Re: Ann Arbor Film Festival 2006

From: Ken Bawcom (email suppressed)
Date: Thu Apr 06 2006 - 00:06:24 PDT

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ken Bawcom. I have been attending
the Ann Arbor Film Festival for 40 years, and working on it for 18
years, on the screening committee, and other things. I've also done a
lot of the programming, that is cutting the films in competition
selected for exhibition, into programs for the main theater. I've read
the comments here, and share most of your concerns. Bryan's comments on
the personnel changes are accurate, and that precipitated the situation
this year. I'm probably going to go into more detail than TPTB would
like, but I want to make clear what happened, and brought about what I
too consider to have been, over all, a weak program. I think it is
important that everyone know that there are people at the AAFF who are
dedicated to returning the AAFF to full strength next year.

The AAFF has always been primarily, but not exclusively, an
experimental film festival. It has shown animation, and a few,
generally non-standard, narratives. It has also had a populist,
leftist, political bent, reflected in the documentary that it shows,
since its inception. If anyone doubts that, just have a few words with
founder, George Manupelli. Christen, the new director, who worked
double and triple time, as have past directors, to make the Festival
happen, has no intention of remaking the AAFF as the Slick Trite
Narrative Festival. The Chairman of the AAFF BOD has likewise assured
me that no one has that intention. I certainly want the AAFF to stay
true to its experimental, populist, roots. I believe we DID have a
number of strong, challenging, entries programmed this year, but we
also had a lot of stuff that didn't belong in the AAFF. So, what

When I started on the AAFF screening committee, in 1989, we got about
300 - 400 entries, all on 16mm film, and a committee of five to seven
people watched ALL of them, in their entirety. And, all screeners were
knowledgeable, and passionate, about exp. film. I think the process had
as much integrity, and consideration for the film makers, as was
humanly possible. We spent 5 - 6 nights a week, for 3 - 4 months doing
it. When we began accepting video, and started getting 1,500 - 2,000
entries, that was no longer possible.

We developed a system with pre-screeners, and two subcommittees of
three people. This year, since we were very late in naming a new
Director, forming a screening committee had to be done very quickly,
and even then, we didn't start screening until the last day of
November, about two months later than we should have done. It has
always been difficult to find qualified screeners, who are willing and
able to make the time commitment necessary to screen. In my opinion,
this year, four of the members of our screening committee were
unqualified. I am told that two had no familiarity with exp. film, but
were art theory students. One is a very nice guy, who does like a bit
of exp film, but whose taste really runs to what are, IMO, formulaic
narratives. Another screener is a professional videographer, who is
open to exp film, but not well versed in it, and not much into some of
the more challenging pieces. The fifth screener, besides myself, has a
strong interest in, and some familiarity, with exp film, some better
known films, and their makers. It was him, me, and the videographer on
one subcommittee, and the other three on the other subcommittee. So, in
my opinion, our problems were engendered by the late start, and an
incompetent screening committee. I assure you that I will do everything
within my limited powers to see that this doesn't happen again. I also
believe that the Director, and the BOD, have learned the great
importance of having knowledgeable people on the screening committee. I
believe it IMPERATIVE to have a competent screening committee.

Various suggestions have been made on how to handle screening in the
future. One is to have seminars to train screeners, and have as many as
five screening committees. One is to put the entries on line, and have
the screeners watch things on their computer screens, at their
convenience. I don't like either of those ideas. I have a plan for a
single screening committee of six qualified people, and no
prescreeners. We would start in the end of September, and screen five
times a week. One screener, me (or anyone else qualified, and willing),
would be at all five screenings. The other five screeners would rotate,
and each screen twice a week. There would always be three people
looking at every entry, like the last few years. People would only
have to screen twice a week, so less time committment is necessary.
And, there wouldn't be two halves, so no "us vs them" would develop. I
don't know if I can sell this plan to the Director and the BOD, but I
will try, unless I hear a better plan. I think I can recruit at least
some qualified screeners, but if anyone knows potential screeners in
the Ann Arbor area, please let us know. That is what we need to get
back on track.

Ken B.

"Those who would give up essential liberty
to purchase a little temporary safety
deserve neither liberty, nor safety."
Benjamin Franklin 1775

"I know that the hypnotized never lie... Do ya?"
Pete Townshend 1971

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