Case Number 18084: Small Claims Court


IndiePix // 2009 // 108 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // January 14th, 2010

The Charge

"Over 105 minutes of high caliber, avant garde and art driven short films from the 47th Annual Ann Arbor Film Festival."

The Case

You know what they say: You may not be able to get to Ann Arbor, but you can always have a bit of Ann Arbor in your own home, thanks to the annual DVD collections of short films from the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Nine films from the film fest founded in 1963 are featured in The 47th Ann Arbor Film Festival DVD Collection: Volume 2. The theme is "Unexplored Territories."

The films are:

* Dahlia
A visual collage of motion -- street scenes, the beach, the garden. Yes, flowers appear to be moving with some fast cuts and a moving camera. The overall effect is something like a music video, perhaps appropriate because filmmaker Michael Langan also did the music. (5 minutes)

* Studies in Transfalumination
It's a light show on people and objects that makes trees, grasses, and people look eerie and strange. Directed by Peter Rose. (6 minutes)

* Quiero Ver
People looking at a bright sun (through cameras and protective techniques to avoid blinding, of course) in the Mojave Desert see the Virgin Mary, God, Jesus, and the Sacred Heart in its face. Interesting, but this verité snapshot could have used more explanation. Directed by Adele Horne. (6 minutes)

* Cattle Call
As an auctioneer's fast patter makes a sale, the scene of a Winnipeg livestock auction transforms into an animated riff on anything farm and cow. Directors are Mike Maryniuk and Matthew Rankin. (4 minutes)

* Blue Tide, Black Water
Droplets spread as the music goes from gentle to eerie. Directed by Eve Gordon and Sam Hamilton. (10 minutes)

* Nora
A life in Zimbabwe (actually filmed in Mozambique, according to IMDb) is seen through the dance of Nora Chipaumire. There's little dialogue, and her words are seen on silent-film-style cards on the screen. Directed by Alla Kovgan and David Hinton. (35 minutes)

* Reincarnation
The strange vision of a man in a coma, I think. Directed by Takeshi Kushida. (5 minutes)

* Video Terraform Dance Party
Artists bring life to a community, so why not let artists build communities? That's the stated premise as an artist goes to work through CGI on his very own virtual island, a project that won't end well. Directed by Jeremy Bailey. (12 minutes)

* A City to Yourself
Nicole Macdonald's essay on Detroit, now only "remnants of a city," shows the effects of a population decline. (25 minutes)

This year's collection is full of visually striking films, most of which seem to be the visual expression of a single thought or idea. The two longer films, Nora and A City to Yourself, were the ones that drew my attention, with good ideas expressed to the fullest.

Like dance, Nora is a stylized drama, as you'll note from a recreated fight scene and a classroom scene in which students learn about Colgate toothpaste. As scenes from her life are dramatized, Nora Chipaumire dances. The movement is emphasized by frequent closeups of the feet of Chipaumire and other dancers. It feels like a stage work expanded to film, and it has grown well.

You'll see people occasionally as Nicole Macdonald tours A City to Yourself, but her emphasis is on the empty buildings and the way nature has returned to reclaim the city. These, she says, cannot be hidden as easily as people. Surprisingly, there are times when you might not even recognize the Motor City because of its lack of urban motion. "There are blocks of Detroit neighborhoods now that look like fields," she says at one point in her thoughtful narrative essay. Anyone who's ever thought about what an abandoned big box store might look like should see this one.

Video and audio quality are highly variable; you can expect a lot of grain with low-budget short films. With the exception of Nora, the films are full frame. Nora appears to be 1.78:1, and it's not anamorphic. "The Making of...The Next Car," a short which shows a team decorating a car and taking it on the road, is the only substantive extra, although you may be amused by the Monty Python-like animation on the sponsor list and a festival promo.

With two excellent shorts taking up the bulk of the running time, Ann Arbor Film Festival is worth a look if you're into shorts and experimental film.

The Verdict

Not guilty. I can almost feel the "light wintry mix" that has predicted for Ann Arbor. Brrrr...

Review content copyright © 2010 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile
Studio: IndiePix
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Bonus Short

* IMDb: Nora

* Official Site