Ann Arbor Film Festival | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

At one hour, the preview tape the Ann Arbor Film Festival hands to the press includes less than one-third of the venerable touring show's total running time. Yet that sampling of the fest's short documentaries, animations and experimentals suggests that, as usual, it's a safe bet for those interested in what film and video can do besides telling stories in conventional ways.


There's even a local connection to the 43rd annual festival, whose touring show screens at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room in two distinct programs. Program II includes "Don't Call Me Crazy on the Fourth of July," Richard Pell's portrait of the late Robert Lansbury, a longtime Downtown fixture whose sandwich boards warned of conspiracies to deny him his mail and of mind control via "silent radio." Pell's empathy and dogged investigations reveal not only the layers of history to this decorated Korean War veteran, but also the not-insubstantial bases for his nominal paranoia.


Program II (to be screened on video) also includes "Fish Don't Talk: A Memoir," Rick Raxlen's lovely mix of animation and home-movie footage, set to a Chet Baker tune, ruefully contrasting his experience as an 8-year-old at summer camp with his parents' simultaneous European vacation. Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi's documentary "Detail" records a quietly wrenching standoff between Israeli soldiers -- faceless inside an armored vehicle -- and some Arabs they prevent from leaving the area, even for medical reasons. And "Selective Service System Story" updates a bit of underground film history: Bill Daniels interviews Dan Lovejoy, who as a college student in 1970 was filmed shooting himself in the foot to escape the draft, the result being a cult documentary still screened today. On the lighter side is Courtney Egan's "Big Shtick," a satirical collage of appropriated footage of cine-boys from silent-era komedy kavemen and Bugs Bunny to Obi-Wan and the Terminator, each entranced by potent rods.


Program I, to be screened via 16 mm prints, has at least two standouts. Jim Trainor's "Harmony" features artfully raw line animations of various animals, whom a dispassionate voice-over bestows with human consciousness. "I mated with a man who was not my husband," thinks a songbird; Trainor's twist makes us reconsider humans by taking the same approach to them. And Emily Richardson's "Aspect" uses time-lapse photography to turn an ordinary forest -- sunlight climbing tree trunks, birches quaking in the wind -- into a place as eerily beautiful as the bottom of the sea.

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