Sunday, April 06, 2008

3 final things worth mentioning about the A2F2

1. Uneven Programming

For the first time, the festival folks programmed the competition work into themed shows. The screenings that worked the best incorporated a good variety of genres. For example, "The Orbits Inside" screening that our piece was in (Pandora's Bike by Potter-Belmar Labs) included a short animation, a longer documentary as well as a couple of non-traditional documentaries, an abstract experimental, a found footage remix poem, and an experimental family portrait.

"Cracking the Space/Time Continuum," on the other hand, contained a lot of excellent, hardcore experimental work that explored various perceptual phenomena. It was just too much, though, and the work suffered from being next to so many other intense and abstract visuals.

2. Technology Ups & Downs

I think its fair to say that the technological glitch dates back to the beginning of technology. Up until about 2002, the technical difficulties suffered by the A2F2 included things like:
- films breaking
- films being tails-out (backwards)
- films getting stuck in the gate and melting
- projector bulbs burning out
- a projector falling through the projection window (this really did happen)

Call me a nerd, but I just had to check out the gear in the projector booth when I heard that Tom Bray was set up to run the videos as digital files off a hard drive this year!

Tom Bray in the screening room booth.
An identical system was in place in the main theater booth as well.

I got the tour, along with a few of Tom's colleagues from University of Michigan's Duderstat Center/Digital Media Commons. As usual, things coming out of U of M are at the technological cutting edge-- I did not realize this until I came to San Antonio. According to Tom, he was not able in his research to find any other festival working in this manner... yet!

When we found out that our video was accepted, I was surprised that we were not instructed to bit-torrent our file to some big server at the University... one step at a time! Everyone was asked to send the highest quality digital video file on a data dvd, hard drive or jump drive. All of the work was then downloaded to a 2TB firewire drive, organized by screening, and imported to FCP. This year the signal that went out of the computer was converted to analog (next year will probably step up to digital), and pumped through 8000-lumen HD projectors onto the screens. Everything seemed to be running smoothly for the first couple of days.

But then...

While not entirely certain about what was going on, I think the problems stemmed from the variety of digital formats. Judging from all of the possible output settings that I saw listed in the menu-- easily over 30-- navigating the parity on this was a nightmare waiting to happen. And it actually wasn't so bad-- sitting in the dark waiting for the glitches to be worked out allowed me lots of time to digest what I had been seeing, and just generally clear and calm my brain. I also was able to exercise uber-patience, knowing what they were dealing with in the booth.

A most wonderful glitch-moment happened during mk12's "The History of America." This piece is a story about the cowboys vs. the astronauts, and so technically savvy that many of us in the audience entertained the idea and even believed that the amazingly harsh digital sounds that interrupted the musical soundtrack (about half-way through) were intentional. On a conceptual level, it made sense-- the technology was taking over and winning-- the astronauts were conquering humanity! Some official from the festival who came in to apologize for the technical problem said: "I can't believe you guys sat through ten minutes of this!" and someone in the audience shouted back: "This is the Ann Arbor Film Festival! We thought it was part of the piece!"

3. Light on the Supercinematics

"Supercinematics" is a term I found in Ruth Bradley's 1985 cultural studies dissertation on the Ann Arbor Film Festival. It refers to those extra artworks that go beyond straight-up projection on the screen. In the rich tradition of the festival lobby installations, this year included Esther Kirshenbaum's giant keys hung from the lobby ceiling, Rich Pell's "Body of Evidence" in the back lobby, and one of Frank Pahl's automated sound sculptures on display.

The main stage has hosted some great Friday and Saturday night opening acts, including Pat Oleszko and silt. Breaking from tradition, there was only one specially programmed act, and it was planned for the small screening room. And to make it worse, Luis Recoder and Sandra Gibson's live cinema performance was called off due to bad weather in NY (where their flight was canceled).

People commented on how un-special the after-parties were. "I thought you guys knew how to party," and "I really expected more," were the kinds of things people said to me. Well, its true... finding rooms at various venues in which festival folks could convene post-screenings was the bare minimum. Something was better than nothing anyhow. I think the organizers were busy raising $75,000 and winning the first-amendment case against the state of Michigan.

It is no secret where my bias lays. Anyone who knows me through the festival has seen how much love I have put into supercinematics for the Ann Arbor Film Festival over the past decade. Planning and taking part in parades, lobby art, satellite exhibitions of hybrid art that incorporate the moving image, booking live cinema acts into the theater, bringing in artists to create immersive after-party environments in sound an image, storefront window displays, and etc.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival originated in the University of Michigan Art Department. It was something that grew naturally out of fine arts practice. From the beginning, there was lots of room for hybrid expression. And this is something I have strived to be attuned to in all of the contributions I have made to the festival. Of course I am sorry to see this wither in the name of a singular focus on the films.

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