Ann Arbor Film Festival announces schedule for 58th annual AAFF Special Programs

The Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) is pleased to announce the schedule for the 58th AAFF Special Programs. These eight programs will feature screenings, performances, and presentations designed to complement the short and feature films-in-competition. The Special Programs will be presented March 24 – March 29, 2020 during festival week and held in the Michigan Theater Screening Room unless otherwise noted.

This year’s line-up brings historical, geographic, and topical perspectives. Several of the programs interconnect, broadening the context and conversation of festival week.

Animation artist Martha Colburn will be the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker on Thursday, March 26 at 5:10 pm in the Michigan Theater’s main auditorium. Disquiet American: The Animated Collage Films of Martha Colburn will play on Friday, March 27 at 7:30 pm.

Two films created by co-founders of Women Make Movies, a non-profit organization that established a community media workshop for women, will be shown on Wednesday, March 25 at 7:30 pm. Sweet Bananas directed by Ariel Dougherty, and The Women’s Happy Time Commune directed by Sheila Paige. A program of films created by members of Women Make Movies, Women Make Movies workshop films: Community Women at Women Make Movies Tell Universal Cinematic Stories, will be shown on Saturday, March 28 at 3:30 pm.

Screendance is a selection of work that celebrates the global proliferation of dance on camera and will be shown on Sunday, March 26 at 12 pm in the Michigan Theater’s main auditorium. Unseen Migrations is also focused on dance as well as exploring new definitions of experimental film, writing, movement, and performance. It will be on Sunday, March 29 at 2 pm in the Michigan Theater’s main auditorium.

Welcome to Commie High, directed by former AAFF Executive Director, Donald Harrison explores Ann Arbor’s own Community High School. It will be shown on Saturday, March 28 at 5 pm in the Michigan Theater’s main auditorium. Trees of Heaven: an underground educational film, also directed by Donald Harrison, will be shown the same day at 1 pm in the Michigan Theater’s main auditorium.

Imaging the Avant-Garde: Taiwan’s Film Experiments of the 1960s will be shown on Saturday, March 28 at 7:30 pm. It explores the relatively unknown experimental film scene in Taiwan. There will also be a panel discussion, Cross Talk: Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese Art Films and Documentaries, at North Quad Space 2435 on Friday, March 27 at 3 pm as part of the AAFF Off the Screen! program. Seven panelists from Taiwan and Mainland China discuss their life experience as well as are social political and cultural variations.

For more information see full 58th AAFF Special Programs schedule below: 

Women Make Movies: Sweet Bananas and The Women’s Happy Time Commune

Michigan Theater Screening Room | 7:30pm Wednesday, March 25

In these feminist works by Ariel Dougherty and Sheila Paige, non-actors collaborate in unscripted, loosely structured storylines “to play” imagined selves. Sweet Bananas explores the dynamics between different young women as they descend on a slightly older woman in the country. The Women’s Happy Time Commune is a feminist Western, set in a fictional 1850 following a motley crew. Utilizing a women-led crew and women-centric cast, the films capture the flare of early feminism in funny, and surprising ways. The films were shot in 1970 and 1971 under the collective Women Make Movies, founded in 1969. Andy Warhol had a strong influence on the style of both Dougherty’s and Paige’s films in this program.

Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series presents Martha Colburn

Michigan Theater Main Auditorium | 5:10pm Thursday, March 26

Best known for her animated films, which are created through puppetry, collage, and paint on glass techniques, Martha Colburn also makes installations and performs her films with live music.

Disquiet American: The Animated Collage Films of Martha Colburn

Michigan Theater Screening Room | 7:30pm Friday, March 27

Women Make Movies production shot

Filmmaker, artist, and animator Martha Colburn creates work that is both biographical and autobiographical. Her animation displays confrontational imagery, jump cuts, sonic distortion, found footage, collage, and direct manipulation of the film stock. She uses music for inspiration, its chaotic energy underlining her films. Historical cornerstones are used to offer an artistic reflection on imperialism, and the corroding effect of capitalism on social cohesion in the United States. This compilation program presents Colburn’s work in both analog and digital form, newly restored by the Eyefilm museum. For this program, we would like to acknowledge the contribution of the Anthology Film Archive.

