Ann Arbor Film Festival named North America's No. 1 film fest in public poll

The Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) was recently named the top film festival in North America by a USA TODAY 10 Best Reader's Choice poll.


A panel of experts, including editors from USA TODAY, editors from, and expert contributors nominated 20 finalists for the poll. The final top 10 ranking was was determined by an online public poll lasting four weeks. The poll closed on March 12, when AAFF was listed as the No. 1 festival.


Also among the top 10 festivals were the Atlanta Film Festival and Chicago International Film Festival.


AAFF executive director Leslie Raymond says the results were public for the first few weeks of the voting window, so the AAFF team was able to see AAFF climb to the top of the vote. Raymond says it was inspiring and surprising to see AAFF ranked so highly.


"It does seem strange," Raymond says. "Our budget has to be much smaller by comparison, compared to others. We are a tiny mom-and-pop, so to speak. We rely on our community … so people are deeply engaged on an individual level and it gives them an investment and love for what we do."


AAFF held its 57th festival in March. It is the oldest experimental film festival in North America. This past year, the festival hosted about 9,000 ticket holders, compared to over 55,000 annual attendees at the Chicago International Film Festival.


Raymond says it's an accomplishment for an experimental film festival to take the No. 1 spot as well. Instead of showing mainstream films that might be more widely seen in theaters, AAFF shows a variety of independent films that focus on pushing the boundaries of filmmaking.


Raymond says dedicated supporters around the world made the ranking possible, both by voting every day and by continuing the AAFF legacy after over 50 years.


"Our organization is deeply grateful to our community, not only for the poll, but for all the support of volunteers, interns, filmmakers, and the board," Raymond says. "... We feel really proud that we can represent the community in this positive way."


Emily Benda is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. You can contact her at

Photo by Carter Sherline.
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