Cinema Ann Arbor: How Campus Rebels Forged a Singular Film Culture
by Frank Uhle
| Published 06-01-2023
A FILM PROJECTOR CLICKS AND WHIRS TO LIFE, AND
AN ILLUMINATED IMAGE FLASHES BEFORE OUR EYES.
The room goes silent, and everyone is transported to a communal sensory experience that often lasts far beyond the time on screen. Before streaming subscriptions, or even the era of VHS tapes, gathering with people to view films was a mainstay of cultural life. Nowhere was this more evident than in the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the public university and its community prominently put movie-watching and movie-making at the center of artistic and intellectual activity.
Delving into almost one hundred years of rarely glimpsed history, Frank Uhle melds interviews with eighty key people, deep archival research, and over four hundred mostly unseen images into a vivid account of just how the history of motion pictures and the history of Ann Arbor—and the University of Michigan—are intertwined.
Told with the urgency and exquisite detail only available to an active, decades-long participant in Ann Arbor’s film culture, Cinema Ann Arbor uncovers unexpected and essential stories of the university’s film societies and the campus rebels who ran them. Uhle unearths firsthand accounts of arrests, protests, ripoffs, bomb threats, and other behind-the-scenes drama. He introduces readers to unforgettable people—nonconformists and artists and nerds from the Weather Underground to the Velvet Underground—who composed the magnificence of Ann Arbor’s twentieth-century film scene.
Interviewees including filmmaker Ken Burns, Oscar-nominated American Hustle editor Jay Cassidy, and Boyhood producer John Sloss provide insights into how this midwestern college town developed an underground art film community to rival any in the country. Before cable television or the internet, these student-run groups provided critical access to alternative viewpoints and cultures during some of the most turbulent decades of the past century and were often at the forefront of seismic cultural shifts. Cinema Ann Arbor reveals the authentic human struggles and triumphs of the college town revolutionaries who rolled movie cameras, occupied folding theater seats, and threaded reels in shadowy projection booths. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman says, “Frank Uhle has captured the moment when cinema became, for a new generation, a kind of religion, with its own rituals and sacred texts and a spirit of exploratory mystery that has all but vanished from the culture.”
In 2023 Cinema Ann Arbor was awarded a position on the shortlist for The Alice Award. The $25,000 Alice Award is given annually to a richly illustrated book that makes a valuable contribution to its field and demonstrates high standards of production. The authors of the books selected by the award jury for the Alice Short List each receive $5,000.