Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Media Travels: the Ann Arbour Film Festival.

For anyone enrolled in school, at any level, whenever the words "Field Trip" even slightly take presence in a class room, students usually tend to make the direct association with the idea that, for a specific period of time in thier near future, they will no longer have to listen to any sort of class instruction, crack open text books, or participate in any of the school's curriculum. This is definitely not always the case, and for those that DO make that instant association, maybe a lesson there is to be learned somewhere in there. Luckily for us in UTSA's New Media program we have got one hell of a professor, Leslie Raymond. Because of her and some possible support from the university, we , the students in Multimedia Video: 4953, were able to step outside of the university's walls past social, political, and physical borders only to end up cross country, in south Texass' national geographic near-polar opposite Ann Arbour, Michigan.

So by plane, train, and automobile, we arrive one by one to the university centered Ann Arbour. Not really knowing what to expect, beside a drastic change in climate, Id feel ok saying that we were all prepared for both the best and the worst. We can be kind of cynical down south. Nonetheless, we arrive, not a complete group yet, but a good sized one. We are immediately picked up by one of our professors old time friends and director of Circumference, Tom Bartlett. And before given a quick tour of the city, we take a small detour and are introduced to this amazing creation over at his shop.

After all the oo's and ahh's, we head down towards the center of the city and to our accommodations, whom Leslie, once again, was awesome enough to find for us through another long time friend, and faculty member at U of M, Chris McNamara.

After settling in, it starts. The commute from where we were staying and the events venue was relatively close,but after of a day or two some of us were starting to show signs of having gone from one of the nations most unfit cities to THE fittest. In spite of that, we treaded forward and to one of our second homes of the trip, the Michigan Theater.

The first night's event, the opening gala, was really remarkable. Along side all the people, and the commotion, the theater itself was probably what made my first night there memorable, and therefore paving the way for the week to come.

"Constructed during the silent film era when films were shown with live musical accompaniment, the Historic Auditorium is known, acoustically speaking, as a "live" house. The acoustics are perfect for classical music, one of the reasons we've been home to the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra since 1984. Additionally, guest performers love being on our stage because of its excellent natural sound...

...Real gold leaf, real butter on the popcorn - in short, this is a movie palace that is simply not like any other theater."

-taken from the MichiganTheater.org

Aside from live sound, after the first nights screening (the opening night's show case was a kind of sneak peak of whats to come) I think it there was an unspoken consensus that the theater was also going to be perfect for the experimental film to come. I mean, the main room came equipped with its own circa 1920's theater pipe organ. How cool is that? "Very cool" is the right answer. Adding on, the pipe organ played before every screening through out the week. And so the stage was set.

Day by day, I, along side my travel buddies, set out for a day of film trying not to get too involved in the distractions of a new city. Films were viewed, opinions were made, emotions flowed. Overall, my opinion of the festival was good with some slight queries. First off, The booklets with the screening schedules were everywhere. This was a good thing for me because a misplaced schedule was an often occurrence. I felt that if the schedules were possibly shown on screens in the main lobby, where most of the in between/down time took place, that would eliminate paper usage, and possibly instantly guide people with out knowledge of what was showing upon arrival. Although, the schedule booklet does make a nice souvenir.

The second, and lastly but most important observation was brought to my attention by my classmate/friend Utah Snyder. Most of the screenings seemed to group, if not by similar theme, by stylization of the pieces themselves. This is actually a pretty grave issue for the artists involved. Although grouping pieces by theme is OK, as long as the pieces differ stylistically from each other. When you group three or more similarly styled pieces together, one's immediate reaction tends to be that after seeing the first one in the screening, the rest can just be blown off because you might feel like you have already seen it before.

With that being said, and adding some minor, seemingly unavoidable, technical issues involved, I felt the festival was a success. I was able to socialize in a comfortable environment where nothing felt pushed or stressed, the screenings and artist discussions were all easy to embrace, and the overall atmosphere was welcoming. Personally, I felt saddened to leave, and being a huge homebody, this is saying a lot. I was very glad to have attended the festival and the events that took place during our stay Ann Arbour. Thank you to all those who made it possible.

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