Local fans of contemporary cinema will have the opportunity to get an eyeful of experimental celluloid this Saturday, when the Ann Arbor Film Festival's Traveling Tour stops in Detroit. The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit will host the free show, which spotlights featured shorts from last year's festival.
"I pushed really hard to have it happen," said Ben Hernandez, MOCAD's Public Programs coordinator, praising the AAFF as a "prestigious, cutting edge festival, even on the international scale."
Moviegoers will get to witness 16 shorts in 80 minutes.
"We're going to have a great program. It'll be like a series of shorts at the DFT [Detroit Film Theatre], similar to a showing of Oscar shorts, but more exciting," said Donald Harrison, executive director of the AAFF.
"We're very interested in pushing the envelope," he added. "We'll show films that are a lot more provocative than the Oscars. We're pushing people's buttons, which is what contemporary art is doing."
The films belong to wide variety of genres, ranging from animation to documentary to science fiction. Many of them won awards during last year's official festival in Ann Arbor.
One of last year's winners was "Handsoap," from Japanese director Kei Oyama, which brought home the prize for Best Animation. The short tells the story of a young boy who is picked on at school.
Harrison said he is an admirer of the film and that it "creates a rich textured animation" he has never seen before.
Another stand-out was "These Hammer's Don't Hurt Us" by Michael Robinson, an innovative mash-up that splices clips from Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" video with footage of Liz Taylor's "Cleopatra." It earned the award for Most Technically Innovative Film. According to Hernandez, it "creates multiple themes of ancient lost worlds combining in an almost silly contemporary pop culture way."
The show will also sport more esoteric works of celluloid, like Simon Payne's "Point Line Plane," which the festival's website describes as:
Shifting grids in black, white and shades of grey plot and continuously reframe screen space. The increasingly complex matrix of layers produces an illusion of depth, beyond the surface of the screen, but with positive and negative switching, the piece also illuminates the viewer.
Hernandez said the show presents two different modes of underground cinema, balancing more conventionally straightforward narrative pieces with work that strays off into the completely abstract and bizarre.
The MOCAD showing is three years in the making -- Harrison approached the gallery in 2008, but at the time it was not ready for what the festival had to offer.
"There's an audience for this in Detroit, but more so in Ann Arbor," said Hernandez, who worried the tour wouldn't strike a chord with Detroiters. Rather than create a local whistle stop for the tour, he worked with Harrison to put together an original festival for Detroit, the Shadowbox Cinema.
That show, which made its third appearance at the gallery on Nov. 12, proved successful. In fact, it was so popular that MOCAD decided to take on the traveling tour this year.
Harrison said he is a big fan of MOCAD and believes the collaboration is a great fit.
"There's a strong overlap between contemporary art and contemporary film," he said.
For his part, Hernandez said MOCAD is especially happy to host the event during the festival's golden anniversary.
"We're approaching this as a 50th anniversary program that shows how far beyond a local film festival this can be."
The AAAF Traveling Tour runs from 7-9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 4455 Woodward Ave. The event is free.
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