The First-Timer’s Guide to Attending the 53rd Ann Arbor Film Festival

The internationally recognized Ann Arbor Film Festival kicks off March 24th. The six-day festival presents 40 programs with more than 180 films from over 20 countries of all lengths and genres. Guest blogger Ryan Levin shares some tips and tricks if you’re planning to attend for the first time. 

Michigan Theater

Photo courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

So you’ve never been to the Ann Arbor Film FestivalWell, this is a great year to attend your first. The 53rd AAFF is a six-day international showcase of experimental, avant garde, animation and documentary cinema at the historic Michigan Theater. And sure, stepping into the festival for the first time can be a daunting experience.

Where do you begin? What must you see? How do you pick between talks, presentations, screenings and performances? And what if you’ve never seen an experimental film before…?

Not to worry! Here are some survival tips if you should happen upon an experimental film in the dark.

1. Stay calm; it’s just a movie

Most of us are well accustomed to the popular cinema. These movies have a stake in being understood, using standardized story cues, recognizable characters, and familiar structures to help the viewer follow along. You filled the seat. Hollywood wants to meet you halfway. The avant garde does away with an easily recognizable format in order to free the medium for the full range of human expression.

So if you don’t get it (or don’t think you do), don’t worry. Some of these films are meant to be vague. Some evocative and strange. Some are meant to be experienced in the moment, and may not solidify into meaning until weeks later.

2. Read the title; skip the synopsis

Pick up a program guide and pay close attention to the slides between screenings. A film’s title is often the first clue to what the filmmaker is trying to convey. Re-read the title before viewing. But skip the synopsis! The AAFF’s movies are meant to first be experienced on the screen.

Photo courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

Photo courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

3. Watch actively, question and categorize

Every movie is a collection of a thousand choices, careful selections and thoughtful omissions. Assume everything you see on screen is there for a reason, then figure out why. Why this color? Why that sound? By understanding the pieces you can better grasp what the work means as a whole.

4. Talk, brainstorm, guess and share

Don’t let bewilderment set in! In between movies, talk. Seriously. Use the pause between films to lean over to your neighbor and discuss with them what you’ve just seen. Sometimes the best way to parse a film’s meaning is by talking about it. You might just stumble upon the perfect interpretation as you’re trying to put it into words.

5. If all else fails…

Read the artist’s synopsis. Some movies are experiments in artistic form, some will have esoteric contexts that will require a summary to clarify. There will be that occasional film that’s so totally baffling only the filmmaker’s description can help you decode what it is you’ve just seen.

But you’ll only get to see it if you’re in Ann Arbor March 24 – 29. Check out for more details and don’t forget the hotel package available at Weber’s Inn if you need a place to stay.

See you there!

Do you have any tried and true tips for attending a new festival for the first time? 

Ryan Levin is a graduate of the University of Michigan’s Screen Arts and Cultures program and a guest blogger for the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. A version of this blog originally appeared in the Ann Arbor News on March 25, 2012.

Behind-the-Scenes of Michigan Restaurants with Under the Radar Michigan (Plus a Giveaway!)

There’s no shortage of sensational places to eat when you’re traveling in Pure Michigan! So, what makes a Pure Michigan culinary creation so delicious? Under the Radar Michigan takes us behind-the-scenes of some of Michigan’s prime foodie destinations. Plus, see how you can win a copy of Under the Radar Michigan’s new paperback book! 

hand logoHey food fans … it’s me, Tom Daldin from the PBS TV show “Under The Radar Michigan.” If you live to eat, you should live in Michigan. We’ve got such an incredible variety of great places to chow that you could spend a lifetime here eating your way to supreme culinary contentment. From fabulous fine dining to funky finer diners, Michigan has every kind of cuisine from every corner of the planet. We discovered early in season one that food is the single biggest trigger for human beings (and our crew) so we pull that trigger early and often on our show.

In Michigan, we’ve discovered everything from the world’s best sliders, and a place where you can get Thanksgiving dinner any day of the year, to places that grow absolutely everything you eat, and incredible restaurants where the atmosphere and experience is every bit as cool and unique as the food. A lot of people are now coming to Michigan for what they’re calling “Foodie Adventures” … They’re vacations that revolve around great food finds … and that’s something we love to do on UTR. It’s a tough job … but somebody’s got to do it … and it may as well be us. But, guess what … you can too … take a look:

Where are your favorite places to eat in Michigan? 

