Donald Harrison to launch FUSE: Mobile Microcinema series with A2Awesome grant


A few days ago, the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation handed over $1,000 in cash to local filmmaker Donald Harrison, who had applied for a grant in order to launch a new local film series. After our meeting, I took the opportunity to ask ask Donald a few questions about the local film scene, and his plans for FUSE: Mobile Microcinema

MARK: So, what can you tell us about FUSE?

DONALD: Well, first off, thanks to A2 Awesome Foundation for the support to launch this series. Over the dozen years I’ve been making, screening and supporting independent films, I’ve gained a good sense for this landscape and a bad case of adventurous ideas. I view FUSE as a screening test lab, where we strip away many of the rules, expand our thinking, and focus on what’s fun, surprising and truly engaging in the realm of watching films together.

MARK: Would I be right to assume that this new series of yours is, as least to some extent, informed by your experience at the Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF), where, up until somewhat recently, you served as Director?

DONALD: My experiences with the AAFF certainly helped inspire my ideas for this series, along with the hundreds of other film screenings and events I’ve attended throughout the country. My interests with FUSE focus on more of a microcinema, community-centric level. This means an intimate venue, local pop-up vendors, opportunities for audience and artist interaction, and inviting participation in the support of the series through a more transparent model.

MARK: I don’t want to put you on the spot, but I want to follow up on the AAFF. At the 50th anniversary event, which took place a little over a year ago, there was a founders’ panel… Three or four people who helped launch the AAFF, back in the early 60s, came back, and you gave them an opportunity to reflect on the origins of the festival, and share their thoughts on what it had become. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that they weren’t uniformly enthusiastic about the direction the festival had taken… Which I don’t think was terribly surprising… They were, after all, a rag tag band of rebels showing what were essentially illegal films on the U-M campus, to those on the cutting edge of the evolving counter culture movement, and, from their perspective, the festival had grown into something completely different – a much more corporate affair. I’m not asking you to validate their assessment, but, would you agree that we need to maybe bring back a little more of the grass roots? Or am I completely off base in thinking that FUSE is an attempt to do that?

DONALD: That was indeed a lively panel and discussion! The AAFF was certainly born of the sixties with a strong counter culture spirit. The fact that it evolved to survive is more a reflection on the changing times than anything else. How many 60s radicals and revolutionaries are still fighting the same fight in the same ways today and doing so effectively? The irony I find is that the AAFF is still one of the most risk-taking, non-commercial, experimentally focused film festivals in the country. It’s interesting to note that the actual founder of the AAFF, George Manupelli, unfortunately wasn’t able to join that panel as intended due to medical precautions. We added Leslie Raymond to the panel group, as she was very involved with the festival in the 90s and has a great perspective on its evolving with the times. She’s now the AAFF’s new Executive Director, and I’m looking forward to seeing where she guides it.

I don’t think the AAFF necessarily needs to be more grassroots. It’s currently a significant annual celebration of the art forms of film and new media. It’s a major event in superb venues (primarily the Michigan Theater) that requires year round dedication by its staff, board and supporters to properly pull together. During my stint with the AAFF, we dug deep to add more year round activities: 9-hour film contests with live improv musical scores, watching and reviewing entries at the library, backyard screenings, expansion of the traveling tour, Shadowbox Cinema (initially conceived for the Shadow Art Fair) which was a partnership with MOCAD and in some ways fed into my thinking for the FUSE series. I suppose that’s been an interest of mine for a while – creating opportunities to try out ideas, collaborate in communities and connect with audiences in more intimate settings. Now that I’m pursuing my own independent film projects and freelance video work, FUSE serves as a side project where I can contribute to our area’s continually evolving movie/media ecosystem.

FUSE_welcomesign_testscreening_june2013MARK: Is there a large enough audience for experimental film in the area to make a series like the one you have in mind viable? And, if not, how do you bring new people in?

