By Hannah Schwab
Ann Arbor is putting the finishing touches on its upcoming annual film festival, which runs March 22-27. In its 49th year, the Ann Arbor Film Festival will present 188 films, videos and live media performances from more than 20 countries.
One of the most anticipated nights of the festival is Out Night, beginning at 7:15 p.m. March 24 and showcasing independent and experimental short films that explore issues related to sexual identity, gender and queer politics.
The night, now in its 11th year, was initially the brainchild of then festival executive director Chrisstina Hamilton.
“She had always been involved in community theater around Ann Arbor and wanted to develop a night that highlighted the LGBT community,” says Martin Contreras, co-owner of autBAR. “Before, filmmakers would show LGBT work, but Chrisstina wanted an entire night dedicated to gay and lesbian films.”
Since the film festival was already an established event, Contreras said it didn’t take long for Out Night to draw a crowd and entice the LGBT community.
“The growth of Out Night has been astonishing,” says Keith Orr, the other co-owner of autBAR. “The festival has become one of the most prestigious stages to premiere experimental and independent films in the U.S. It was only natural to reach out to the gay community. The spark was created and lots of people have jumped on board. It is very exciting.”
When Hamilton approached Orr and Contreras to help promote and sponsor Out Night, the bar owners reached out to their resources in the gay community and to other local businesses to raise money for the event.
autBAR also began hosting after-parties where filmmakers and enthusiasts could mingle and enjoy entertainment, food and dancing. It quickly became, says Contreras, “one of the best parts of the film festival.”
This year, for the fourth time, the features will compete for the autFILM Award for Best LGBT Film, which “honors the film that best addresses and gives voice to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered issues. It promotes a diversity of voices that achieve excellence in filmmaking,” according to film festival community development manager Becca Keating. Last year, Yun Suh won for the documentary “City of Borders.”
In 2008, Google’s Gayglers LGBT social awareness group and the Jim Toy LGBT Community Center in Ann Arbor came on board as sponsors and began publicizing the event, which made a big difference in getting the word out to the community.
“Having the Gayglers and autBAR support Out Night has had a tremendous effect on growing the popularity of the program each year by furthering the gay community’s involvement in the festival,” Keating says.
Higher attendance also promoted a venue change, moving from the back screening room of the Michigan Theater to its main auditorium.
“The screening room could only seat about 300 people,” Orr says. “The main room can hold about 1,700. We may not fill it to standing-room-only capacity, but every year the audience grows and grows.”
Orr and Contreras promote Out Night by including it in autBAR’s newsletter and lending a hand with preparations for the festival.
“The people who screen and pick the movies start months in advance,” Orr says. “They start in November and watch thousands of hours of movies. We help out as much as we can by donating meals to the screeners.”
While Out Night has created quite a following, Orr and Contreras are not sure the directors plan to make it too much bigger.
“It (Out Night) has a pretty big presence in the festival now,” Orr says. “While they want to continue promoting LGBT films, their main goal isn’t to become an LGBT festival. I doubt it would expand into a second night.”
“There was talk of hosting an ancillary screening of LGBT films at another time of the year, but nothing has been decided,” Contreras adds.
The Ann Arbor Film Festival, which promotes independent and experimental films, is the longest running festival of its kind in North America according to Keating. It has a long tradition of screening the early work of controversial filmmakers such as Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol, Gus Van Sant and Agnes Varda.
“The films (shown throughout the festival) all have something rich to offer viewers – two- and three-minute humorous films, full-length films and documentaries,” Contreras says. “That’s why Out Night, and the event as a whole, draws such a crowd.”
The festival’s groundbreaking spirit is what inspired its inception in 1963 and what keeps it going today – to promote filmmaking as an art, both in and out of the LGBT community.
Out Night: The Films
7:15 p.m. March 24
Michigan Theater (Main Auditorium)
For the Lucky and the Strong (Kim Sheppard, 2009): A private act of testimony – singing alone… to yourself… in your bedroom – becomes an anthem of community as performed by this YouTube-corraled choir.
Last Address (Ira Sachs, 2010): A haunting, meditative mapping of the last residences of an entire generation of New York’s art community – lost to AIDS
Fish Fillet (Hae Ran Kim, 2010): Dani was born into an Evangelist family. Now she is questioning her sexuality in a dreamy battle against the key players of her life. This is her fantastic tale.
Olivia (Sarah Louise Wilson, 2009): Two girls, four strings and a bathroom…
Fredagsbarn (Friday’s Child) (Tom Kietz, 2010): After having a fight with his dad, Rune leaves to explore the docks nearby. He meets Benjamin, an older boy, who is painting graffiti on an abandoned factory. Rune hazards a hello.
Figs in Motion (aAron Munson, Trevor Anderson, 2010): Two men become six ballerinas and several horses in a bestial, impromptu corps de ballet. A delightful riff on the imagery of Edgar Degas and Eadweard Muybridge, featuring original music by Bryce Kulak and the Wet Secrets. Originally commissioned by the Art Gallery of Alberta.
The Armoire (Jamie Travis, 2010): 11 year-old Aaron plays a game of hide-and-seek in which his friend Tony is never found.
Covered (John Greyson, 2009): A notably urgent news bulletin and a richly layered – even antic – reflective essay on the violence that met the 2008 Queer Sarajevo Festival.