Under the Radar Michigan Book Giveaway

51-Gc-PUoNL“Under the Radar Michigan” is an Emmy award winning PBS television series that features the cool people, places and things that make Michigan an awesome place to live, work and play. If you’re looking for great Michigan places to explore, vacation, eat, live, start a business or just relax, this book is for you. Chapter by chapter, Tom Daldin and his team take you along on their first fifty episodes and discover great Michigan cities, interesting people, incredible restaurants, romantic spaces and great places to vacation with the whole family. You’ll speed through Michigan’s Everglades; go to santa school; eat awesome food; hike giant dunes; meet inspired people; explore great wilderness; fly through the air on skis; sail the Great Lakes; tour great museums and even swim at a secret beach.

Do you want to win a copy? Simply tell us in the comments section below where in Michigan you would go on a “Foodie Adventure.” We’ll then randomly select five lucky winners to receive a paperback copy of  “Under the Radar Michigan: The First 50.” To enter, submit your comments (along with your email address) by Sunday, March 8th at 11:59 p.m. EST. We’ll contact the winners Monday morning using the email address provided (we won’t share it or sell it to anybody). UPDATE: This contest has ended. The winners have been selected and contacted via email with their prize. Thank you everyone for the comments! 

Ten Cool Things You Can’t Miss at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

The Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids are 158 acres of art, science and pure natural beauty. With new exhibits, special events and a 20th anniversary celebration, it’s going to be a busy year at the gardens. Guest blogger Andrea Wolschleger describes 10 experiences you can’t miss at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park this year. 

Photo courtesy of Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Photo courtesy of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

If Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park isn’t on your list of places to visit this year, it should be. This year marks our 20th birthday and with it, a multitude of ways to celebrate and experience our unique marriage of horticulture and sculpture.  To only choose 10 was tough, but here are the highlights you won’t want to miss:

1. The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden
This highly anticipated 8-acre addition will open to the public on June 13th. Three years in the making, visitors will be able to experience cascading waterfalls, a soothing Zen-style garden,  and seven works by master sculptors amidst lush plantings in a peaceful setting.

2. Splendors of Shiga: Treasures from Japan
This special, seven-month exhibition features works never seen outside of Japan and will change seasonally. View centuries-old pottery, and kimonos among other Japanese treasures.

Photo courtesy of Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Photo courtesy of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

3. Fred and Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming
Welcoming over 50 species of tropical butterflies, this exhibition is our most popular among the young and young-at-heart. Over the course of the exhibition, over 7,000 butterflies will fly freely in the 85 degree conservatory.

4. Fifth Third Bank Summer Concert Series
Our amphitheater is one of the most intimate and picturesque venues in Michigan, and the perfect place to bring a picnic dinner and enjoy live music. Past performers include Harry Connick, Jr., Santana, Willie Nelson and John Legend. The 2015 lineup will be announced mid-April.

5. Ai Weiwei
We recently announced a major sculpture acquisition by this prominent and provocative artist. Iron Tree will be dedicated in the Sculpture Park on Meijer Garden’s birthday, April 20th. Join us for cake afterwards.

Photo courtesy of Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Photo courtesy of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

6. Sculpture Park
One of the most comprehensive collections of outdoor sculpture resides right here in West Michigan. More than 50 major works by masters such as Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Louise Bourgeois, Mark di Suvero, Richard Serra, and Roxy Paine are nestled among waterfalls, wandering pathways and meadows.

7. Lena Meijer Children’s Garden
A favorite of our smallest guests, little ones can launch boats in the Great Lakes Garden, dig for buried fossils in the Rock Quarry, listen to a story, or discover leaves that feel like lamb ears. This garden invites kids to do what they do best—play and learn!

8. Tuesday Evening Music Club
Looking for something fun to do on a summer evening? Join us Tuesday evenings for concerts by talented local and regional musicians. Best part? They’re free for members.

Photo courtesy of Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Photo courtesy of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

9. Carnivorous Plant House
Meat. Eating. Plants. Discover plants of all shapes and sizes; the Venus flytrap, colorful pitcher plants, sundews and butterworts are just a few in our carnivore collection.

10. Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World
Experience the most magical time of year as Meijer Gardens transforms into a world of winter magic with the glow of 300,000 lights, over 40 trees and displays representing traditions form all over the world, strolling carolers and horse‐drawn carriage rides. A visitor favorite, the enchanting railway garden wanders through three indoor greenhouse spaces.  Santa and live reindeer complete the picture.

Come explore, and be sure to visit in all seasons.  Meijer Gardens has something for everyone. Take an inside look at the gardens from Under the Radar Michigan below!

_DSC0597_USEAndrea has been the public relations manager at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park for approximately three years.  A Grand Rapids native, she returned to the city after a five year tenure working in community relations in Washington DC. Andrea earned her degree in journalism and media arts from Butler University in Indianapolis.