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 VisitAnnArbor.org 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.

Pure Michigan March 2015 Events Roundup

In just a few weeks, the month of March will bring a change in season, some signs of springs and plenty of fun events to go along them. From LaughFest in Grand Rapids to St. Patrick’s Day festivities around the state, there are so many ways to get out and enjoy March in Pure Michigan!

Below is a roundup of some of the many events happening in March. Please visit michigan.org for a complete listing of Michigan events.

March 1 – 8

Back to the 80’s
March 1 – 8, Alpena
From the era that brought the world The Rubik’s Cube, Max Headroom and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes the “totally awesome” musical Back to the 80′s. In the style of movies such as Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Karate Kid, Back to the 80′s is a nostalgic romp through the greatest hits of the decade. Visit the website link for show dates/times.

Retro Weekend Ski Event
March 6 – 8, Harbor Springs
Pull out your vintage gear for a celebration of an era gone by. Come celebrate Retro Weekend at Boyne Highlands Resort with a weekend full of events celebrating decades of winter fun! Saturday night features a Retro Party in the legendary Zoo Bar with the most awesome collection of 80s songs you can dream of!

Photo courtesy of LaughFest

Photo courtesy of LaughFest

Melting Mann Dirt Road Bike Challenge
March 8, Marcellus
The Melting Mann is a flat tire bike race through Cass and St. Joseph Counties in Michigan. You may choose from either a 14 mile or a 28 mile route, both routes are single loops and will have you riding over 90 percent of unpaved roads. Visit the Melting Mann website to keep informed on the event.

LaughFest
March 5 – 15, Grand Rapids
The nation’s first ever community wide festival of laughter has quickly earned a reputation for being one of the nation’s most enjoyable event for both participants and artists. This major 10-day Midwest festival is based in Grand Rapids and includes events throughout West Michigan. LaughFest 2015 will feature Jim Breuer, Kathleen Madigan, Sinbad, Justin Willman, Michael Kosta and many more. There are free and ticketed shows. For a list of talent and participating venues in Grand Rapids and West Michigan, visit the website link.

March 9 – 15

Kid’s Festival Weekend
March 13 – 15, Boyne Mountain
Kids’ Festival Weekend is when kids rule the mountain! Event highlights include a Village Party with a cookout; face painting, lively entertainment; inflatable obstacle course, bounce house and Euro Bungee Ride; family après ski and dance party; on-hill kids’ race events.  Plus, bonfire and s ’mores, horse-drawn wagon rides, story time, appearances by Fritz, the resort mascot, family movies, arts and crafts, and more. Join us at Boyne Mountain for a weekend full of fun!

Thumbs up Detroit Exhibition
March 13 – 14, Detroit
This is a time to showcase all that is available in Detroit, from the arts and food, to business and people. Helping Detroit rebuild and show what is possible in this great city. Mingle, check out exhibits, sample food and have a great time. This is a ticketed event.

MHM_main_atrium

Photo courtesy of Michigan Historical Museum

Michigan Historical Museum Fruit Festival
March 14, Lansing
Children can participate in hands-on activities, including crafts that relate to our exhibits. Learn about the new farm tools that led to booming fruit production in Michigan after the Civil War. Also, you’ll discover the variety of produce from Michigan’s “fruit belt” and investigate planting and canning. This program is included with museum admission. Be sure to tour our special exhibit, Conceived in Liberty, which examines Michigan’s role in the second half of the Civil War and the postwar period.

Return to Clare Steam Train Excursion
March 14, Clare
Pere Marquette 1225 “Return to Clare” excursion is a one day excursion. The train will depart Owosso, Mich., at 9 a.m. and arrive at Clare, Mich., at 11:30 a.m. We will have a three hour layover in Clare so passengers can partake of the Irish Festival which will coincide with our excursion. The train then departs Clare at 2:30 p.m. running back to Owosso to finish up around 6 p.m. Please note that these times are subject to change. We will have at least one photo run-by so be sure to bring your camera. Visit their website for ticket prices.

March 16 – 22

Lansing Home & Garden Show
March 19 – 22, Lansing
The biggest Home & Garden Show in Mid-Michigan fills the MSU Pavilion on the campus of Michigan State University. Stunning gardens, extensive landscaping projects and a Standard Flower Show surround exhibits featuring new construction, remodeling, kitchens and baths, retail garden centers, pools and spas, and home services. Free seminars will be hosted on the Garden Stage, Home Stage, and Cooking Stage. Admission: $9 adults, $4 children 6 – 14, and under 5 are free.

Midwest Regional Alternative Dance Festival
March 19 – 22, Kalamazoo
The Midwest Regional Alternative Dance (RAD) Festival will take place at the Wellspring Theater in the Epic Center in Kalamazoo, Mich. RAD Fest will present five different live performances featuring 39 contemporary choreographers and over 250 dance artists from all over the Midwest and will also offer a film in the Atrium series featuring 10 different dances for the camera artists. For more information or a full schedule, please visit the website link.

Zipline-Adventures-are-available-year-round-at-sister-resorts-Boyne-Mountain-and-Boyne-Highlands-in-northern-Lower-Michigan-300x200

Photo courtesy of Boyne Highlands

Krazy Daze
March 20 – 21, Boyne Highlands
Celebrate spring with our something-for-everyone weekend of no-holds-barred festivities – Krazy Daze! Join us for live music, lighthearted activities and upbeat events tailored to every member of the family. Whether you’re a face-painted kid taking a pass at the Silly Slalom, or a kid at heart warming up for the Ski over the Pond competition at a tailgate party you’ll find enough fun and laughter to keep you smiling all weekend long. Ski & Stay lodging packages are also available. For complete event details, visit the website link or call (800) 462-6963.

