Ann Arbor Film Festival Announces \aut\ Film Award is Fully Endowed

Ann Arbor — The Ann Arbor Film Festival is pleased to announce that the Martin Contreras and Keith Orr \aut\ Film Award is now fully endowed. The endowment was made possible with the support of 29 contributors in addition to the final generous contribution from The James and Helen McCaffery Charitable Foundation that put the fund at its $9,000 goal.

The \aut\ Film Award honors the film that best addresses and gives voice to LGBTQ+ issues. Longtime festival supporters and former owners of the locally known and loved \aut\ BAR, Contreras and Orr initiated this award in 2008 to highlight the diversity of voices that achieve excellence in filmmaking. The \aut\ BAR in Ann Arbor served as a local gay bar as well as a safe space for members of the community for twenty-five years before it recently closed.

“The LGBT community, like other minority groups, has been discriminated against in the past, and our struggle continues today. There are many ways to confront discrimination. Our experience teaches us that representation matters,” said Orr. “Representation matters in politics and business. We believe that one of the best ways to encourage representation is through arts and culture. We have been moved by winning films in the past, and we are excited that the Award is being funded in perpetuity through this endowment.”

Contreras and Orr’s legacy of support will now live on, and the films that best address and give voice to LGBTQ+ issues will continue to be honored at the AAFF forever.

The winner of the \aut\ Film Award at the 58th AAFF was Why Can’t I Be Me? Around You directed by Harrod Blank. The documentary follows Rusty Tidenberg, an Albuquerque, New Mexico auto mechanic and drag-racing aficionado, who shocked friends and family by coming out as a Trans woman. Rusty guides us through the aftermath of her transition, as growing acceptance among her straight-talking Southwest community still doesn’t ease her romantic and professional woes.

The AAFF has a long history of celebrating LGBTQ+ films. The 59th AAFF will be presenting its twentieth Out Night, a program comprised of work that honors queer experimental cinema. Sean Donovan, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan in the Film, Television, & Media department, has been the Out Night programmer since 2018. His research analyzes LGBTQ+ media cultures and his current dissertation project examines nostalgia in different queer media forms.

The AAFF is excited to continue its tradition of honoring LGBTQ+ films at the upcoming 59th Ann Arbor Film Festival, taking place online from March 23 – March 28, 2021.

About the Ann Arbor Film Festival

Founded in 1963, the Ann Arbor Film Festival is the oldest independent and experimental film festival in North America and is internationally recognized as a premier forum for film as an art form. The AAFF receives about 3,000 film submissions a year from more than 70 countries and serves as one of a handful of Academy Award–qualifying festivals in the United States. The AAFF is a pioneer of the traveling film festival tour. Each year the touring programs visit more than 35 theaters, universities, museums, and micro cinemas around the world. The 59th Ann Arbor Film Festival takes place March 23–28, 2021. For more information, please visit, and be sure to join AAFF on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Vimeo.

Major AAFF Partners and Foundation Support

AAFF gratefully acknowledges funding from and partnerships with the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, which encourages, initiates, and facilitates an enriched artistic cultural and creative environment in Michigan; and the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency that funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation.

COVER PHOTO: Still from Why Can’t I Be Me? Around You directed by Harrod Blank