Blog: Ben Miller

Yesterday marked the opening of the 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival. In celebration we've asked long time fan and festival goer (and Ypsilanti librarian) Ben Miller to blog about what the festival means to him, why it's an important part of our local culture, why you should go, and what he's looking forward to seeing this year.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is my annual secular holiday

Our family grew up Jewish, officially, though I had stronger beliefs in the Greek myths my dad told me as a child. I was in disbelief when I was told that the Trojan War and Cincinnatus might not have been real in college Latin! What developed a level of importance over time for me was a set of local, secular holidays. These included Totally Awesome Festival, Shadow Art Fair, and of course, the Ann Arbor Film Festival.My dad had been taking our family to the Film Festival at least since I was in high school and I always looked forward to opening night, with all the festivities, music, and people dressed up. There was always a magic and a buzz in the air, of anticipation, of something special. It always seemed so interesting to me that people would send in films from all over the world to be in this festival in our little town of Ann Arbor. When I went in high school, we would often just go to opening night and then catch all of the winners at the end. My dad would explain this because we all had homework and he worked late. We always saw so many great films but I always felt like I was missing so much! In college I started going to more and more of the festival, though because of school work I still missed more than I wanted to.When I finished college, my life opened up and I started going every single night! I was lucky enough to have a job which allowed me to sleep late and go to things in the evening. The Film Festival started to feel different to me. I remember as a younger kid that I felt like the youngest one there, always. After college, I started to notice more and more cool looking people my age there. I feel like the festival has pulled in more and more young people and has done so much more to reach out to cool kids in their communities. At that point the film festival developed from something I went to with my family, to a new secular holiday that was part of my own life.While the Ann Arbor Film Festival is known worldwide for its showing of short films and experimental films, I have always been drawn to the longer documentaries. Most of the best documentaries I have ever seen, I've seen at the Film Festival: documentaries about unknown communities ("B.I.K.E.", "Off the Grid : Life on the Mesa", "Foreign Parts") our food systems ("The Future of Food"), art ("A New American Century", "Making the Balkans Erotic"), and politics ("The People’s Advocate, Tehran has No More Pomegranates"), and the intersections between a surprising array of subjects, all from perspectives I would never have imagined. The first that effected me was "Human Remains" by Jay Rosenblatt at the 37th Film Festival, when I was in high school. This film contrastedthe mundane personal lives and minutiae of Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Franco, and Mussolini with visual footage of their larger impact. Other feature films I saw here that I'll never forget include "Wassup Rockers" by Larry Clark and "Some Days Are Better Than Others" starring James Mercer of the Shins and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney.One of the most impressive aspects of the film festivals are the featured film makers and other special events, presenting works you might never see anywhere else. Toshio Matsumoto presenting ascreening of his Japanese experimental films including "Funeral Parade of Roses"; the "Geography of the Body" screening, at least partially in reaction to MCACA withholding funding on allegations of the festival showing pornography (the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stepped in and helped out); Don Hertzfeld's presentation of his animated films; Daniel Barrow's presentation of "Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry", a live film performance in collaboration with the Dreamland Theater in Ypsilanti; as well as the ever popular Out Night screenings, Just for Kids screenings, and animation segments.The Ann Arbor Film Festival continues to impress, every year. I'm very excited about Poetic Injustice : Short Films from the Arab World, Don Hertzfeld's newest animation, Out Night (always fabulous), the afterparty on Saturday night at the Red Room in the Necto, more films I don't even know about yet (I don't pick up the full program til opening night), and of course, the opening gala (dressing up for the 50th!). It looks like this will once again be a phenomenal fest, a secular holiday of local and international scale, an event to remember!