CalArtians Honored at Ann Arbor Film Festival

Adapting to the current health crisis, the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival screened as a free, live-streamed six-day event from Tuesday, March 24 to Sunday, March 29.

This online version of North America’s longest-running avant-garde and experimental film fest recognized three School of Film/Video alumni. Sean Buckelew’s (Film/Video MFA 14) “I’m Not A Robot,” was awarded the Prix DeVarti for Funniest Film. Danski Tang (Film/Video MFA 19) received The Eileen Maitland Award for “Umbilical,” and the Tíos Award for Best International Film went to Rajee Samarasinghe (Film/Video MFA 16) for “The Eyes of Summer.”

Still from Sean Buckelew’s (Film/Video MFA 14) “I’m Not a Robot”

In “I’m Not A Robot,” Buckelew recalls how he tried to sign up for an online account, only to discover that our fear of technology is based on a reflection of our own cruel, morally compromised, and violent behavior. Screened at the Ottawa Film Festival, the festival website described “I’m Not A Robot” as “a fun take on the mundane nightmare of the neverending CAPTCHA, beginning with asking the user to identify objective standards (fire hydrants, cars) before spiraling into value judgements (ugly people) and existential dread (sadness).” 

A member of the online collective Late Night Work Club, Buckelew is co-host of the podcast Movie Buddies, and programmer/curator at the GLAS Animation Festival. His work has screened in numerous festivals and he was the recipient of a 2019 Guggenheim Fellowship and the Art Directors Club (ADC) Young Guns Award.

Exploring primal connections between mother and child, Tang’s “Umbilical,” was previously awarded the Pardino d’argento SRG SSR for International Competition at the 72nd annual Locarno Film Festival. On the festival website, she describes its inspiration: “This piece explores how my mother’s abusive marriage shaped my experiences in boarding school in China. Our shared desire for normalcy has been constantly at odds with the realities that surround us.”

Tang, a Chinese-born and LA-based interdisciplinary artist, uses animation as a means to investigate themes of gender, sexuality, cultural indoctrination, and body politics. Her works have been screened at such festivals as the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, Hiroshima International Animation Festival, and Krok International Animated Film Festival. 

Hovering between horror fiction and “spectral” ethnography, Samarasinghe’s “The Eyes of Summer” was shot in the filmmaker’s mother’s village in southern Sri Lanka in 2010, immediately after the civil war. Together with family members, he developed an improvised story around a shy girl who becomes friends with a spirit, based on similar encounters from his mother’s childhood. 

Samarasinghe’s debut, the short film 01.39411.999 won a Jury Award at the Sidney Underground Film Festival. In 2017, his short film “If I Were Any Further Away I’d Be Closer to Home” won the Film House Award for visionary filmmaking at the Athens International Film and Video Festival.

See full awards list here.

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