DONALD: Actually the focus of FUSE isn’t experimental films, though we’ll likely show something that some people would call experimental in the series. I consider the approach to the series as experimental, in many ways stripping out rules, making up new ones, and providing a test lab for ideas in programming, audience/artist interaction, and the model of a microcinema itself. By having a different collaborator for each FUSE event, I expect we’ll see the series grow in dynamic and surprising directions. I expect we’ll cross just about every genre and likely mash some of them together too. We’ll also experiment with different methods of outreach for each event, as it’s important to me that our audience doesn’t congeal with only one or two particular scenes.

MARK: What do you mean by “collaborators”? Are you referring to owners of the venues where you’ll be projecting? And, assuming you are, what will the extent of that collaboration be? Will they, for instance, be helping to select the material to be screened?

DONALD: Each FUSE event will have a different co-host who will collaborate with me to determine movies, structure to the event, outreach and any interactive ideas we conceive to try. While this co-host could be the venue owner, it’s most important that the series has enthusiastic collaborators with a unique perspective, an affinity to try out new ideas and the ability to get things done.

MARK: Clearly there are a few different opportunities here. First, it’s just good to have another venue for non-mainstream film. I mean, we used to have Forest in town, doing his Hott Lava thing, but, since he left, it doesn’t seem to me that there’s been much of a concerted effort to build an audience for this kind of material. And, second, there’s the possibility that you might actually stumble on a financial model that makes sense and can be replicated elsewhere, right?

DONALD: I feel there’s a shortage of grassroots spaces that make sense to host independent screenings, so it can seem like a steep curve for most to climb. I’ve been asked by many dozens of people about screening something at the Michigan Theater and, while they do rent out for special screenings, it’s just not often viable there. I’ve been working with John Roos to build a microcinema in his space, and I know of at least one other in the works, so perhaps we’ll see a resurgence in 2014. As for the model, I’d love to see this develop into something that provides a real mechanism for artists, organizers and audiences to all get value for their time. Many independent filmmakers feel exploited by exhibitors and many independent exhibitors are underfunded and overworked. So how do we fix it? I’m curious if we can draw on some elements of crowdsourcing, CSAs and collective ownership to help expand the triangle into something bigger and more sustainable. By documenting and publicly sharing the model of the series as it develops, there are certainly opportunities for others to see what works or at least learn from our mistakes.

Video_booth_at_Roos2013MARK: Walk me through a FUSE event… Where would I go to see the films? What kinds of films would I be seeing? How much would I pay? How would the revenues be shared between the filmmakers, the venue and the event organizer? And, how much transparency would I have, as a participant, into the whole process?

DONALD: Okay, picture this scenario Mark. It’s winter. You head over to Roos Roast (on Rosewood between Industrial & Packard). You walk in and the smell of coffee meets you right away. People are checking out pop-up concessions. There’s a fire in the wood burning stove. Music’s playing something strange and serene. There’s a VJ mixing aerial drone footage with Muppets episodes. No one’s dancing. People don’t dance at film events (unless they’re really drunk or high… up in the mountains).

The event begins. You’re told there’s no cover. Pay whatever you wish – nothing, ten, a hundred. Whatever is contributed, a third will go to the venue, a third split among the artists and a third to the organizers. The event’s cash total will be tallied and shared on the FUSE site, along with other details such as the number of people in attendance, the films shown, number of cell phones smashed that went off during movies, etc.

Then the lights go down. Maybe you’re handed a laser pointer and use it to help decide the order of the movies shown. You see, you listen, you think, you laugh, you yawn (not because of us, but because you work too damn much). Perhaps one movie has a live performer on banjo creating the soundtrack. Or one movie is a rough cut that the local filmmaker has not yet shown to an audience. For the final film, maybe the filmmaker Skypes in for a Q&A with us.

Each event will be uniquely created with different co-hosts trying out different ideas, so it won’t be the same formula every time. Fundamental to the FUSE series, though, will be an emphasis on making it fun, adventurous, and inviting more participation between the artists, audience and presenters.

MARK: I understand you’ve had one test screening. What did you learn from it?

