Becca Keating, the former Director of Development at the Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF), has spent the past several days driving across the country with the intention of transforming herself into an Angeleno. Following is our exit interview, conducted as she adjusted to life in a world with sunshine.
MARK: Let’s start with where you’re from, and what brought you to Ann Arbor. Based on what I can glean from Facebook, it looks like you were born in Ohio… is that correct?
BECCA: Yes, I’m from Ohio. I grew up in the Toledo area and, like so many Ohioans, I headed North to Michigan for college. After college was over, I traveled to a few different places, but ultimately ended up staying in Ann Arbor for convenience, friends, a job, and — it’s cliché — but of course there was a boy… there’s always a boy.
MARK: Most recently, you were the Director of Development at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. How did you come to have that job, and how would you describe the experience?
BECCA: I got the job through volunteering my time. I wanted to be involved with film festivals and I was really interested in the avant-garde, but didn’t really have an access point in Michigan, so the Festival made sense. Thus, I began volunteering in 2007 and, eventually, in 2009, I convinced them to hire me full-time.
My time with the Festival has been the best I have ever experienced. My co-workers, David Dinnell and Maria Feldman, are two of my most favorite people, and the AAFF board is comprised of some of Ann Arbor’s finest. I’m grateful for my time with this amazing organization – I’m truly lucky to have been involved.
MARK: And, now, you’re going to be moving to Los Angeles… Given your background at the AAFF, would I be right to assume that you’re going to, in some way, be working in the film industry?
BECCA: Ha, that would make sense, but no, I’m not working in the film industry. I’ve received and accepted a job offer as the Assistant Director of Annual Giving at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. That being said, I’m looking forward to helping (in a volunteer capacity) with some avant-garde film organizations in L.A. I’m interested in creating more of a work/life separation while here.
MARK: Any plans to volunteer gluing flowers to floats for the Rose Parade?
BECCA: No plans as of yet, but you just never know.
MARK: I was just kidding when I asked, but wouldn’t an avant-garde float be cool? Just imagine a float with a giant dissected eyeball commemorating Un Chien Andalou… Please make this happen… I know David Lynch and others would contribute.
BECCA: I’ll see what I can do.
MARK: As for the AAFF, this has been a year of transition. After overseeing last year’s big 50th anniversary festivities, Donald Harrison stepped down as Executive Director to work on his own film projects, and, from what I understand, a decision was made to continue this season with a slightly different model. As I know you’re still working with the board, and assisting in the transition, I was wondering if you could give us a sense of how things will be different during the 51st annual AAFF, which starts in about 12 weeks. What do people have to look forward to?
BECCA: TONS! The 51st Festival will be the fourth that Program Director David Dinnell has programmed, so the changes with Donald leaving have more to do with organizational behind-the-scenes stuff, and the public face of the festival, and much less with the programming. All of that is to say you’re going to see a lot of really great films over the six days.
Opening Night is always magical, everyone comes out for the party and the films, and it’s a true signifier of spring for the community, in my opinion. Marcin Gizycki, a juror for the 51st AAFF, will present two programs of rare of Polish Animation from the 1950s to present day; these programs are NOT to be missed especially because one of them will be FREE. Kevin Jerome Everson and Laida Lertxundi will each also present a free program of their respective films as part of their juror screenings – they were both featured in the 2012 Whitney Biennial, and Everson just received the Alpert award… nobigdealoranything. Ken Burns returns to Ann Arbor for this year’s festival, presenting his new feature documentary The Central Park Five, and partaking in a panel discussion following the film. Long time filmmaker and artist Pat O’Neill returns to the AAFF for a two program partial retrospective, and animator Suzan Pitt will be in attendance for a retrospective of her films as well.
MARK: As I’m sure you know, Governor Snyder, just a few days after Christmas, signed a package of bills which will make it increasingly difficult for women to access reproductive health care in Michigan. I’m curious, as a young woman, if things like this make it easier for you to leave the state.
BECCA: Young woman, that sounds so nice! Thanks, Mark. Women’s reproductive health rights are about the only thing that makes me get on the proverbial soapbox. The fact that it’s 2013 and we’re still dealing with issues such as these in the state of Michigan astonishes me. I was deeply saddened to learn of the signing of these bills, and I must be honest, I really did feel a bit of, ‘well, at least I’m out of here’. That being said, I will continue to speak out for Michigan’s women and women everywhere who are denied reproductive health rights. Michigan’s women need women and men everywhere speaking up for them to strike down this backwards legislation.
