Ann Arbor Film Fest celebrates 50th anniversary

Sep 22, 2011

The experimental and sometimes controversial Ann Arbor Film Festival turns 50 next year, but festival organizers aren’t waiting until then to celebrate.

They’ve put together a five-part retrospective series, the first of which screens tonight. The retrospective series will lead up to the actual festival, which runs March 27 - April 1, 2012.

Donald Harrison, the festival's executive director, says they're using the 50th anniversary "as an opportunity to take a look back at a lot of the rich history that’s come through our doors."

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is one of the oldest film festivals in the country. Harrison says curators are still digging through the festival's more than 5,000 films to figure out what to show throughout the retrospective series:

“There may be a film by Gus Van Sant, or there may be one of the Andy Warhol films that played here, or even Devo screened their first music video here in Ann Arbor. So there’s going to be a mix of some names that are recognizable and influential, along with films that this might be one of the few places they got shown.”

George Lucas, Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol also screened some of their early works at the festival in the 1960s.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is no stranger to controversy. The film “Near the Big Chakra” reportedly provoked a riot on the streets of Ann Arbor after it was screened in 1972. (The film will be screened as part of tonight's retrospective series.)

The festival has also weathered cuts to state funding and a free speech lawsuit against the state.