As more and more mainstream films make it their mission to deliver as much eye-popping spectacle per second as humanly possible, it’s refreshing to see a movie that actually asks its audience to wait. That’s a common thread running through several films screening at the 53rd Ann Arbor Film Festival, which both ask for and thoroughly reward viewers’ patience.
One of this year’s most striking examples is Maidan, a 2014 documentary about the Ukrainian Euromaidan protests of 2013 and 2014, which premiered last year at the Cannes Film Festival. Director Sergei Loznitsa charts the course of civil unrest in Kiev’s Maidan Square with what at first seems a cold and impartial eye, rarely focusing on individuals and instead shooting crowds in lengthy static shots. But as the action slowly moves from quiet civil disobedience to explosive clashes with police to solemn mourning for fallen protesters, Loznitsa’s focus becomes clear. The director’s interest is in how these individuals come together as a single body, and by the end of the film it’s impossible to deny the humanity and sympathy with which he regards them. Maidan, which screens March 29, is a strikingly artistic frontline document of a still-fresh event.
Two shorts screening in competition this year also use the wait to differing effects. Scott Cummings’ Buffalo Juggalos offers a dialogue-less portrait of life in Buffalo, NY, for members of the subculture of Insane Clown Posse fans known as “Juggalos.” Although the FBI controversially classified the clown makeup-wearing fans as a criminal gang in 2011, Cummings draws us in by encouraging us to see the Juggalos as entirely ordinary. He films various Juggalos in placid, unhurried portrait shots as they stare directly into the camera. Two Juggalos stand by a swing set while their clown-painted children swing; another mows the lawn while wearing a shirt reading “I’m a Juggalo, not a gang member.” With a slow and hallucinatory grace, Cummings ushers us into some more shocking scenes of Juggalo life, dropping in moments of surprising violence and sexual explicitness. But Cummings is clever in first leading us to identify with his subjects at length, allowing us to make a more well-informed–and perhaps more sympathetic–judgment on some of their more outlandish behavior. Buffalo Juggalos screens March 28.
Also among this year’s shorts is director Yuri Ancarani’s San Siro (screening date TBA as of press time), perhaps the most unsettling film you’ll see this year about a football stadium. Ancarani slowly chronicles the buildup to a football game in Milan’s San Siro stadium, but not the game itself. We see faceless, yellow-cloaked workers preparing barricades outside the arena; beret-clad police swaggering around the empty bleachers as pigeons scatter; and eventually masses of fans working their way ant-like through the undulating curves of the building’s architecture. By the time the athletes enter the bowels of the stadium in eerie, god-like fashion at film’s end, Ancarani has not only encouraged us to wait but given us a film that is itself about the wait–the anticipation and preparation before the game, the ritual before the ritual. And in his hands that ritual is dark, solemn, almost desperate–a ceremony clung to rather than truly celebrated. It’s a far cry from “Go Blue,” but, like some of its fellow AAFF selections, San Siro’s alternate perspective is fascinating and well worth the attention it demands. The festival runs March 24-29.