DONALD: I affirmed that we needed to upgrade our projection equipment (thus the Awesome Foundation request)! And have more chairs – way more people showed up than I anticipated. But, even with our makeshift screening set-up, people were really into it – talking to the attending filmmakers and to each other. I find that having a more intimate, non-traditional screening space can often open people up so it’s less of a turnstile transaction and more of a community experience. I also affirmed that people will consider giving more (we got $72 from a pass the hat) if they have a good experience and learn more of the why and what they’re supporting.

MARK: You’ve mention Roos Roast a few times. As I understand it, though, you’re intention is also to travel with FUSE, taking it into different communities, and trying different kinds of venues. Can you share a few of your ideas along those lines?

DONALD: The first couple of FUSE events will take place in the microcinema space we’ve been building at Roos Roast. There are several factors that make it appealing, such as an installed screen, sound system, chairs, a wood burning stove, coffee and a ping pong table. One FUSE will likely take place outdoors next summer. And, once the series gets going, I’m sure I’ll connect with other potential venues that could serve as interesting locations, whether an auto repair shop, bowling alley, abandoned church or bookstore.

MARK: People, as you and I have discussed in the past, quite often aren’t willing to pay for the arts. People might not blink at paying $6 for a drink at a bar, but they’ll recoil at the thought of paying $5 at the same bar to see a band. How confident are you that FUSE can make headway in that regard, and actually deliver a meaningful amount of money to filmmakers?

DONALD: That’s a big topic – let’s discuss at the next FUSE, okay?!

MARK: OK, so when is the next FUSE event? And do you know yet what will be on the bill?

DONALD: I’m targeting February and May for the first two FUSE events – stay tuned!

[If you have an awesome idea that you think could get off the ground for $1,000, and make life in Ypsi-Arbor better, let us know about it. We give out $1,000 grants each and every month, and we’d love to hear what you could do with an A2 Awesome grant.]

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  1. Posted November 6, 2013 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Also, I asked Donald to explain “face pong.” Here’s his response.

    It’s a large scale interactive video installation I put together with 3 other guys for Fool Moon in Ann Arbor and recently at ArtPrize. We utilized the Heidelberg green screen video booth I made and rebuilt the game pong so people could use Wii controllers to play with other people’s faces in real time. Easier to show than explain!

  2. anonymous
    Posted November 6, 2013 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    At the first Ann Arbor Film Festival what did they show that was illegal?

  3. anonymous
    Posted November 6, 2013 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    I answered my own question with the help of Google.

    1965 – Local fireworks erupt when the AAFF is accused of showing “pornographic films.” According to a program essay by Manupelli, “a secret knock let one film in and out of the locked (projection) booth at the time, delivered from moving automobiles encircling the auditorium. In the event of a raid on the booth, the film being projected would be quickly snipped from the projector and lowered to a waiting conspirator in the audience below, while ‘The Easter Story’ was threaded in its place.”

  4. Edward
    Posted November 7, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Donald, you say that this isn’t an “experimental” screening series, but, other than noting the Muppets and drone footage, you don’t say what kinds of films you will be showing. Can you give us few clues as to what you have in mind?

  5. Eel
    Posted November 7, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    If it would help, I can circle Roos Roast on my bike in case someone wants to throw dirty movies out the window to me.

  6. Toad Hall
    Posted November 7, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I’m sure it’s not the case, but it looks like he’s in my grandmother’s bedroom.

  7. K2
    Posted November 7, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    1965 wasn’t the first AAFF. It was the third. They could have shown artsmut at the first first one too, though.

  8. Mariah
    Posted November 7, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Yes! Way to go, Donald! Excited to see what’s ahead for the FUSE idea. There’s certainly a *lot* more that can be happening locally with film (as well as with visual art, IMHO). Look forward to hearing more!

  9. Donald Harrison
    Posted November 7, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    It’s too soon to say what specific films will show at FUSE, but for each event we’ll aim to mix in some of the following: work by a local maker in attendance, a project in progress with audience feedback, an interactive element and movies that are fun, surprising and/or challenging.

