Monday, March 31, 2008

Ann Arbor Film Festival TOP 3, #1

Just back from the Northern Woods of Ann Arbor, where I spent the last week taking in over 100 new experimental films from all over the world, panels, presentations, discussions, and more.... this is the first of a several-part series of reflections on the 46th incarnation of the nearly 1/2-century old beloved experimental film festival (the oldest in the county!)

TOP 3, #1

1. Major kudos go to Christin McArdle for her leadership.

Over the past couple years Christin has guided the festival through the censorship controversy in which a group of Michigan legislators ignited a smear campaign against the festival. Though ugly, it instigated the majorly successful A2F2 Endangered Species fund-raiser ($75,000!), as well as bringing and winning a first-amendment lawsuit against the state. Congratulations! Thank you for the commitment to these core political values of the festival, reinvigorating our right to freedom of speech. And thank you for celebrating the core spirit of the festival by way of the Acts of Audacity performed with each fund-raising goal achieved.

"It's Time to Watch" was the festival's slogan this year, and on the note of the spirit of the festival, how about the presence of "Timeflux" as a festival sponsor? The trappings of corporate sponsorship were apparent with their logo featured prominently in the festival program and trailer, but my eyebrow raised when a Timeflux rep came out on stage to say a few words before one of the screenings. He reminded me of the all-wiley and super-smart artist Matthew Bakkom-- an amazing idea-man with enough enthusiasm, charm and conviction to be a successful snake-oil salesman. Though the Timeflux website leads to a dead-end, the jury is still out on this one... real or not, the idea of said corporation sling-shotting several 50th A2F2 t-shirts out into the audience that night was definitely entertaining, and made me think along some interesting lines:

Options for opposing the forces of capitalism become fewer as our culture becomes more and more dominated by it. Our best strategy as artists is to figure out how to work within this system while, at the same time, maintaining the truth of our art-making practice. I think that the Ann Arbor Film Festival is working to figure this out right now by trying out various models and approaches. This does not have to be an "either-or" situation-- its time for a paradigm shift, for the "either MONEY or TRUTH" attitude to give way. The politics of "either-or" is up for discussion (and hopefully, though maybe only a fantasy, annihilation) right now as Barack Obama aims for the Democratic presidential nomination; as the Astronauts vs. the Cowboys in MK12's History of America wind up making a baby that saves the world; and the Ann Arbor Film Festival director is half Vietnamese and half Irish.

Over the past half-dozen years, I have been noticing the growth of professional practices amongst artists. Creative Capital is probably the most obvious champion of applying business models to art practice, but others have been involved as well-- I took a workshop with painter Jackie Battenfield on this topic at the College Art Association conference in Atlanta in 2005. Jackie's own success story serves as the basis for her teachings (go to the link on her name to find our more). I think that the film/video experimentalists need to understand this trend in the world of contemporary fine arts practice (and independent film), learn from it, and bolster their own self-sufficiency through adopting/adapting these methods.

We are in the middle of an explosion of new technologies for art-making, distribution, and communication. Chaos time. And in chaos there is opportunity. The Ann Arbor Film Festival is boldly stepping up to the plate, and I wish the best success to Christin, her staff, and all of the volunteers who continue to lovingly care for the 46-year-old Ann Arbor Film Festival!