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Who Is Ann Arbor, And Why Are There So Many Movies About Her?

Topics: Popular Media | 5 CommentsBy admin | March 2, 2010

Ann Arbor is a town, not a woman, and the 48th annual Ann Arbor Film Festival is coming March 23-28, 2010.

Someone actually asked me that once when I lived in San Francisco. For the uninitiated, Ann Arbor isn’t a woman, it’s a small college town in Michigan that at one time was as cool as say, Berkley, California, but has since slowly morphed into a dreary backwater of uptight Republicans and Liberal Elitists. Although it lays claim to being somehow hip and progressive, very little really happens here, and in spite of all the amazingly creative people in the area, nothing clever ever seems to escape the local scene. I jest a bit; I’m probably just being bitter because I’m tired of the place and too lazy to do anything about the fact. It’s actually a pretty cool town considering the fact that it’s only six square blocks surrounded by cornfields and strip malls. Aside from the University of Michigan’s overfunded and underperforming football team, one thing that has put Ann Arbor on the map over the years – and with good reason – is the Ann Arbor Film Festival. The festival began in 1963 as a 16mm film festival operated by the University of Michigan, and grew over the years until 1983, when it started operating on its own as a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The festival has definitely had its ups and downs over the last few decades. One of its high points was probably the 2006 festival, when Christen McArdle became executive director. McArdle not only seemed to bring a new level of professionalism to the festival (she was working for John Cusack’s New Crime Productions in LA prior to taking over), but the festival was lucky to have her at the helm that year, because she stuck to her guns when the Michigan Council for the Arts questioned the festival’s content and threatened to cut funding. The festival told them to keep their money, and managed to raise their own, showing that indy film is indeed alive and kicking. For a detailed account, see this NAMAC article by Jay Nelson. Although I barely met McArdle, anyone who questions her impact on the festival didn’t see her at the Judge’s Dinner her first year. I watched in amazement as she walked around a restaurant full of perhaps 80 people, personally thanking (with full name and personal details) every individual that had done significant work organizing the festival. That kind of focus and awareness of what one is doing is infectious, and will take a person places. It seems to have taken the festival itself somewhere; last year it made MovieMaker’s 25 Coolest Film Festivals list. This year’s festival is once again at the historic Michigan Theater March 23-28. The Michigan Theater is a fantastic large-screen classic theater; a really exceptional venue for taking in a film festival. This is the first year in memory that no-one has slipped me a festival pass, so I don’t know if we’ll cover it more. One tip though: a lot of people skip the main festival and go to winner’s night. I recommmend making a commitment to sitting through a lot of the weirdness that is the festival’s content; some of the most interesting stuff doesn’t win.

Read Comments

  1. Posted by Kim on 03.03.10 1:30 am

    One of the other keys to the 2006 festival, and one that I hope continues this year, was the addition of RoosRoast as the official drink.

    I am off coffee on my doctor’s orders but every time I fall off the wagon, I wish for RoosRoast in my cup!

  2. Posted by admin on 03.03.10 10:41 am

    Aha! One of RoosRoast’s paid shills strikes the comment threads again! Lemme help you out a little though. You forgot to link to his site . I’m a little partial to the “churched up” version just linked to, having helped design it. But you’re right. Roosroast was excellent fuel for the festival.

  3. Posted by Slim on 03.09.10 6:40 pm

    As a long-time festival goer, I have to say that AAFF is one of the best festivals around and the last couple of years have been really good, but 2006 was the worst edition of the festival in decades. Christen McCardle seemed nice and fought the good fight against censorship, but the quality of the films that year really sank. The festival has definitely rebounded, the 2010 edition looks really exciting.

  4. Posted by admin on 03.09.10 7:19 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts Slim. I personally would have a hard time specifically assessing the content of the festival over the years. I’ve loved film since my teens, when I was lucky to be living in Ann Arbor during the years when the biggest struggle was selecting ONE film from the wealth of classic/foreign/art films being shown every night at places like Lorch Hall, Angel Hall, MLB, and the Michigan Theater. Although I’ve never made a living from film, I’ve had a screenplay optioned out, sold soundtrack material, and worked on three low-budget films. What I love about a festival like the Ann Arbor Film Festival is not that they they showcase “good” material, it’s that they (even during “bad” years) have consistently managed to showcase material that generates dialog and an ongoing interest in the art. In spite of my humorously snarky tone about Ann Arbor, the festival will always have a sweet spot in my heart. Glad to hear that the 2010 material is looking promising!

  5. Posted by Christen Lien (McArdle) on 03.10.10 12:42 am

    Dear writer of this story (I don’t see your name on this page…),

    Christen here, ex-director of the Ann Arbor Film Fest. Hellow! (I now go by Christen Lien and am pursuing my music career full time. http://itsnotaviolin.com)

    I just found this article and wanted to thank you for saying such warm, supportive and rockin’ comments about both the AAFF and my tenure there as Exec. Director! I appreciate it. The first amendment lawsuit was a fantastic experience to share with the Ann Arbor community, and I was having so much fun thanking everyone at the judges dinner. One of the best parts of the job – thanking.

    So on that note… thank you for the kind words.

    And please let me know your name cuz I’m going to tweet and Facebook this and I want to give you props!

    In gratitude,
    Christen