AAFFIf you’re a fan of independent films, then you’ve likely already heard of, or even attended the Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF), in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Now in it’s 49th year, the 6-day festival is internationally-recognized and was chosen by Variety Magazine as one of “10 Film Festivals We Love”.

Every year they showcase films of all types by independent filmmakers and artists from over 20 countries, in order to “engage audiences with remarkable cinematic experiences”. But what I didn’t know until recently is that their audiences aren’t limited just to adults.

This year’s Festival will run from March 22 until March 27th and films will be shown at a dozen different venues – including several locations in the historic Michigan Theater. On Saturday, March 26th, the theater will host a special event, aimed particularly at families and kids (ages 6 and over), called Safe As Milk.

This event will showcase 7 films that explore the sensory side of cinema and are considered family-friendly, even though they may not be specifically aimed at children. Some of the films are animated – some are not. But each of them were considered worthy to be selected out of the thousands of submissions that the Festival receives every year, and were also specifically chosen as well to be ‘Safe As Milk’.

ReadingtoGirlsI recently had the opportunity to chat with AAFF Executive Director, Donald Harrison, about the Safe As Milk event and how the Festival is looking to expand and open kids’ minds to new and different experiences through these types of films. In the spirit of full disclosure, he also happens to be my brother – and it wasn’t so much of a  chat as a quick e-mail back and forth because this is his busiest time of year, leading up to the Festival’s start. But I have chatted with him about this subject on several occasions as well – it’s something that’s important to both of us, because we didn’t have a particularly varied cultural upbringing ourselves. And both of us want to see other kids have chances for those types of experiences whenever possible.

Have kid-friendly events been part of the Film Festival in previous years? If not, what prompted the change to add the Safe As Milk event this year?

We started offering a family-friendly program four years ago, involving the Ann Arbor District Library as a community partner. It was popular right away, as many parents want to introduce their children to film as an art form and not just show them movies for commercial or entertainment purposes. We have improved the program each year and the audience has continued to grow. This year our community partners are the library and FestiFools, which will bring a sneak preview of their large handmade puppets to the program’s introduction.

How were the films chosen to include in the Safe As Milk event? Were these films created specifically with kids in mind as the audience?

These films were selected from the 2,500 entries we received from around the world for consideration in this year’s festival. We are always looking for great films that will be engaging for anyone from the ages of 6 to 100. Often these are animated and strong visually, which is evident in this year’s program. We seek to challenge and reward our audiences with remarkable cinema. We actually do a test screening with some local parents and their kids during our final selection process to make sure we strike a good balance. This program is not just for kids, but will hopefully engage across all generations.

Why do you think it’s important to expose kids to different forms of cultural experiences such as these types of films?

We find that the discussions about the films are incredibly valuable. So whether or not the parent and the kid like every film, which we don’t expect, they will likely think about these films and talk about them for days or weeks or years. That’s a quality we look for when selecting films for our festival.

I’m excited to be taking my older girls to experience Safe As Milk for ourselves this year, and can’t wait to see what their reactions are. Not just to the films themselves, but also the opportunity to view them inside a theater that’s full of beautiful architecture and history as well. And I’m looking forward to some interesting discussion during the 2-hour road trip back home afterward!

For more information or to plan your own film festival experience this year, you can visit the Ann Arbor Film Festival’s website at http://www.aafilmfest.org, follow them on Twitter or Facebook, or check highlights and samples on YouTube.

Deb writes as West Michigan TravelingMom as well as at Mom of 3 Girls and Just a mom’s take on things…. You can also find her on Twitter – she’s @DebMomOf3.