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Exhibit | Cinema Ann Arbor: Film Societies, Film Festivals, and Filmmaking in the Analog Era


Wednesday March 1, 2023: 10:00am to Sunday April 16, 2023: 8:00pm


Downtown Library: Lower Level Display Cases


From the 1930s through the 1990s Ann Arbor was home to a vibrant alternative/art/experimental film

Ann Arbor Film Coop film schedule
Ann Arbor Film Cooperative 1979 Film Schedule

scene, led by University of Michigan student film societies. Before home video and cable movie channels caused their demise, they offered Hollywood and foreign classics, curated series, and regional premieres year-round, sometimes seven nights per week. The societies also brought guests like Frank Capra, Jean-Luc Godard, Maya Deren, Robert Altman, and Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground to town; helped launch internationally-renowned festivals dedicated to 8 and 16 mm experimental films; supported local filmmakers with equipment and screenings; and served as a film school for future notables like Ken Burns, Lawrence Kasdan, Owen Gleiberman, and Michael Moore. 

All of this happened with minimal support or oversight from the university, and the societies’ cutting-edge programming sometimes got them in trouble. In 1967 four Cinema Guild members were arrested by Ann Arbor police for showing the “obscene” short Flaming Creatures, and there were protests and even bomb threats over screenings of the racist The Birth of a Nation; the gay-stereotyping The Boys in the Band; and the pope-condemned Hail Mary.

In this exhibit, vintage flyers, photos, film schedules and memorabilia trace how Ann Arbor became "one of the most cinematically saturated communities in the country," in the words of critic Leonard Maltin. The exhibit draws from material collected for the forthcoming Fifth Avenue Press / University of Michigan Press book Cinema Ann Arbor by Frank Uhle, who will also lead a panel discussion on the topic at the Ann Arbor Film Festival on Friday, March 24.