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June 6-12, 2007

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Falcon crested: A hooded falcon is one of many intriguing images of Education City in Sally Van Gorder's short film 'Sift.'

Hot Shorts

The Ann Arbor Film Festival brings 30 of its short films to Foothill College

By Richard von Busack

AT 45 years of age, the Ann Arbor Film Festival is still the best venue for short and experimental films around, and host to the kind of dedicated cinéastes who can brave Michigan in March. Naturally, Michigan's thriving population of evangelical fussbudgets has turned its attention to adult content in some of the films, trying unsuccessfully to take state funding out of the fest. Films used as evidence in these hearings were highlighted in a separate "Faux-Porn" séance this year. Despite the culture wars and changing times, the Ann Arbor festival endures. And every year, local treasure KFJC radio brings a selection of the best of the fest for a two-day sample at Foothill College.

Ten of the some 30 short films were available for preview. Of them, the standout was Sally Van Gorder's Sift. The film consists of an audio collage of broken sentences taken from interviews that Van Gorder conducted with 15 female students at Education City. This grandly named suburb, an outreach program of several different universities, is located in Doha, capital of the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. Van Gorder glances over the area's landscape: rows of business towers shooting out of the flat desert, angular birds frightened into flight and falcons in leather hoods. She peers inside houses that are either abandoned or never finished. As experimental as Van Gorder's nine-minute film may be, it is electric with the nervous tension of impending cultural clash. Verbal shards protrude from the murmur of conversations: "I like who I am," "I think I can still do some good in this country"—suggesting altruism contending with isolation, and West struggling with East.

The delightful Ski Boys by Benny Zenga is a memento of what certainly looks like an easier time. Some male teenagers of the 1970s perform "folk stunts" on a remote farm in the province of Ontario. We see more gentle fun like roller-tobogganing down weedy hills and riders creaking through pastures on rickety homemade Dr. Seuss bicycles. We also get some unsafe fun: ski-jumps into the pond in Wile E. Coyote human-fly jumpsuits and plummets off the top of a roof into the backs of trucks. Oddly enough, none of the gang is wearing a cast.

Lyn Elliot's The Boy in the Air is not about the Ski Boys; the one-photo film commemorates a mock outraged letter based on an advertisement, which is answered by a patient flack who doesn't see the joke. Ben Mor's Help Is Coming has paper-masked figures (Cheney, Bush and Mayor Nagin) dawdling in the ruins of the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Probably, there was no way to make a movie without drama in those Katrina-wracked disaster areas. Except for Déjà Vu, of course. Speaking of apocalypses, be sure to arrive on time so as not to miss Tyger, Guiherme Marcondes' astonishing multimedia piece. A mammoth tiger walks the streets, worked by three kuroko puppeteers shrouded in black. His roar call forth a jungle that shoots through the walls and roads. Marcondes' phosphorescent graphics and his rotoscoped city are as much an eyeful as any CGI spectacle this summer.

Movie Times The Ann Arbor Film Festival plays June 9 at 7pm and June 10 at 6pm at Appreciation Hall, Foothill College, 12345 S. El Monte Road, Los Altos. Bring $2 in quarters for parking meters that run even on Sunday night, if you can believe that unbelievable sadism.

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