10 min readMay 2, 2021


Bandying About Strange Questions at the Ann Arbor Film Festival by Gerry Fialka

Bandying About Strange Questions at the Ann Arbor Film Festival by Gerry Fialka

“Don’t sell out, sneak in.” — Reverend Al, Flipside Magazine

“The role of the artist is to attempt to sell out, but fail.” — Fellow Michigander filmmaker/writer Paul Schrader

My new book Strange Questions: Experimental Film as Conversation offers insights into moving image art — its creative processes, formative influences, and hidden psychic effects — through conversations with notables in avant-garde cinema, including Ann Arbor Film Festival (=AAFF) founder George Manupelli.

I discussed the book at the 2021 Ann Arbor Film Festival in the Film Art Forum, but failed. You can experience the 6 minute presentation entitled “Gerry Fialka Moving Image Probe2 Ann Arbor Film Festival”

But I have hope due to recent words from another interviewee, the preeminent giant of film studies and art history, Gene Youngblood, author of Expanded Cinema. He passed in early April. “Gerry, Thanks so much for your book! I feel honored to be in it with so many friends. You are indeed an interviewer extraordinaire, which means this is more like a book of conversations, not mere interviews, about films brilliantly framed as conversations. The word does share the same root as ‘living together,’ and that root is precisely ‘to turn around together.’ We are our conversations.”

Since some consider my questions, not only strange, but also “stupid,” I carry on. Aren’t all questions inherently an act of not-knowing? The paradox lies in the goal of unlearning all you know, and seeing the unseen with new eyes. Embracing contradictions? Can protocol take precedent over procedure with passion and purpose by inventing new questions?

Frank Zappa advocated: “Stupidity is The Basic Building Block of The Universe.” Dialogue is anything you can get away with. Like Marshall McLuhan, are we turning on the alarm, not starting the fire? I welcome fiery discussions. They can be alarming!

Please support the “living togetherness” of the oldest experimental film festival =


Here is the unedited transcription of “Gerry Fialka Moving Image Probe2” -

Hello Global Theater. Big thanks to Leslie Raymond, Angela Lenhardt, Chelsea O’Hayer and all the Ann Arbor Film Festival family. Everything I don’t say, I meant to say. “I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste,” yelped Marcel Duchamp, who ruined art and cinema. Boy, did we need that! I dreamt at an after-party, the Once Group was presaging the AAFF, when Nico (who attended years ago with Andy Warhol) asked Marcel, “What do you do?” Duchamp (0) quipped, “I’m a breather.”

So let’s consciously conspire and take in a deep breath . . . 1–2–3 . . . and release. Ahhh. In this “Media Yoga Session,” we can consciously uncover the hidden psychic effects of experimental cinema and film festivals. We are the antennae of the race broadcasting the unintended consequences so we can cope with what we do not like about them. Turn rejections into redirections, and weaknesses into strengths.

Let us honor our ancestors and elders — those who have baffled the bardos and recently transitioned to the Michigan Theater in Heaven. Especially tune into Blue Gene Tyranny, who played piano for Pat Oleszko’s live-cinema performances many times. He was a true blue experimentalist, once submitting fish hooks taped to celluloid. He hired Iggy Pop as a drummer, way before Iggy’s band the Stooges made history. They were so bad imitating the Rolling Stones, they invented “punk rock,” literally flipping breakdown into break through. The AAFF astonished me a few years ago showing Ivan Kral’s (another icon who passed recently) home movies of Iggy performing. It was projected on the big screen with no sound, reverberating Thelonious Monk’s “Silence is the loudest sound in the universe.”

I am serious about being non-serious. Be Hear Now!!! Our time together — right now — was intended to be interactive with eye contact and verbal exchange, but the virtual is signalling. So raise my hand if you have telekinetic powers. Ask me how to satirize the information overload by staring at your laptop in a semi-catatonic state for daze, and dreaming of films that would irritate screening committees . . . for the last 59 years. I have been involved for 50 years (1) Yikes!

Jonathan Swift compared satire to a mirror in which people could see every face but their own. Menippean satire may even cause people to think. Please fill in the blank:

“I don’t know what I think until I ………………….” (email me your answer to

McLuhan said, “I don’t know what I think until I’ve said it.”

Joan Didion stated, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”

Walter Benjamin loved to mock George Duhamel, who said “I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images.”

But Francine du Plessix Gary recalled: “Flannery O’Connor (who taught her chickens how to walk backwards) said it best, ‘I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.’”