MARK: It’s been about a dozen years since I’ve lived in Los Angles, so I don’t imagine that my recommendations will be of much use, but there’s a little breakfast place in Burbank called Barron’s that I absolutely loved. The owners opened it right after WWII, and it was probably the place in Los Angeles that I felt the most at home. (It was like eating in your grandmother’s living room… And by “your grandmother,” I mean mine. I have no idea what your grandmother’s living room was like. My research into your life was not that extensive.) Their food was incredible, and they were super nice. If I’m not mistaken, among other things, they made the pies for Twin Peaks. And none of their silverware, plates and mugs matched… Damn. I just checked, and word is that Baron’s burned down in 2001. So, I guess you’re on your own. Hopefully you can find a place where you feel at home… Speaking of which, how much time have you spent in LA?… I guess that’s my nice way of asking if you know what you’re getting yourself into…
BECCA: Over the past 9 months, I’ve been coming to L.A. at least once a month, for a minimum of 3 days each visit. So about a month total, I guess. I feel good about the time I’ve spent here already. As soon as I started visiting, I knew this is where I needed to be. The people I know here are inspiring, creative beings living in paradise – I’m aiming high, but I hope I can join them. There is a vibrant contemporary arts community here, not to mention the tons of film screenings and artist talks, parks with trails, the ocean, and the desert. Did I mention the weather? It’s awesome. Yeah, you have to drive, but everywhere you live there’s something. And in fact L.A. has a great metro system that I plan to take to work most days.
MARK: What are your long-term goals?
BECCA: My long-term goals are to be happy, to have peace of mind, and to be self-aware.
MARK: Try to stay away from Scientology, OK? Unless, of course, you are a Scientologist, in which case I apologize for my comment.
BECCA: I’m not interesting enough to be a Scientologist, but I’ll do my best to stay away.
MARK: What will you miss the most about Ann Arbor?
BECCA: The people, the sense of strong community, and the ability to make a real, marked difference.
MARK: I’m not sure about this, but Linette tells me that, before you lived in Ann Arbor, you lived in Ypsilanti. I’m curious as to where you lived, and how young you were at the time… Was it a positive experience?
BECCA: Yes! I lived on Michigan Avenue and Adams in Ypsilanti from the ages of 19 to 21 (or thereabouts… the years/ages all blur together these days). That was before the Wolverine Cafe closed down. I lived above the party store next to the cafe. It was great; my “loft” was my sanctuary. I’m sorry to say, at the time I was working in Ann Arbor at Liberty Street Video, Campus Video, and Village Corner, and all of my friends lived in Ann Arbor, so I spent little time being social in Ypsi. I liked that it was my place to sneak away to when things got too stressful for me in Ann Arbor. Ypsi was great to me and I will always remember that.
MARK: Were you at Liberty Street when Laura Abraham still owned it? If so, can you tell me something awful about her? I’ve got a pretty long list of anecdotes already, but there’s always room for more… I’m thinking about a screenplay.
BECCA: Oh LAURA!! I miss her so much. Yes, Laura gave me my job, which solidified my Ann Arbor townie title as The Liberty Street Video Girl for years. Honestly, I have nothing awful to say about Laura, and I’m really wracking my brain to think of SOMETHING! Once an employee taped the eyes from the caricature of Laura that was used for her column in The Ann Arbor Paper all over Campus and Liberty Street with the text “Laura is watching” underneath. I thought that was fitting.
For real though, Laura is amazing and I hope to be like her when I grow up.
MARK: Do you have any good porn rental anecdotes… either involving Laura, or not?
BECCA: None involving Laura that I can tell as my own. However, once there was a guy who gave my co-worker and me a piece of leftover tiramisu from Gratzi as he entered the store. We thought this was fantastic! What a nice guy. Next thing we know, he’s gone to the back and returned with 6 porn films between his two palms, all stacked in a row. He hadn’t even looked at the titles – just grabbed 6 sequential films from the straight porn section for the 666 deal (6 movies for 6 days for $6.66). Upon seeing him return to the counter, I immediately spit out the bite of tiramisu that was in my mouth.
MARK: That would have been a great incentive to run with Gratzi – “Rent Six Hardcore Features, Get Tiramisu.” …So, how was the trip across the country? Did you see anything cool? Did you stop at the UFO museum in Roswell? I remember that being somewhat interesting. I also remember being a lot more impressed by the Grand Canyon than I thought that I would be.
BECCA: OMG, for real! The Grand Canyon is completely dumbfounding. I couldn’t believe what a strong reaction I had to seeing it for the first time. Seriously, I almost cried. We made it there just before sunset and watched the sun go down. All and all the trip was a total success! I even got to see a longtime Ann Arbor friend who moved to Arizona on the way. We didn’t make many stops except to see a few Route 66 landmarks and the Grand Canyon.
MARK: Any parting thoughts for the people of Michigan?
BECCA: Be good to each other and spend more time outside!
[note: The rest of our Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interviews can be found here.]
update: Speaking of the the Ann Arbor Film Festival, they just announced that they’re looking for a new Executive Director… And the 51st annual festival begins at the Michigan Theater on March 19.