Executive Director, Ann Arbor Film Festival
Ann Arbor, Michigan
In August 2013, Leslie Raymond became the new Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the longest running independent film festival in North America. Every year, this prestigious six-day event presents 40 programs with more than 180 films from over 20 countries. An experimental media artist for over 25 years, Leslie resides in Ann Arbor with her husband, Jason Jay Stevens.
Mark Gjukich Photography
Book: Tales from the Texas Gang (1978) by Wild Bill Blackolive
Most Treasured Possession: an ability to persevere
Sanctuary: the physical plane
Film: Inland Empire (2006) by David Lynch and A Darkness Swallowed (2005) by Betzy Bromberg
When did you first realize that you had a fascination with film?
When I started watching so much of it during college. Responding to my artwork as a senior in high school, a grad student friend at Cranbrook encouraged me to pursue film in college. The aesthetic qualities of film hooked me. I watched art-house and experimental film all day in school, and then after school and on the weekends in both Providence and Chicago.
What genre of film are you most drawn to?
Kung Fu. It fulfills some of my diversion quota and brings together my interests in moving image and martial arts.
Do you have a favorite cinematic technique?
Memory, dream, time, and reality flow together in the films of David Lynch. He masterfully crafts a peculiar sense of reality only to then destroy it and subsequently, eventually, re-ground the viewer in another plane of existence — shifting the ground yet again once the viewer has grown to accept it.
Who do you consider the most visionary independent filmmaker of today?
The person working with the broadest reach would be Lynch.
What is your greatest challenge as you assume your new role with the Ann Arbor Film Festival?
Sublimating my creative drive to serve the Festival is a huge personal sacrifice, but I am confident that I will be able to continue producing art with my husband as Potter-Belmar Labs. On a more pragmatic level, I hope to be able to succeed in integrating and giving voice to the Festival’s diverse base of constituents.
Where do you find inspiration?
Sometimes, when I look up from my work, I see things like smoke billowing from the stack looking east down Huron or the neighbors’ green parakeet on the branch in the back yard of the office. There is a great deal of beauty in the world and I am somehow reassured by this. I am also incredibly inspired by the innumerable lovers and supporters of the Ann Arbor Film Festival.
Who would you like to thank, and for what?
The many, many people who have been encouraging and coaching me in this new leadership role at the Festival. You know who you are. I could not do this job without you. I am grateful for your input and energy. You are helping to sustain the Festival in its present transitory moment.
What can’t you live without?
While I do find meaning and reward in work, life would be empty without my family.
Is there a book or film that has changed you?
The book King Hu’s A Touch of Zen (2006) by Stephen Teo because it, in part, examines the female-male dynamic in the King Hu film A Touch of Zen (1971). Teo’s book brings to light how the film’s female swordsman, a skillful and formidable fighter, acts within the construct of the natural order of gendered relations. I find it helpful to be reminded that men and women are just different.
What drives you these days?
Both internal and external demands to rise to the occasion of the Festival and become excellent at what I do certainly propel me, but the “status” column of my budget table always keeps me grounded.