The Marx Brothers were in a jam. “We got to think,” urged Zeppo, to which Chico objected, “Nah, we already tried dat.”

George Clinton sings, “Think, it ain’t illegal yet.”

Captain Beefheart uttered, “I’ve had too much to think.”

Bridgett Bardot declared, “I don’t think when I make love.”

Love? How do you integrate thinking with emotions, intuition and feelings? Poe invented the detective novel — reasoning backwards and effects precede causes. He spawned the Symbolists like Mallarme, who exhorted, “Don’t paint the thing, paint the effect it produces.”

Why do I return to this great festival every year? To find truth? “I have always been on the side of those who seek the truth, but I part ways with them when they think they have found it.” — Luis Bunuel, who countered, “Thank God, I’m an atheist.” Ask me about ecstatic truth (2). Louie Louie said about his film The Exterminating Angel that “its images, like the images in a dream, do not reflect reality, but create it.” Oops! Then Chris Marker created “essay films” and built a museum without walls in the sunless sky of Second Life.

Let us also honor Lawrence Monsanto Ferlinghetti, who cracked, “As a poet, I don’t deal in reality.” T.S. Eliot said poetry is outing your inner dialogue. When I asked the amazing experimental filmmaker Abigail Child, “What language is your inner dialogue in?” She responded, “I wish I knew.” Wondrous words indeedy do.

We can invent new myths, new metaphors and new questions (3). Flip cliches into archetypes. Nurture nuance culture (4). Epiphanies in everydayness. Epiphanies in every-Zoom-ness. Cinema started about 140 years ago, the internet about 38 years. Bellowing betwixt and between is the Ann Arbor Film Festival — celebrating 59 years! Bravo!

Kudos to George Manupelli for starting the AAFF in 1963. Like McLuhan, James Joyce and Zappa, he teased us that his percepts were concepts, and embraced contradictions, like Frank yapped, “Nothing is what I want.”

“I got the kind of madness Socrates talked about, ‘A divine release of the soul from the yoke of custom and convention.’ I refuse to be intimidated by reality anymore. After all, what is reality anyway? Nothin’ but a collective hunch.” — “Trudy,” played by Lily Tomlin, written by Jane Wagner.

What humanness does the moving image camera extend? The answers I often hear: the eye, memory, consciousness. Welly, well, well, McLuhan said it extends the foot. “Where the hand of man never set foot” — James Joyce. Sleepwalk on that magic carpet to otherness and beyond. Harry Smith declared we invented cinema to put us to sleep. Awake all you Finnegans!!!

(Flip laptop upside down) Andrew Noren is quoted in P. Adams Sitney’s book Eyes Upside Down: “We invented cinema deliberately as a devise to allow us to dream while waking.” Aristotle: “To think is to speculate with images.”

McCLUEhand (tv is tactile) howled, “Communication of the NEW is a miracle, but not impossible.” Thank you.


“Let us pry” and explore more — please email me your answers to the following questions:

1= If you were an experimental film, what would be your subject matter?

2= How would you want your audience to feel? What effect are you after?

3= What have you learned from experimental films that you didn’t already know?

4= AAFF Founder George Manupelli said “The things you think you can do are the things you can do the best of all.” …and… “Anything worth doing well isn’t’ worth doing at all.” Any comments ?

5= George asked Paul Gauguin’s questions: “Where have we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” Any responses?

6=You are making a documentary, which do you mostly pursue:

a- fly on the wall

b- fly in the soup

c- on the fly

7=What is the function of (cinema) moving image art?

8=What humanness is extended by the moving image camera?

9=Is perception reality?

10=Is Zoom real?

11=What question regarding moving image remains unresolved for you?

12=What is the mystery of art?

13=What are the hidden psyche effects of online film festivals?

Please check out my new film/philosophy book:

Strange Questions: Experimental Film as Conversation More info:

“Drop this jiggery-pokery and talk straight turkey” — McLuhan’s 12 inch album The Medium is The Massage (quoting Finnegans Wake by James Joyce)

Do your own Tetrad on the ANN ARBOR FILM FESTIVAL and send it to me

1) What does the Ann Arbor Film Festival enhance or intensify?

2) What does AAFF render obsolete or replace?

3) What does AAFF bring back that was previously obsolesced?

4) What does AAFF become when pressed to an extreme, what does it flip into?

From Marshall & Eric McLuhan’s Laws of Media — The New Science (1990). Add a fifth question!

Gerry Fialka welcomes feedback and feedforward

Visit: and dance. Phew!