    As for the AAFF, it’s long been at the forefront of challenging notions of who gets to decide what films are okay to show. There are some great stories from the 60s/70s but even as recently as 2005/2006, with an ACLU backed lawsuit against the State of Michigan for yanking funding due to content some legislators didn’t like. The AADL has a great archive of the AAFF, including old posters, programs and interviews like this one about censorship from founder George Manupelli:

  10. Wobblie
    Posted November 7, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Today I learned that A2Awesome is a front for male prostitution.

  11. Becca
    Posted November 7, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Let us not forget that Studies and Observation Group, (an experimental film screening series bringing filmmakers and their works to Ann Arbor) has run for the last few years beginning in The Bar at 327 Braun Court and currently screening at other venues. It’s been a great extension of the work that the Ann Arbor Film Festival continues to bring 50+ years since its inception.

    P.S. Mark, why do you continually post unfounded and misinformed (in my opinion hateful) statements about the Festival? It is responsible for bringing a wide variety of international independent film and media throughout the year, every year, to Ann Arbor, which would otherwise likely see none of this work. As Donald mentions, it connects to community to contemporary art and culture in a meaningful way. And to be clear, the founders’ comments were not that the AAFF had become more of a “corporate affair” in your words (what does that even mean?), but rather that the organization is being run in a more organized manner due in no small part to Donald’s great work. What’s ironic is that the festival was founded as part of a large institution (the University of Michigan), whereas now the AAFF exists on its own as the largest non-institutional festival of its kind showing experimental work. No other city in the U.S. has a festival which focuses this exclusively and widely on non-commercial, independent, experimental cinema. What could be more “grass roots” than reaching out to similar communities around the world to showcase this work, in a non-commercial setting, for the community in Ann Arbor?

  12. Posted November 7, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Uhhh… I’m a fan of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. I never said it wasn’t a good thing. I simply noted that several of the people on the 50th anniversary panel seemed to think that the spirit of the thing had changed. I’m not sure that they used the phrase “corporate,” but I know at least one of them referenced business sponsorships. And I believe one of them kept noting a Starbucks ad in a program, or something along those lines. Again, though, I never said that I agreed with then. Founders, as I know, often look back on the things that they’ve created and criticize. It’s the nature of non-profits. The truth is, things need to evolve in order to stay alive. I get that. I just noted their criticism in this interview as I was sitting next to Donald during that panel and saw how their comments were effecting him. And I wanted to know if their thoughts in any way influenced him in creating this new series. None of this, however, takes away from the AAFF, which is one of the better things that Ann Arbor has going for it…

    Also, if you can provide an example of an “unfounded, misinformed and hateful” comment I’ve made about the Festival, I’d love to hear it.

  13. Becca
    Posted November 8, 2013 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Mark, check your email.

  14. Posted November 8, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Thank you for responding, Becca. I wish you’d done so on my site. As it is… with your “check your email” comment… it leaves the impression that I may really have said something “unfounded, misinformed and hateful,” when I think the evidence would show that to be completely false. In your email just now, you mention three things as evidence of my “hateful” attitude toward the festival… 1. The fact that the Shadow Art Fair did not co-sponsor a night this year, as we had the four previous years. 2. The fact that I “gossiped” about what was said at the 50th anniversary panel by the founders of the AAFF. 3. That I wrote something you didn’t like in your exit interview. Here are my responses on all three counts.

    1. The Shadow Art Fair is dead. Instead of six people planning the last one, there were two of us, and things admittedly fell though the cracks. (I also had a relatively new baby at home.) Maybe I dropped the ball relative to communication, but it wasn’t anything against the AAFF. A call would have confirmed that.

    2. My comments concerning what was said during the 50th anniversary panel wasn’t “gossip,” as you suggest. Those things were said in a public forum, which, I might add, the AAFF sponsored. I didn’t lie about what was said. And, what’s more, I didn’t say that I agreed with their assessment, as I mentioned in my last note to you. I merely asked if their feedback in any way influenced the development of the FUSE series. It was a legitimate question. And, for what it’s worth, I think Donald did a great job of responding, and reiterating that the AAFF is still pushing boundaries, and has done a great deal recently to expand outreach beyond the week of the festival.