Women Make Movies workshop films: Community Women at Women Make Movies Tell Universal Cinematic Stories

Michigan Theater Screening Room | 3:30pm Saturday, March 28

In 1969, filmmakers Ariel Dougherty and Sheila Paige founded Women Make Movies, a non-profit organization that established a community media workshop for women in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Secretaries, housewives, youth workers, and retirees came to the WMM workshop to make movies. Their short black-and-white films, shot without sound on a wind-up Bolex, gathered friends, family, and aspiring actors to play parts. The works presented are personal yet universal, reflecting the women’s varied experiences.

Welcome to Commie High

Michigan Theater Main Auditorium | 5pm Saturday, March 28

Welcome to Commie High explores an experiment in public education—Ann Arbor’s Community High School—from its humanistic, anti-establishment origins in the early ’70s through its survival into the ’90s, when sudden demand for this alternative, small school led to a phenomenon of lines, camping, and lottery systems. Now standing as one of the only remaining public schools of this wave of the free school movement, we see how the “Commie High” model has evolved and continues to reflect the world around it. Directed by Donald Harrison.

Imaging the Avant Garde: Taiwan’s Film Experiments of the 1960s

Michigan Theater Screening Room | 7:30pm Saturday, March 28

A retrospective of Taiwanese experimental documentary works from the 1960s. The experimental scene in Taiwan was previously relatively unknown, and very little information was available on these films. This program was created through the efforts of the Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival, and is being brought to the AAFF by Markus Nornes, Professor of Asian Cinema at U of M.


Michigan Theater Main Auditorium | 12pm Sunday, March 26

Inspired by the 75th anniversary of Maya Deren and Talley Beattty’s seminal dance film Choreography for Camera (1945) and celebrating the global proliferation of dance on camera festivals, AAFF introduces a program of screendances to the festival. This selection of works offers a retrospective sweep of the hybrid form, from Ed Emshwiller’s Thanatopsis, featured in the first AAFF in 1963, to more recent works shot in Great Britain, Congo, Israel, Canada, and Detroit. Curated by Terri Sarris (U-M Film, TV, and Media Department) and Peter Sparling (Emeritus Professor, Department of Dance), both local media artists and a long-time teaching team of U-M’s interdisciplinary screendance course.

Unseen Migrations

Michigan Theater Main Auditorium |  2pm Sunday, March 29

A program of dance, film, and spoken word realized by Jacob D. Barreras and Deborah Greer. Exploring new definitions of experimental film, writing, movement, and performance, Counterpath Press and the Unseen Festival present Unseen Migrations, invoking notions of the resistant, the excluded, and the unacknowledged. Interweaving five films, three movement performances, song, and spoken word, physical and metaphysical elements collide and form an explosion of art, light, sound. Colorado-created artworks conjure and comingle onstage and onscreen to create a cohesive and experiential theatrical display.

For more information regarding tickets and festival updates, please visit our website.

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 typically receives nearly 3,000 film submissions a year from more than 70 countries, and the festival serves as one of a handful of Academy Award–qualifying festivals in the United States. The AAFF is also 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 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival takes place March 24-29, 2020. For more information, please visit, and be sure to join AAFF on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Vimeo.

Major AAFF Partners and Foundation Support
AAFF gratefully acknowledges support 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; the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office, which supports the media industry in Michigan and helps the state of Michigan become a production destination; the historic Michigan Theater, a vital partner whose beautiful venue serves as the primary location for AAFF events; 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; and the University of Michigan Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design, with a mission focused on creative practice as an engine for cultural change and innovation.

MAIN Photo: Still from Day of the Dutch directed by Martha Colburn