The Ann Arbor Film Festival is the oldest experimental film festival in North America. Internationally renowned as a forum for artist-made moving image art, the AAFF screens a broad range of experimental work including animation, documentary, narrative, and hybrid films. The AAFF is steeped in a rich tradition of ground-breaking cinema as thousands of filmmakers screened early work at the AAFF, including luminaries such as Kenneth Anger, Agnes Varda, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Gus Van Sant, Barbara Hammer, James Benning, Bruce Conner, Chick Strand, Les Blank, Suzan Pitt, and George Lucas.
The Ann Arbor Film Festival serves as an Academy Award®-qualifying festival in the United States for the Short Films category. The AAFF presents over $20,000 in cash awards to filmmakers in competition, as determined by the awards jury. The AAFF is highly competitive, receiving over 3,000 submissions annually from more than 60 countries. All submissions are reviewed by a minimum of 2 trained screeners, with many films watched and discussed collectively by 6 - 10 members of the festival screening team.
Each year the festival presents 100-145 shorts and 6-10 features as part of the films in competition programming. The majority of the works selected are experimental films as well as documentaries and animated films that demonstrate a high regard for the moving image as an experimental art form and are screened throughout 15-20 programs composed of experimental films from all genres; with additional competition programs dedicated to LGBTQ-themed films, Animation, and Music Videos. The AAFF is committed to high-quality exhibition of all films at the festival and presents work on 16mm, 35mm, and digital formats.
The AAFF provides additional opportunities for select filmmakers accepted into the festival. As a pioneer of the traveling film festival tour, each year a "best of" shorts program travels to more than 35 theaters, universities, museums, and art house cinemas throughout North America and internationally. Additionally, AAFF looks for opportunities to promote filmmakers and their work by holding screenings throughout the year. Filmmakers participating in additional opportunities are paid for each screening of their work.
The Ann Arbor Film Festival is committed to supporting bold, visionary independent filmmakers, advance the art form of film and new media, and engage communities with remarkable cinematic experiences.
Ken Burns Award for Best of the Festival
Presented to the film of any genre or length that best represents the artistic standards of excellence for the festival, this award is generously provided by influential documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, a graduate of Ann Arbor Pioneer High School.
Tom Berman Award for Most Promising Filmmaker
Tom Berman was a student of AAFF founder George Manupelli at the University of Michigan, as well as an early festival supporter and close friend to many in the festival community. To honor his memory, this award – contributed by the Berman family – supports an emerging filmmaker who the jury believes will make a significant contribution to the art of film.
Kodak Cinematic Vision Award
$1,500 in film stock
This award goes to the film that demonstrates the highest excellence and creativity in cinematography. The recipient will receive $1,500 in film stock from Kodak. (This includes complimentary processing should the recipient select s16 or 35mm color negative film stock).
Best Experimental Film
This award celebrates the film that most successfully showcases the use of experimental processes, forms, and topics.
Best Documentary Film
This award recognizes the best nonfiction film in the festival program.
Lawrence Kasdan Award for Best Narrative Film
Hollywood film producer and writer Lawrence Kasdan came to know Ann Arbor well during his years as a student at the University of Michigan. He keeps his connection to the town’s film culture alive in part through his support of this festival award. The distinction goes to the narrative film that makes the best use of film’s unique ability to convey striking and original stories.
Chris Frayne Award for Best Animated Film
Chris Frayne was a key participant in the festival’s early years whose approach to life called to mind his colorful cartoon characters. This award honors the spirit of Chris by recognizing the animated film that delivers the best style, creativity, and content. Support for the award comes from several dedicated AAFF enthusiasts.
Cutters Studios Archival Film Award
$1,000 in film scanning services
For the best film of the festival using a significant amount of archival film footage – including home movies and found footage – this award bestows on the recipient $1,000 in 16mm and 35mm film scanning services from Cutters Studios, an integrated media studio.
Gil Omenn Art & Science Award
Provided by Gil Omenn, who seeks to encourage a positive exchange between the arts and sciences, this award honors the filmmaker whose work best uses the art of film and video to explore scientific concepts, research natural phenomena, or embrace real-world experimentation.
Prix DeVarti for Funniest Film
Supported by an endowment fund established by the DeVarti Family, this award goes to the film likely to create the most laughs in the festival. The prize recognizes the 57-year friendship between Dominick’s pub and the AAFF and honors the memory of Dominick and Alice DeVarti.
