Donald Harrison, Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, graciously took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the 47th installment of this internationally renowned gathering. I wrote about
AAFF in this space a few weeks ago, and am pleased to present it here from the
perspective of the visionary Harrison, who has crafted a remarkable six-day event that kicks
off tomorrow (Tuesday) evening, March 24 and runs through Sunday, March 29. I should note that I
was heavily involved this year as a volunteer, which included
screening more than 300 of the 2,600+ submitted films, and assisting with media
relations and other publicity. Flattered and thrilled to be part of the
process, I strongly encourage you to attend the festival's themed competitions and special programs, and to check out its content-rich website, where you also can receive updates, rate/review films, and more.
This year’s Ann Arbor Film Festival received more than 2,600 submissions from around the world, up 25% from the 2008 event. Why do you think there was such a spike?
Donald Harrison: We received a record number of submissions for several reasons: a) there are more people with stories to tell and access to the equipment to produce a film b) the international publicity the AAFF received defending artists and free speech c) as an independent filmmaker myself I know how to get the word out to that community.
Talk about the process of choosing from that large group the 125 films that made it into the competition section of the festival.
DH: We took a lot of time and care to find the best work for this year's festival. We have more than 40 screeners in our community, 2 rounds of the selection process and additional measures to give films a second chance for consideration. I personally reviewed over 400 films, as they came in, and wish I could have watched even more. It's a large-scale process, but one we take seriously and with appreciation for the massive collection of creativity we receive.
There are numerous themed competitions in this year’s AAFF, one of which is “Terra Firma,” a program spotlighting works that have feminine perspectives. During the selection process, do you actively look for themes, or do they emerge on their own?
DH: We look for the best films and let the themes emerge from there, which sometimes results in closely knitted themes or other times in loosely related ones. We value variety and surprise within our programs, and see the themes much the way you can imagine geographic lines on a map -- they're not actually real on the land, but they're useful guides.
This is the 47th annual event; is the Ann Arbor Film Festival a brand?
DH: Yes, the AAFF has an international reputation and a "brand" for showcasing cutting-edge, challenging, creatively inspired films. This become clear when we cold-called venues across the U.S. and overseas and received great responses from some of the world's leading contemporary art museums, cinematheques and new media galleries.
If someone has never been to the festival, but is planning to attend this year, what should they expect?
DH: The first time AAFF audience-goer should expect artistically-crafted films, an adventurous spirit, a welcoming atmosphere and an engaging experience. We don't expect everyone to like or understand every film, but we believe in the quality and artistic vision of the films in our programs. There's a tremendous range of the type and styles of films in our festival and I believe there is at least one program that any fan of film, story or art will love.
©Copyright 2009, Tim Pulice. All rights reserved.