Family Film Fun at the 55th Ann Arbor Film Fest

I’m what you call a “Reel Mom”—I’m a mom that makes and writes about movies. As a filmmaker, I love it when the world comes to Ann Arbor to showcase the best of the best in experimental and avant-garde cinema. My 12-year-old and 14-year-old both go to public schools in Ann Arbor, and I’m always looking for enriching and fun ways to engage them in their community.

For me, the Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) allows me to embrace both my identities, because it represents the best of the best in cinema and it brings filmmakers and film-lovers from around the world to my own backyard. This year’s 55th AAFF promises to be an especially memorable one.

I caught up with the Ann Arbor Film Festival’s Executive Director Leslie Raymond (also a mom) to speak about the coming highlights of this year’s film festival– the oldest in North America– and how the whole family can get in on the celebration of experimental and avant-garde cinema in the heart of their community.

Leslie, I understand that the best day of the week for families to enjoy the Ann Arbor Film Festival is Saturday, March 25. Can you tell me more about the family friendly program featured that day?
Absolutely! It’s called the “All-Ages” show and it’s on Saturday, March 25, starting at 11:30 am. If you haven’t come to the film festival before, but are interested in finding out if this is something for you, this is the show for you, because we make the program broadly accessible.

This year’s festival includes, among a kaleidoscope of films, the following films: “Betwixt,” by Eva Lee, “Estranged Melody for a Holographic Empire,” by David Witzling, “Lakedoll,” by Alyssa Sherwood, “Mustard Seeds, by Joshua Harrell, “Sparrow Duet,” by Steve Socki, “Spring Jam,” by Ned Wenlock, “Wheels,” by Joe Stucky, and “Xylophone,”by Jennifer Levonian.

We follow the All Ages Show with a performance at the North Quad in our “Salon” program from 1 – 3 pm, at Space 2435, located just around the corner at the University of Michigan. Puppeteer Lindsey MaCaw will be performing in The Cranky Show, and her artistry is fun for all, but children especially enjoy her puppet shows.

Cranky Shows: Low-Tech,
High Entertainment Paper Theatre

Salon Session
1:00 – 2:45pm | NQ2435
Featured Artist: Lindsay McCaw

A group of four cranky shows with brief introductions. The shows are hand painted paper scrolls that either tell a story or have musical accompaniment of some kind. The shows are: “Everything in moderation, all at once,” a seemingly endless chain of stream of consciousness drawings accompanied by an improvised vocal cacophony; “Rattlesnake Mountain,” an illustrated Ozark folk song; “Surprise Surprise, you haven’t seen everything yet,” a comical cartoon series with musical accompaniment; and “Factory Sacrifice,” an illustrated poem by Milwaukee’s former poet laureate performed to Prokofiev.

What have kids’ response to films in past festivals been? What might kids find exciting in this year’s Saturday Screening line-up?
People have fun at it. The Ann Arbor Film Festival attracts a lot of people from all walks of life. We have a lot of people who started coming to the festival in their youth. I was probably in my early twenties when I first came – and it really changed me; it changed the way I see the world. Our Program Coordinator, Katie MacGowan, started coming here as a kid, as well, and it clearly left a good impression. The AAFF sets you up to have a more open mind.

AAFF is known for being experimental. How do you make that accessible for general audiences who have not yet had experience with this cinematic genre?
I like to describe [going to our film festival movie theaters] as a situation where you think you’re walking into a room where you expect everyone to speak English, but instead everyone is speaking Chinese. So you react: “Whoa! I thought everyone would be speaking the same language and I don’t understand anybody.” But you know what happens when you go to a foreign country and you don’t speak the language? You actually can communicate way more than you would think. There are so many other ways to communicate besides words.

I suggest to people: instead of thinking of it as going to the movie theater, pretend that you are going to the art museum. The kind of work that we show, so much of it has an affinity with art; whether you see a painting on the wall or whether an abstract painting, modern painting, or something classical, the people who are making the things we show are primarily artists and the kinds of things that we show are springing from primarily the fine arts and museums.

You’ve dedicated this film festival, the 55th Ann Arbor Film Festival to the idea of “Solace, Freedom and Togetherness.” Could you expound upon that theme?
I think that one of the things that we at AAFF offer is that we show films that you will never see anywhere else, but you’ll also have the opportunity to come together to see as a community. We are showing so many perspectives, unique types of stories, and ways and means of telling stories that have a very broad variety and diversity of voices.

And so, the other part that comes together with this is the dialogue that you can have while coming together – to experience it and then turn to your neighbor and talk about it. The potential for the diversity of the watching experience, each individual film festival-goer may experience something similar, but also something very different. The space that’s provided for people to talk to each other just becomes more rich– and not just insisting that their opinion is the only one that counts.

Let’s talk about AAFF and its relationship with the Ann Arbor community:
AAFF has to do with our deep roots in the Ann Arbor Community. The film festival was founded in the 1960s by Founder George Manupelli. The festivals ties to the University of Michigan goes way back, way before that. Just looking back to the origins of the festival and the whole cultural milieu of the counterculture movement– people finding new ways to come together that were more communal, and finding new modes of expression and cross-disciplinary collaboration coming out of that same time.


55th Ann Arbor Film Festival
March 21-26
Majority of screenings take place at
the Michigan Theater (603 E. Liberty St.)
Tickets on sale March 1
Unless otherwise noted
$12 General Admission
$8 Students / Seniors / AAFF Members
$6 General Admissions for All Ages and Music Video Programs

Full schedule of films and events at

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