    3. Concerning your exit interview, you saw everything before it went up on my site and approved it. Later, you wrote to me and asked me to remove the mention of an Executive Director search. I removed the mention immediately upon receiving your note.

    So, really, I’m not sure where you get the impression that I’m not a fan of the festival. In fact, I think I’ve been uniformly supportive through the years. Here, by way of example, are three stories that I’ve posted over the last few years. Please let me know if you find anything “unfounded, misinformed and hateful” in them.

    “AAFF to celebrate 50 years with ambitious agenda”

    “The AAFF’s 50 Screens initiative”

    “The AAFF begins with a bang”

    I don’t relish the idea of getting into a public fight on this, but I don’t very much like being accused of sharing “unfounded, misinformed and hateful” comments, especially about an event that I’ve uniformly supported over the years.

    Also, I should mention that I’ll be posting this comment on my site in response to your “check your email” note. I think I deserve the opportunity to publicly defend myself.


  15. dan
    Posted November 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I can think of a laundry list of people doing related things, that you would benifit from their inclusion. Scared to Death has been doing some super neat work remixing and re-soundtracking classic horror, Craig Johnson/Laserbeams of Boredom has tons of experimental video and accompanying audio that needs audience outlet, and I myself have a shambling and esoteric video feedback rig that I would think could be geared toward “interactivity” if so desired. I only wish there was some contact information beyond a tumblr…

  16. Posted November 9, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Dan, drop me a line at and I’ll send you Donald’s address.

  17. Posted November 9, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the suggestions, Dan. I’m just beginning to build and shape the series. Any ideas, inquiries or feedback for FUSE are welcome at:

  18. Posted November 9, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Also, regarding Becca v. Mark, I think we’re all friends here, right? I feel Mark’s done some great coverage of AAFF, which at times can include a pointed journalistic question or two, and been supportive through the years. And Becca, I’m glad to see that you remain fired up about the film scene here. I think any of us who’ve put much blood/sweat/tears into an endeavor like the AAFF, can definitely be sensitive about how it’s discussed or presented. I find that criticism usually comes from caring about something. So in that context I certainly will welcome feedback for FUSE.

    Btw, the Studies and Oberservation Group experimental film screenings are excellent. Is the AAFF’s eNews or FB the primary way for people to hear about upcoming ones?

  19. Posted November 9, 2013 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, there are no hard feelings on my part, Donald. Becca and I have exchanged emails and I think things are OK now.

  20. Becca
    Posted November 11, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    totes cool, on my end as well, DH and MM. Keep up the good fight.

  21. Fuse
    Posted August 14, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    SATURDAY – FUSE #3 – Outdoor Animation in Ypsi
    co-hosted by Martin Thoburn and Donald Harrison

    An ultra•animated•edition of FUSE Microcinema is venturing outdoors to Ypsilanti for one night on the shores of the Huron River. Revel in all forms of animation, from retro classics to modern master pieces, while marveling under the stars.

    There will be a bunch of chairs and a massive lawn with plenty of room for additional seating. BYOB (e.g., blankets, beverages, buddies). This event is free and open to the public.
    Please note: in case of rain, the screening will still happen, just a cozier version inside of VGKids

    8:00pm – event opens
    8:30pm – screening begins
    9:10pm (approx) – intermission
    (the first half will be more PG fare, the 2nd half progressing from PG-13 to R)

    What: Outdoor Animation edition of FUSE Microcinema
    When: Saturday, August 16 from 8:00 – 10:00pm
    Where: VGKids, 884 Railroad Street, Suite C, Ypsilanti, MI 48197
    How: FREE!

    For more details about FUSE:

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] the power of the sun, and any number of other things. And, just recently, we helped get a new local microcinema series off the ground. Like other chapters, we just tell people that we’re looking to help get new […]

  2. By Ypsilanti Immigration Interview: Donald Harrison on October 8, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    […] hosted free microcinema events, including an outdoor animation screening in Ypsi last summer (thanks to an Awesome Foundation grant). And I’m part of a VJ crew that’s presented interactive video projections/installations at […]

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