The AAFF Funding Controversy

The Ann Arbor Film Festival has recently had its state funding cut due to screening films that some state legislators and special interest groups are deeming too controversial; in fact the word “pornographic” was used to describe some of our content.  We at the AAFF find this very interesting, especially since many of the named films being accused as being pornographic do not contain any sexual content.

So what is this all about?

There are special interest groups that believe the arts should not receive government funding.  In other words, they would like to use the funding that designated for the arts for something else.  Earlier this year, an essay written by the Mackinac Center stated that taxpayers’ dollars should not go to the arts in Michigan.  Then the essay goes on to name several films from the Ann Arbor Film Festival.  You can read the essay here.

After this report circulated with state legislators, past and future state funding for the Ann Arbor Film Festival was threatened as a result of a few legislators publicly stating that the state government is funding “pornography.”  Next, some legislators created a political grandstanding that the state will not fund pornography.  Pulling our funding was part of this grandstanding, and there were immediate attempts to tighten the boiler-plate language for the restrictions that are placed on Michigan artists who apply for state-subsidized support.

The AAFF is not in the business of exhibiting pornography, and every artist who was named in this report is in unanimous support of the festival’s stand on the issue.

Compared to the rest of the United States, Michigan has some of the most restrictive language for artists who would like to receive state grants for their work.  After this controversy began, boiler plate language was tightened even more.  

In the state of Michigan, artists’ content must follow 3 guidelines with their content in order to receive state grants for their projects:

(1) No human waste on religious symbols.
(2) No desecration of the flag.
(3) No depictions of sex acts.

The legislators who do not support the festival believe that the AAFF violated the 3rd guideline on sex acts.

Also, keep this interesting fact in mind – the word pornography has no legal definition.  What is also interesting is that no one will give us definitive parameters on what exactly “no depictions of sex acts” means.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival has contacted most of the named filmmakers in the essay, and they are in unanimous support of the AAFF.  Every filmmaker, performer and artist whose work was used against the AAFF and the arts is deeply upset that their work has been misinterpreted in this context.

So what is next?  All kinds of fun!  So as this issue progresses, we hope that you’ll have your support and attention to this very important matter.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival board of directors has unanimously decided to forego state funding to maintain artistic integrity for its exhibiting filmmakers.  The AAFF has received funding by the state of Michigan for over 10 years, and never before has the state of Michigan raised issue on the content of the AAFF.  Never have we altered our content.  And it is an election year… so you do the math.

Though those three guidelines against sexual content, flag desecration and human waste on religious symbols have existed for several years, the NEW Ann Arbor Film Festival (we have a new director and a new and revitalized board of directors) does not want to comply with these restrictions on content because we are an international festival that likes to celebrate and practice our 1st Amendment rights.

Besides our appreciation for the freedom of speech, the Ann Arbor Film Festival brings major economic benefits and increases cultural tourism for the state of Michigan.  Learn more about the cultural benefits that the AAFF brings to Michigan here.

There are many ways to support the AAFF.  Become a member, attend our fundraising events, make an online donation (by simply clicking the “Make A Donation” button at the top-right side of this page), or simply volunteer your time.  Your support is appreciated, and is for a wonderful cause.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is the oldest festival in North America that showcases independent and experimental film.  We are a non-partisan festival that was created as an alternative to mainstream media, and celebrates film as an art form, not just as entertainment.  We proudly exhibit work that challenges ideals, pushes techniques and styles in artistic expression, and showcase and celebrate counter cultures from around the world.  It is a shame that we find ourselves in this situation.

But that doesn’t mean we have to stand for it.  Please support the festival today.