Re: Ann Arbor Film Festival 2006

From: Ken Bawcom (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Apr 07 2006 - 00:22:16 PDT


   I was pleased to meet you, too, and hope you can make it again next
year. I thank you for presenting an accurate, and sympathetic, report
on this year's AAFF.


   Yes, it has occurred to me also that we should try and recruit
screeners from our audience. I have made this suggestion for about
three years now, asking that we have applications available in the
lobby. That hasn't happened yet. But, we do have a mailing list, so
maybe we can do a mailing, asking for volunteer screeners. But,
screening requires such a long time commitment, that even those
qualified and willing to screen, find it difficult to commit. Three or
four times a week, for three or four months is more than most people
can fit into their lives.

   We definitely do have a community interested in exp film here, but I
would say that roughly half of our audience, in this university
community, are students, many who don't really know much about exp
film. They mainly expect to be entertained. Traditionally, our
screening/voting process hasn't been influenced by the preferences of a
general audience. However, we do try to program the films more easily
appreciated by a general audience at the times when we would expect a
larger audience. I think the Main Theater seats about 1,800. We have
filled it for a few special events. Opening night, and Friday and
Saturday night don't fill it completely, but do bring a good sized
audience. Even a non-profit experimental film festival has to pay the
bills, and a good audience helps.

   It is no secret that experimental film isn't as popular as high
production value, Hollywood style narrative. If it were as popular, it
would be on the TV every night, and at the local multiplex on a regular
basis. So, we need to do things to develop an audience. The AAFF does
try to educate people about exp film. One way is panels, such as the
one Bryan was on. I believe the AAFF has incipient plans to do
something with local HS kids, and we have done such things in the past.
Doubtless, we will do more in the future.

   Another way we have tried to attract an audience, which has been
controversial, and not that successful IMO, is with films like Crispin
Glover's last year, and Camjackers and B.I.K.E. this year. B.I.K.E. was
in the smaller Screening Room, not the Main Theater, and was not in
competition. I think we have to be allowed some latitude there. If a
film like B.I.K.E. can attract a younger audience, and introduce them
to the AAFF, I don't think that is a bad thing. On the other hand, I do
think this smaller screen could be better used, and I believe that new
Director Christen agrees. So, look to see some changes there next year.

   Glover's film, and Camjackers, are a different thing. These were
invited to be in competition, and shown in the Main Theater. I think
that is a normal thing for most festivals, but for the AAFF, this was a
departure from the usual screening/programming process. I wasn't part
of the decision making process on those. I believe that the theory was
to try to draw in a younger audience, that might be open to
appreciating exp film, by showing something more mainstream, but still
non-standard. From an artistic standpoint, I am definitely not entirely
in agreement with what we showed. From an economic standpoint, I don't
have the data to know if the strategy was effective. To those who say
that art should be above such economic considerations, I say that the
AAFF has to continue to exist in the real world, and pay the bills. The
aim, to bring in more people to see REAL exp films, is certainly a good
one. Hopefully, we will find more appropriate, and effective, ways of
doing that in the future.

Ken B.

Quoting Bryan Konefsky <email suppressed>:

> Ken, it was both a pleasure and an honor to have finally met you this
> year at the AAFF. And, thanks so much for your insights and deep
> knowledge of this historic festival.
> all the best,
> bryan konefsky
> On Thu, 6 Apr 2006 03:06:24 -0400
> Ken Bawcom <email suppressed> wrote:
>> 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 happened?
>> 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
>> __________________________________________________________________
>> For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.
> __________________________________________________________________
> For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.

"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

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.