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Posted on Tue, Apr 3, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

So long, and thanks for all the films

By Ryan Levin

All this past week, Ryan has covered the movies and moments of the 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival in the Michigan Theater, sharing his experiences of the festival. Share your thoughts and stories in the comments. Hope you enjoyed a great week of experimental film!

And that's a wrap.


Photo by Ryan Levin

Decorations were taken down and filmmakers were loaded into planes and jetted back across the country, across the ocean, to their homes and their cameras. This weekend was the end of the six day carnival of experimental cinema that was the 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival at the historic Michigan Theater.

On the final weekend of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, performance artist Pat Oleszko took to the stage before a films in competition screening, dressed as a silvery candelabra with ten volunteers, filmmakers and friends in full body birthday cake costumes.

Balancing prop candles on her shoulders, hands and one on her head, Oleszko orchestrated a dance of the candles while a camera overhead projected a top-down view of stage onto the main auditorium's mammoth screen.

Before exiting down the aisles, encouraging festival goers to blow out her film festival candles as they walked by, Oleszko arranged the performers in single line on the stage over a waist high curtain decorated like the side of a cake and lead the audience in a rendition of "Happy Birthday."

So what do you get a film festival for its 50th birthday?

Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje thought, maybe, a key to the city. Accompanied by his paper mache double fresh off the streets of FestiFools, Hieftje spoke to the creative partnership between the festival and the city. He wished the institution many more years in the city - before turning to chase his doppelganger off the stage.


Photo by Ryan Levin

On Sunday, an awards screening was held with select films that won from the festival's pool of over $20,000. The biggest accolades come sponsored by prestigious names in movies like the Ken Burns Award for Best of the Festival, the Michael Moore Award for Best Documentary Film, the Stan Brakhage Film at Wit's End award and the George Manupelli Founder's Spirit Award.

On that day there were a couple new films that had played at screenings I hadn't managed to see.

Janos Richter's "Guanape Sur" won for Best Documentary, a chronicle of an island that gets harvested once every decade for the thousands of cubic feet of bird droppings that covers it rocky surface. Workers come in on ships and spend days cracking and shoveling the guano into bags for fertilizer. The film leads in on a boat coming onto the islands shore, records the safety speech given by the expedition's coordinator and the dusty, dirty, possibly disease-ridden conditions that the workers work, sleep and try to relax in.

Neil Beloufa's "Untitled" is an attempt to recreate the events of an Algerian villa that is improbably occupied by terrorist's in hiding in a building that is made mostly of glass. The building's true inhabitants walk through a theatrical space with cardboard cutouts and giant photographs plastered on the walls and faux-sinks and faux-doorways, wondering what must have been going through the interlopers heads when they got there, how they lived and why, strangely, the villa was scrubbed clean when they left.

Every year after the film festival I leave with sort of a honeymooner's glee concerning the experimental cinema. Seeing images and works the likes of which I had never before seen engender this incredible excitement about the power and potential of movies that carries over into further exploration and appreciation of art for months after.

It's why every year people come to the film festival, why this year was so great and why next year I'll be back again to observe, wonder and see.

So, so long, 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival.

And thanks for all the films.