Watch: Moving Image Probe (15 minutes 2020) Fialka’s short film explores all of the above:

program notes:

Gerry Fialka’s frank essay “Film Fest Fugue” on the Ann Arbor Film Festival 2020

Frank-ness is in town! Frank Zappa described his 1969 album Hot Rats as “a movie for your ears.” Captain Beefheart expanded it: “I use music to sculpt thought.”

Gerry’s essay on Craig Baldwin is due in a new book soon —

Lots of new Fialka interviews =


0= Watch “In Advance of A Rejected Film” by Gerry Fialka

1= Gerry Fialka has attended the Ann Arbor Film Festival (started in 1963) since 1971 over 30 times. Fialka served on the AAFF Screening Committee from 1977 to 1980.

Fialka has presented workshops:

* 2001 — “Best Of PXL THIS” workshop & screening of Pixelvision Fisher Price PXL2000 Toy Camera Festival, and produced the performance art piece “Moon Over Weeki Wachee” with Suzy Williams and the after party with Stormin’ Norman & Suzy

* 2006 — Three different workshops on Documentaries, Culture Jamming and Experimental Film

* 2007 — “AAFF Pioneers” workshop

* 2008- Two different workshops: “AAFF Innovators” & “Kick Out The Jams” on live music at the AAFF

* 2009 — “AAFF Pioneers” workshop

* 2010 — “Dream Awake” workshop on James Joyce & Experimental Film

* 2013 — “Rooted Not Retro” — Fialka moderated the panel on AAFF history & issues — present & future with Leslie Raymond, Pat Oleszko & Ruth Bradley

* 2015 — “Dr Chicago As AAFF” — Expanding Frames workshop

* 2016 — PechaKucha presentation — “Moving Image Probe Zero”

* 2017 — PechaKucha presentation — “Moving Image Probe One”

* 2018 — “Experimental Film as Psychogeography” — Off the Screen!

* 2020 — (scheduled for a Film Art Forum presentation, but canceled due to Covid)

* 2021 — Film Art Forum — “Moving Image Probe 2”

ALSO: Gerry Fialka ran the infamous Ann Arbor Film Co-op from 1972 to 1980. He was the Ann Arbor 8mm Film Festival Director from 1977–80, and on the 8mm Screening Committee from 1975–80. He has curated film in LA since 1980, earning praise: “Gerry Fialka is Los Angeles’ preeminent underground film curator.” — Robin Menken,


In 1972, I screened the US premier of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God in Ann Arbor, as noted in Frank Uhle’s upcoming book entitled Cinema Ann Arbor. (My first ever feature film booking as a curator was the influential documentary Hearts and Minds by Peter Davis). Herzog discusses his own quest for “ecstatic truth” causing mystical revelations. His sense of wonder is illustrated by Rachael Carson’s descriptions of transcendent encounters with fireflies in her groundbreaking book Silent Spring in 1962. Similarly, these inspired and inspiring eye-openers occur often at the AAFF, almost creating a grand unimagined theory.

List-making can be useful. Herzog also articulates the “emotional truth” of Ken Burns causing tears, and the “physical truth” of Michael Moore causing belly laughs. I expand these truth-telling theories to include the “unnameable truths and epiphanies” caused by Chris Marker, Fred Wiseman, Agnes Varda, Craig Baldwin and many others. Bill Nichols Introduction to Documentary (2001) divides docs into six categories: 1=Poetic, 2=Expository, 3=Observational, 4=Participatory, 5=Reflexive, 6=Performative.


Pablo Picasso stated that, “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” Consult with Alfred E Newman in Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions — Mad Magazine paperback by Al Jaffe, 1968.


“I am ready to cancel all culture.” — satellite conductor Will Erokan. “Culture is Our Business” — McLuhan. How can we engage collective action and empathy to probe culture “consciousness raising” ? How can we flip (and satirize?) the pervasive hyper-stimulation of modern digital life’s “electro-libidinal parasites” (as Mark Fisher called iPhones)? How can we reimagine zooming six feet distancing with its overtones and interfaces?

“The most human thing about us is our technology.” -McLuhan.

Paraphrasing Theodore Sturgeon in his 1953 book More Than Human: “The most human thing about anyone is a thing they learn and … and earn. It’s a thing they can’t have when they are very young; if they get it at all, they get it after a long search and a deep conviction. After that, it’s truly part of them as long as they live.”


I welcome your input.
Thank you,
Gerry Fialka 310–306–7330