This trip began over a year ago. I had been invited to speak at the Ann Arbor Film Festival’s Expanding Frames program. It was a new segment to the festival which encourage academics and professionals to come and lead workshops and round tables on the various aspects and influences of experimental film making. So let’s back up a second, because I just said experimental film making!
Why experimental film making??? Because the Ann Arbor Film festival is the pinnacle of experimental film making festivals. One of the few experimental film festivals that is an Academy Award sanctioned event. Having a 53 year lineage also makes the AAFF an event that truly spans a vast amount movements.
So there I was last year at the Festival, having been invited to speak about Convergent Media Activism through Projection. The talk consisted of showing work I had been conducting with UIW and UT students, along with central Texas professionals. At the time, we had just launched the Convergent Media Collective and a lot of what I showed was our work from the past year and how we were transcending cultural and social barriers in terms of diversity within the various spaces our works were being produced.
This theme of diversity caught the audiences eye and generated a discussion that provoked a heated exchange about diversity at the Film Festival itself, which I noted as mainly upper class Anglo Americans from all over the US.
Fast forward a couple months post festival and I was encouraged to submit another talk to the festival for 2015.
Taking into account how heated my last presentation was, I decided to take it even further and propose a round table that was truly diversified and representative of “the other.” The voices of students and minorities who are rarely if ever exposed to such a festival, let alone experimental film making in general.
So I put an open call out to my students to see who were interested in being on a panel at an experimental film festival in Ann Arbor. Right away I had one student, Josh Lightner respond with a resounding “yes!” But others wanted to know more, they wanted to find out what experimental films were all about and wanted to know what would be required of them and so forth. So I just let it sit for a bit, because my andragogical approach is for students to have to go and explore on their own, to have to do their own digging. A couple of weeks later, Terry Raper, approached me and said he was in. And so I put a proposal together for have Josh, Terry and I lead a workshop/roundtable on experimental film making in the digital age. In addition I told Josh and Terry to begin production of their own experimental films. What was unique about this request was that both students knew little about experimental film making. I was excited by this because it meant their films had the potential to deviate from even traditional experimental narrative tropes.
So the day arrived where we found out our panel was indeed accepted and the planning of the trip took place, their films went into full production.
So we showed up with our game faces on to our round table. We had found out that there would be 3 other students joining us, which was exciting for us. They were from various Michigan Universities and were a great diverse group. What transpired in our round table was great. The questions were based around the round table participants, but left enough breath for the audience to be involved and add to the discussion in a very participatory way. The result was an engaging discussion where the attendees and round table participants learned from each other. It went so well in fact, that at the request of the presenter after our talk, we extended the discussion for an extra 30 minutes.
Some of the themes and take aways from the round table were:
- The digital generation is now
- Social media is indeed playing a role in how we think of, consume and interact with experimental film from both a consumer and producing perspective.
- We need more diversity in the experimental arena. There are still many unheard voices and visions.
- There is a resonance for exploration that transcends the generations of film makers that unifies and brings strength when those generations in a welcoming environment, such as Ann Arbors Expanding Frames series.
After our round table we attended the wonderful experimental audio making workshop called Making Movie Music by Jared Van Eck. We were all extremely fascinated with the workshop, each of us working with various groups to create sound tracks to various experimental films.
We were also able to catch up with former board of directors for the Ann Arbor Festival, Bruce Baker, and his Motley Crue of wonderfully talented friends and colleagues. To say it was an experience for Terry and Josh to meet such nice and caring industry folk would be an understatement. Bruce and his fellow Ann Arbor Film Festival enthusiasts exuded an aura that is refreshing to see across multiple generations. It was truly a wonderful dinner. And the steak was good too!
Our journey ended with us visiting the Satellite space where the student films were being shown. It was great to see all the films and especially rewarding to get to see Josh and Terry’s films being watched by others.
Overall our trip ended up being a cultural and social experience that I hope contributes and helps build a new breath of diversity and inclusion to the Ann Arbor Festival’s aura.
(A film by Terry Bluez inspired by 80’s and 90’s sports commercials)