Ann Arbor Film Fest 2023, part 1

I’d heard vaguely about this festival, figuring it was just another regional film fest like Atlanta but hopefully better, but suddenly I discover it’s “the oldest avant-garde and experimental film festival in North America” and that most of its programming is available online for cheap, so here we go! Alas, I tried everything to get screenshots but no luck.

Grasshopper (Jussi Eerola)

Abandoned commercial mall, the window-covering peels back and an unpopulated flashing-light dance party begins. The light rigs are often visible, and motion gets sped up and reversed. I would’ve preferred if they actually blasted dance music and re-recorded it reverberaating through these spaces, but it’s just clean techno on the soundtrack. The Finnish director previously made a TIFF documentary about nuclear power.

Language Unknown (Janelle VanderKelen)

Fade in on a fuzzy brain, pull out from a Blue Velvet ear in a field. Stop-motion eyeball in a time-lapse flower. Beautiful mushroom blooms. The spacey sounds and film scratches give the impression of a 1970’s plant invasion horror. She previously made a movie about a slug.

To Do (Saul Pankhurst)

Guy murmurs through wakeup routine then brings up The Daily Calm which triggers a high-speed desktop-cutout animation while he rattles off a to-do list (“cancel amazon prime, acknowledge my disempowering habits”). Very playful and short, the only one I watched twice. Saul’s got a fair number of things on vimeo.

Aralkum (Daniel Asadi Faezi & Mila Zhluktenko)

“Only humans remained” – a sad extinction story. But in the next scene there are farm animals. Drones stalk landlocked boats. Titles tell us about Aral Desert plant life and personal stories from when the Aral Desert was the Aral Sea, which we finally see in windowboxed archive footage, in all its fish-filled glory. Sad organ music and a sad-eyed man let us know that the desertification is a sad thing. Daniel previously made a short about a valley that became a lake, so these two films balance out.

Glazing (Lilli Carré)

Nude animation, a woman changing forms by hurling herself against the walls, short and good. The director also has books (out of print) from Fantagraphics and teaches in Los Angeles.

Eclipsis (Tania Hernández Velasco)

Nervous string music and whispering narrator accompanies a study of Mexican butterflies, a report on one non-migratory monarch who can only be distinguished from others by ultraviolet light, and their hallucinogenic effect on humans. Then unfortunately the music goes away and we spend some time in close-up with a dancer pretending to be a butterfly. Some nice prismatic insect-eye views and wing pattern closeups. She previously made an hourlong leftist farming documentary.

Diomysus (Emily Elizabeth Morus-Jones)

Short interview doc on polyamory using mouse puppets. A bit of silliness.

11 (Vuk Jevremovic)

Peak animation by Vuk, absolutely wild color and lines and paint, even a callback to his Panther. I’d like it even more if it wasn’t about how soccer is the representation and culmination of all global endeavor, with huge bombastic music.

Super Natural (Jorge Jácome)

I’m lumping the two features I started watching in with the shorts, since I only sampled them. Normally this would mean I wouldn’t include them at all, but it’s my blog, and I can change the rules if I want.

Very patience-testing intro, soft new-age music with subtitled conversation about nothing under softly shifting color fields with major banding issues. Then surveillance footage, then video of dudes sleeping and sea spiders, the subtitles all vaguely friendly affirmations accompanied by an electro-chirp sound. It’s weirdly peaceful but entirely useless to me – I imagine the World’s Fair girl falling asleep to it. I did enjoy some drawings of birds as seen through a spherical magnifier, but at the half-hour chapter heading I skipped to the end.

I guess this was about disability and affect. Jácome is Portuguese, had a previous feature with a confusing plot description on the Criterion channel.

Roses, Pink and Blue (Julia Yezbick)

Ringing drone sounds with singing at the end, one-word-at-a-time titles telling the story of a girl’s balloon that flew away on a beach trip. No big deal. Our friend the psychedelic monarch butterfly makes a brief appearance. Yezbick has worked with the Sensory Ethnography Lab.

South Los Angeles Street (Leighton Pierce)

The Avant-Garde Balcony Movie, sans conversations with neighbors, just perched at a window watching cars and helicopters. The description calls it “acoustically rich and visually stunning,” but I wouldn’t. First I’ve seen from Pierce since Nashville in 2008.

Arrest in Flight (Adrian Flury)

A seeming reference to the Battles video I watched last week, the one with the escalator. Someone is having a helluva time glitching out their 3D software… but there’s also stop-motion in here and it’s upsetting when I can’t tell which is which. Chairs and stairs and a vacuum-powered pair of legs cavort in a a dollhouse set. Otherworldly. Swiss.

Mangrove School (Filipa César)

Mangrove leaves make excellent cable ties. Long take of someone tying up branches while a voiceover tells us the Portuguese tried to murder children by bombing schools when Guinea was fighting for independence. More quiet branch work by the river, making me very sleepy until it ends with applause. César’s feature Spell Reel is on my radar, and the cinematographer worked on Outside Noise.

Camera Test (Siegfried A. Fruhauf)

A nice eyewash/brainwash… green leader, quick L-R shot out a train window, black, same shot flopped R-L, green, etc, etc, with chugging train(?) noise on the soundtrack. Water and trees, with less horizontal motion in the middle half. Fruhauf has made dozens of shorts, some collected on an Index DVD.

2 Cent 10 Coil (Monteith McCollum)

Black-masked strips of printed words telling of a trip to Alaska. Extreme textural closeups of who-knows-what, objects that seem to breathe, microscope exams of stamps and coins. Reminds me I haven’t seen anything by David Gatten in a while. The closing credits tell us the source of all texts and tools and objects, nice.

No Thoughts Head Empty (Quinn Franks)

Machinima Velma has a migraine.