Professor Wins Top Award at Ann Arbor Film Festival

Amber Bemak’s film receives Ken Burns Award for Best of the Festival

scene from Amber Bemak's experimental short film, "Goodbye Fantasy". Woman on a beach covered in sand
Scene from Goodbye Fantasy

Assistant Professor of Film Amber Bemak’s 15-minute experimental film Goodbye Fantasy received the top award at the Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) in late March. She and co-director Nadia Granados won the Ken Burns Award for Best of the Festival.

The award includes a $3,000 prize and qualifies the filmmakers for an Oscar nomination by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the short film category.

Now in its 58th year, the AAFF is dedicated to presenting the best in experimental film, and was named the country’s best film festival in the most recent USA Today 10-Best Reader’s Choice competition. This year, due to the coronavirus, in-person festival events were cancelled and all short and feature films in the competition were shown online in late March.

The jurors were award-winning British film director Osbert Parker, noted experimental and documentary filmmaker Lynne Sachs, and Canadian educator and video arts pioneer Lisa Steele. 

Filmed in multiple countries – Mexico, Colombia, Germany, Portugal and the U.S. – Goodbye Fantasy is about “two bodies in relation to each other as they let go of multiple cinematic universes they occupy together,” said Bemak. “Transforming from a fantasy body to a dreaming body to a dying body, they enact different constellations of social and political power as they relate to each other within the tight construct of the frame.” It’s not a narrative film, she said, but explores ideas about relationships, loss and death. Audiences have told her they found it moving and sad, and at the same time electrifying.

“Nadia and I were thrilled to win the award,” said Bemak. “It’s especially significant to us because usually films like ours are pigeonholed into sub-categories like ‘women’s film’ or ‘LGBTQ film.’ The piece pushes a lot of boundaries – it’s confrontational and radical.  But the jurors in Ann Arbor didn’t put it in a narrow category – they considered it much more broadly. It was a very big deal for us that such a prestigious festival made that statement about our work.”

This is not the first award for Goodbye Fantasy; last April, the film was named Best Experimental Short Film at the Athens International Film Festival in Ohio, a 46-year-old competition that is globally known for experimental and underground cinema. The filmmakers earned a $1,000 prize and were invited to be jury members for the 2020 festival.

Bemak noted that Goodbye Fantasy is the final film in a trilogy that includes Tell Me When You Die (2015) and Borderhole (2017). The three films were shown last year at UnionDocs in Brooklyn, as well as a number of other venues. UnionDocs’ curator Ruth Somalo called them “a trilogy of performative films that reframe porn as a genre which can be empowering in its engagement with women and their bodies. Bemak and Granados work collaboratively with text, language, and the body to illustrate the colonial narratives that are still deeply entrenched and grappled with amongst minorities.” The films are now being programmed together at upcoming festivals around the world.

For more information, visit Amber Bemak’s website at