Carnival Weekend
March 20 – 22, Boyne Mountain
For the Boyne Mountain faithful, Carnival Weekend is nothing short of a major holiday. Schedules are rearranged, elaborate plans formed, and the stops are all pulled out to avoid missing a moment of the fun. The weekend gets started with the Carnival Kick-off Party from 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. in the Snowflake Lounge Friday night (free entry for those ages 21+). On Saturday, the infamous On-Hill Party takes place, along with the King and Queen of the Mountain Adult Costume Contest, and a Village Party in the afternoon. Saturday night features music to dance the night away. Sunday’s main event is the Slush Cup on Lower McLouth where you can skim or be soaked.

Maple Syrup Festival
March 21, Lansing
Celebrate nature’s own “Liquid Gold” at Fenner Nature Center’s Maple Syrup Festival! Participate in demonstrations in our Sugar Bush, try your hand at tapping a tree and treat your taste buds to savory treats like maple crème and maple cotton candy!

March 23 – 31

Michigan_Theater_Sign-199x300

Photo courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor Film Festival
March 24 – 29, Ann Arbor
Internationally recognized as a premiere forum for independent filmmakers and artists, each year’s festival engages audiences with remarkable cinematic experiences. The six-day festival presents 40 programs with more than 180 films from over 20 countries of all lengths and genres, including experimental, animation, documentary, fiction, and performance-based works.

Family & Friends Race
March 28, Boyne Highlands
The Friends and Family Race was a new event last season and turned out to be a huge success so we’re bringing it back again. There are divisions for “Friends” and “Family” with teams comprised of up to four ski racers. This race is open to ski racers of all ages so get your team together and enjoy a fun day of racing at Boyne Highlands. There is a team entry fee.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park Maple Sugaring Day
March 28, Tahquamenon Falls
Discover how to turn sap from Mother Nature into sweet golden syrup for your pancakes during our annual maple sugaring event. The entire process will be on display, including traditional methods, hands-on activities and taste testing! Free guided tours begin at 12:00, 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. Tours start at the Upper Falls Fact Shack. Maple syrup experts will be on hand to answer questions and provide advice about at-home maple sugaring. Pancakes will be available for participants to taste a variety of homemade syrups from the region. Nature’s Kennel will offer $25 dog sled rides during the event (weather dependent).

All Things Detroit
March 29, Detroit
All Things Detroit is returning to the Eastern Market Sunday March 29, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Shed three. Come out and enjoy an afternoon of browsing the best local products Detroit has to offer, all under one roof! Come check out Detroit apparel, handmade jewelry, artisan food products, custom artwork and more. Explore 60+ local vendors; purchase Detroit/Michigan made products, convenient, FREE parking, free door prizes to the first 300 guests and more.

What’s on your calendar for March in Pure Michigan?

Knock the Snow from Your Boots with Unique Winter Events in Ann Arbor

From January through March, there are a number of special events in the Ann Arbor area perfect for a wintry weekend getaway! No need to hibernate this year. Check out these exciting opportunities.

Ann Arbor Restaurant Week (January 18-23)

Bar

John Steinbeck wrote, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” Winter can be very sweet on its own, especially when you can explore Ann Arbor’s overabundance of foodie goodness during Restaurant Week! This celebration of dining includes 45 restaurants featuring one-price menus — $15 for lunch and $28 for dinner — or save even more with two-for-one specials at select restaurants! The newest restaurant to join the ranks is the delicious Mezzevino .  While you’re there, be sure to ask for a small bowl of the crispy chickpeas!

U-M Ice Carving Extravaganza (January 23-25)

Join us for a weekend of chainsaws, ice picks and flame throwers! Stand back while the University of Michigan Ice Carving team members display their talents and masterpieces along Main Street with custom designs inspired by the city, its shops and restaurants, and more!

38th Annual Folk Festival (January 30-31)

Wait! This isn’t your parents’ folk music … Or maybe it is! The appealing element of folk music, and it’s a philosophy so perfectly embodied by the festival, is that there are as many styles as there are artists! Join us for the two-night event and show your support for one of the top music clubs in the world — The Ark — celebrating 50 years of presenting, preserving and encouraging folk, roots and ethnic music and related arts. This year’s festival features Amos Lee, Ani DiFranco, Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell. Get ready to find your folk!

Michigan Theater with Couple2

53rd Ann Arbor Film Festival (March 24-29)

Visit Ann Arbor and the historic Michigan Theater to experience the longest-running independent and experimental film festival in North America. Internationally recognized as a premiere forum for independent filmmakers and artists, the Ann Arbor Film Festival engages audiences with remarkable cinematic experiences. The six-day festival presents 40 programs with more than 180 films from over 20 countries of all lengths and genres, including experimental, animation, documentary, fiction, and performance-based works.

FoolMoon and FestiFools (April 10-April 12)

FestiFools

Night time revelry and larger-than-life puppets make up this weekend of foolish amusement.  Friday night kicks things off with FoolMoon— an after dark extravaganza of lightshows, music and a delicious event-inspired microbrew from our friends at Grizzly Peak. On Sunday, watch as magnificent and bizarre human-powered papier-mache puppets amble along Main Street to the sound of beating drums, brassy horns, and the cheers of our Foolish friends! Go from being a spectator to participant by building your creations and joining in the fun!

What is your favorite thing to do in the Ann Arbor area?