Blog: Donald Harrison

Over 2,500 artists each year submit work to the Ann Arbor Film Festival, a venue where the dime turns on provocative indie and experimental fare. Our pow wow pick of the week is the fest's executive director Donald Harrison, who'll be addressing the film industry vs. film as an art, and regional notions of a creativity crisis.

Post 3 - Ann Arbor Illuminated: 50th Anniversary of the AAFF

There are more than 1,000 film festivals in the United States. In fact, there are so many there's now an annual film festival summit,  which even offers a certification program for film festival professionals. What started as an independent alternative to the theatrical movie system is now becoming an industry unto itself.

As the Ann Arbor Film Festival nears its 50th anniversary, its unique and trailblazing role in the landscape of independent cinema enters into the foreground. The AAFF is the oldest festival in North America dedicated to independent and experimental film. It was started in 1963 by George Manupelli at the University of Michigan campus to provide a platform for independent filmmakers and artists to share their non-commercial work with audiences. Ann Arbor's annual celebration of cinema struck a chord in the community and began drawing enthusiastic crowds to see the risk-taking, ground breaking, sometimes controversial films of artists such as Kenneth Anger, Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, and hundreds of others. From its earliest days the AAFF provided a meaningful home for independent filmmakers well before "independent film" became a movement in the late 1980s.

The world of movies and media has changed dramatically since the first 16mm films illuminated a smoke-filled Lorch Hall during the 1st Ann Arbor Film Festival. Motion pictures have migrated to video, cable TV, airplanes, the internet, and mobile devices (and smoking is now banned across the state's public venues, not just in movie theaters). Yet nearly 50 years and thousands of films later, the AAFF continues as a stalwart of artist-made, non-commercial and avant-garde cinema. Despite political attacks, funding cuts, and economic pressures, its purpose remains remarkably intact: to serve as a critical forum that supports independent, experimental filmmakers and to engage audiences with rewarding, challenging, visionary films.

I see a great opportunity ahead for Ann Arbor as our film festival approaches its 50th season, taking place March 27 – April 1, 2012. I picture a community ready to celebrate film as a dynamic and vital art form. I envision a city honoring its robust, radical, and long-running heritage within film culture. I look forward to exploring some of the AAFF's unparalleled cinema history with hundreds of talented filmmakers from all over the world, surrounded by tens of thousands of enthusiastic audience-goers. And, of course, I see a festival fully charged with cutting-edge films, moving art installations, educational events, memorable parties, and creative surprises.

As the 50th AAFF approaches, the international film and art worlds will turn their gaze to Ann Arbor as a pioneer of independent film culture. I invite each of you to embrace this and fully immerse yourself in our weeklong event, honoring film as an art form during the upcoming 49th festival, March 22 – 27, 2011.