Re: End of the Ann Arbor Film Fest?

From: Ken Bawcom (email suppressed)
Date: Tue May 09 2006 - 21:46:59 PDT

The MCACA grant controversy is on-going. There have been two articles,
and two op ed pieces on it in the Ann Arbor News recently. These can be
found at I have submitted the essay below to the Ann
Arbor News, for use in their "Other Voices" on the op ed page. I
haven't heard from them as yet. I sent it to a number of friends of the
AAFF. I sent a slightly different version to the Ann Arbor area State
Senator, and three area State Reps. Also to the three Reps on the
Michigan House Appropriations Subcommittee that deals with this
funding. Right now, the AAFF won't apply for a grant for two years, due
to the content restrictions imposed, and would be barred from doing so
anyway. The AAFF hasn't received all of its funding from MCACA for '05
and '06 yet. It may not receive any more, and may be asked to send some
back. Anyone inclined to send a letter to Michigan legislators might
find it helpful to go to, click on "Advocacy,"
and compose a letter there, which will be sent to many legislators

Ken Bawcom

                                                    Politics, Funding
the Arts, and the Ann Arbor Film Festival

In 1967, as a freshman at the University of Michigan, I first attended
the Ann Arbor Film Festival. I have attended ever since. It is a rare,
and magical thing. Most of the people in our country have access to
public libraries, and art galleries. Few have access to the art of
film, beyond what is shown in commercial theaters. This despite the
fact that film is the most compelling, powerful, and popular art form
of our time. But, for one week every March, the public does have access
to film as an art form, at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. People come
from around the state, the country, and the world, to see it. That is
because venues for this art form are so rare. Commercial film is
exhibited, and preserved, for its monetary value. Many of the works of
film art shown at the AAFF will prove to be ephemeral, because there is
little archiving of such work. That makes the AAFF, and the work it
shows, all the more precious. We in Michigan are very fortunate to have
it. The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, and the State
of Michigan, are to be commended for having provided a very important
part of the funding that has allowed the Ann Arbor Film Festival to
exist. It seems that is about to change. The Ann Arbor Film Festival
has been singled out, by amendment, not to be allowed to apply for
MCACA grants for two years. Also, the AAFF may not receive the balance
of the MCACA funding it has already been awarded. How has this happened?

Mr. Michael LaFaive, of the "Mackinac Center for Public Policy" has
testified before the Michigan House Appropriations Subcommittee on
History, Arts and Libraries. He, and his organization, unequivocally
state that they oppose all public funding for the arts. That seems to
include art galleries, orchestras, libraries, anything whatsoever to do
with the arts. He says "The arts are too important to depend on
politics and politicians for their sustenance." That is rather ironic.
In reality he has deliberately politicized funding of the arts, in an
attempt to take it out of the hands of the arts professionals at MCACA.
The Mackinac Center's website says funding the arts should be left to
private enterprise. If this philosophy prevails, people will only be
able to see what art, and read what books, they can afford to buy for
themselves, unless they happen to live near one of the very few
privately funded museums or libraries. I cannot imagine anything more
harmful to the arts, artists, and our culture, than to leave all of the
arts in the hands of private enterprise. The goal of private enterprise
is to be as profitable as possible. Monetary profit is not the goal of

Mr. LaFaive says "There is no reason anyone should be forced to
subsidize what a tiny arts elite in Lansing defines as art..." In
reality, by funding a wide range of art, MCACA makes it possible for us
all to determine for ourselves what is art. Mr. La Faive's own
testimony proves this. He said: "(I) sat through a full days showing of
movies (at the AAFF). In my opinion, some clips were terrific,
entertaining, artistic, and worthy of my voluntary support." So, he did
find what HE defines as art at the AAFF. He didn't like everything.
But, if everyone had to approve of everything in an appropriations
bill, the State would be lucky to build even one road.

Mr. LaFaive picked the Ann Arbor Film Festival as an example to use in
his crusade because he easily found the AAFF website, and the film
titles listed there. Much of his testimony seems to be insinuating that
the AAFF shows pornography, based on some of those titles. I have
volunteered at the AAFF for 18 years now. For much of that time, I have
been involved with programming the films in competition in the main
theater, and have been quite familiar with everything shown there. I am
57 years old. Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I know
pornography when I see it. The AAFF does not show pornography. Several
of the examples Mr. La Faive cites don't even have nudity. One that
does have a bit of nudity is "Chests." In his words, it is a two and
one-half minute film, shot from the waists up and necks down, of two
men repeatedly bumping their bare chests together. This film has no
sexual content at all, unless one considers a satire of mindless macho
confrontation sexual, or is aroused by men's bare chests, such as one
would see at any beach. I am at a loss to understand why he even
mentioned this film. Some of the other titles do sound as if they might
be pornographic, even though they aren't.

Mr. LaFaive's attack might not be effective, but for one line in House
Bill 5729, Sec. 401 (3). It states: "The MCACA shall not award grants
for projects or activities that include displays of human wastes on
religious symbols, displays of sex acts, and depictions of flag
desecration." Any arts organization that showed "Brokeback Mountain,"
or any other of a number of Academy Award winning films, would find
themselves in violation of this. Anyone showing a documentary critical
of anti-American protests in other countries could be in violation of
this obviously politically motivated limitation of our freedom of
expression. Indeed, since no country is specified for the flag, showing
anyone burning the flag of any nation would be a violation. To be more
than decoration, the arts must sometimes be challenging. Some people
will sometimes be offended. That is the unavoidable price of the
enlightenment that the arts can bring.

State Representative Shelley Taub has proposed an amendment
specifically denying the AAFF funding for two years. She has done this
based on brochures about AAFF films, given to her by Mr. LaFaive's
organization. Based on them, she says that at least one film, if not
many more, was pornographic. She said "Let me make this extremely
clear, I'm not putting clothes on Botticelli's Venus." That's true, she
is not. She IS saying that if Botticelli's Venus, or its equivalent, is
included in a film, its showing will not be funded by MCACA. Will this
only apply to the Ann Arbor Film Festival, or is that just the
beginning? What arts organization is next?

Our legislators must find it important enough to stand up for the arts,
and freedom of expression. They must stand up against that narrow
stripe of conservatism that would keep us ignorant of all art that
private enterprise doesn't find profitable enough to provide to us.
They must stand up against those who believe that their political
fortune depends on appeasing those who subscribe to that narrow stripe
of conservatism.

All of us who support the arts, and believe in freedom of expression,
must stand up and make ourselves heard, or the arts, our culture, we
all, will be much the poorer for it. Do we really want a world where
very few ever have a chance to see a real Picasso? Nor see the budding
Picassos of film that can be found at the Ann Arbor Film Festival? If
public funding for the arts is ended, eventually that is the world we
will have. If you agree, please support your local arts organizations,
and please write your State legislators.

Ken Bawcom

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