The Barbara Aronofsky Latham Award for an Emerging Experimental Video Artist
This award provides support to the year’s most promising early-career video artist. The award was conceived by the Aronofsky family to honor the late Barbara Aronofsky Latham, a Chicago-based experimental video artist who passed away in 1984 whose work is distributed by the Video Data Bank.
The Eileen Maitland Award
Supported by several local AAFF fans, this award is given to the film that best addresses women’s issues and elevates female voices. It was created to honor the spirit and memory of Eileen Maitland, who was a dear friend and longtime supporter of the festival, as well as a patron and practitioner of the arts.
The No Violence Award
In a culture that relies on images of violence to entertain, this prize is awarded to the film that best engages or informs audiences and explores or celebrates life while also rising to the narrative challenge of “No Violence Depicted.” The award is provided by Ann Arbor residents Matthew Graff and Leslie Lawther.
The No. 1 African Film Award
This award honors the film that best speaks to the historical and contemporary experience of living and dreaming in Africa. It is provided by the generous endowment of filmmaker Amy J. Moore, long term resident of southern Africa and producer of Botswana’s The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. “It is only the story… that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather, it is the story that owns us.” - Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah.
UMCU Audience Award
Sponsored by the University of Michigan Credit Union, with additional longtime support from an anonymous friend of the festival, this award – affectionately dubbed the Vox Populi Award – goes to the year’s most highly rated audience-selected film in competition.
George Manupelli Founder’s Spirit Award
With lead support from brothers Dave and Rich DeVarti, this award recognizes the filmmaker who best captures the bold and iconoclastic spirit of the Ann Arbor Film Festival founder, the late George Manupelli, whose vision for the festival continues to this day.
Leon Speakers Award for Best Sound Design
This award for excellence and originality in sound design is provided by Leon Speakers, which has been installing custom-built high-fidelity speakers in home theaters throughout Ann Arbor since 1995.
Peter Wilde Award for Most Technically Innovative Film
Peter Wilde was a long-time projectionist for the festival and a master of special effects. This award honors his creativity and pursuit of new techniques by recognizing the film that displays the most pioneering technical innovations. Generous donors to the Peter Wilde Award Endowment Fund include Bernard Coakley, Constance Crump and Jay Simrod, Bill Davis, IATSE Local 395, the LaBour Foundation for Non-Institutional Living, John Nelson and Deb Gaydos, Glenda Pittman, Woody Sempliner, Kevin Smith, and Robert Ziebell and Elizabeth Ward. Additional support was provided by Peter Wilde’s sister and brother-in-law, Susan and Jim Warner, in loving memory of Peter and Susan’s brother, the late Alan C. Wilde.
Tíos Award for Best International Film
Granted to the film produced outside of the United States that most strongly wins over the jury, this award is provided by Tíos Mexican Café, serving Ann Arbor since 1986.
\aut\ FILM Award for Best LGBTQ Film
This award honors the film that best addresses and gives voice to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer issues. Longtime festival supporters Martin Contreras and Keith Orr, owners of the locally known and loved \aut\ BAR, contribute this award to highlight the diversity of voices that achieve excellence in filmmaking.
Overture/Wazoo Award for Best Music Video
Designed to recognize excellence in the art of music video – which stems from the special collaborative relationship between a musician and a film or video maker – this award is supported by Ann Arbor’s beloved and independently owned Wazoo Records and Overture Audio.
Provided by friends of the festival and distributed at the discretion of the jurors, the remaining prize monies confer special recognition for films of distinction and artistic accomplishment.
The Ann Arbor Film Festival is open to experimental films as well as films that demonstrate a high regard for the moving image as an experimental art form, no matter the genre. Each year the AAFF selects 100-145 shorts and features for exhibition in the awards competition portion of the festival. Films previously submitted (and not selected) may be re-entered only if there has been a significant change to the edit. Short and feature-length entries are accepted. Short films run no longer than 59 minutes. Feature films run 60 minutes or more. Entries not in English should have English subtitles. Works in progress may be submitted, but are juried in the same pool as all other submissions. Later versions of a film may be reviewed and/or selected at the programmer's discretion. Work must be contemporary (completed within the last three years). Entry fees are per film entered, and must accompany the entry form for confirmation. Entry fees are non-refundable.
The Ann Arbor Film Festival does not give waivers or discounts.
Entries are accepted via secure online screening and 16mm only. We do not accept DVD, VHS or video data files for screening purposes.
If you would like the festival to preview a 16mm print of your film, please contact the festival directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to make arrangements.
Please review the following postmark deadlines carefully.
Early Deadline - July 31, 2021
Official Deadline - August 31, 2021
Late Deadline - October 15, 2021