By Amy Nicholson
By Chris Packham
By David Kipen
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Caira LaVelle
By Zachary Wigon
By Scott Foundas
The 18 films, grouped into four programs of roughly an hour each, encompass a remarkable diversity of styles, subject matter, countries (from Austria to Australia, Canada and the U.S.) and even running times, from one-and-a-half to 40 minutes. One film is silent; another is nearly silent and appropriately so. This latter work, titled "Egypt," invites us to imagine the world of deaf-mutes, carefully observing their expressive sign language and resensitizing us to the importance of nonverbal communication and the volumes it speaks. Topics also include a humorous interpretation of chemistry and of a 1926 "Mutt and Jeff" cartoon, a consideration of Tito and another of Cambodia, the installation art of Detroit's Tyree Guyton and an abstract homage to pioneer filmmakers, the Lumi`eres.
As with any such compilation, different pieces will capture our fancy. In general, of the films available for preview (about half the complete program), the animation and the experimental works surpass the narratives. "Mind's Eye," my personal favorite, won the award for "most technically innovative." In a quick five minutes, director Gregory Godhard alters our perception by propelling us rapidly through a succession of photographic spaces, a few frames of two-dimensional pictures yielding to a feeling of dizzying movement through three-dimensional space, forward and backward, whirling around a sculpture -- all leaving us breathless.
"Sid," a hilarious piece, occupies the opposite extreme, as technically simple as director Jeff Scher's picking up his 16mm Beaulieu camera and aiming it down as he spins in circles with Sid, a wild-eyed Boston terrier, hanging tenaciously onto his rubber bone, body flying recklessly through air. In another standout called "Hepa!" Laura Margulies intercuts fluid, oil-painted animation with live action, Afro-Brazilian musicians and dancers. With a pulsating rhythm, its six-and-a-half minutes bring music to life.
Perhaps because the short films make their points so quickly and well, the longer works seem repetitive, even when well done. At 15 minutes, "Women Are Not Little Men" plays with 1952 safety- and training-manual warnings and observations about women's fatigue, the need to fit tools to women's needs and women as accident hazards. Jean-Francois Monette's film diary "Where Lies the Homo?" juxtaposes scenes from Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with clips from underground gay films and other media images. It loses momentum in its 34 minutes despite its appealing honesty. Still, for variety and imagination, the Ann Arbor Film Festival presents an exceptional collection of fine films.
Programs 1 and 2 screen at 8 p.m. May 7 and 9, and programs 3 and 4 screen at 8 p.m. May 8 at Webster University.
-- Diane Carson
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