katie Zhao is an intern with The Ann magazine. She's a student at the University of Michigan.