Michigan Cuts Arts Funding, and Trouble Begins

In Michigan, state lawmakers have cut funding for the popular Ann Arbor Film Festival, claiming it showed material they considered pornographic. But the ACLU says the lawmakers may have overstepped their bounds.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is the oldest festival in North America that showcases independent and experimental film. It recently lost state funding because legislators say it violated a prohibition on the depiction of sex acts. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit in order to force the state to remove those restrictions.

The guidelines have been in place since 1996, but they had not been rigorously enforced until last year. Amid passionate talk in the state house about protecting citizens from pornography and obscenity, legislators decided to bar the Ann Arbor Film Festival from receiving state money for at least three years.

The drive to enforce the funding restrictions was sparked by an essay from Michael LeFaive, a policy analyst with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a libertarian think tank in Michigan.

LeFaive argued that the state had no business funding the arts at all, and claimed that taxpayer dollars could end up paying for a so-called "cesspool of silliness." He used the Ann Arbor Film Festival as an example, but he says he didn't intend to single out that organization.

One of the films mentioned in LeFaive's essay was Boobie Girl, from director Brooke Keisling. Keisling says she thinks LeFaive didn't see any of the films he objected to, since her movie is suitable for all ages.

"There's nothing pornographic about my film," she says. "It's really G-rated; it's really sweet. In fact, the woman who narrated used to be the voice of Rocky the Squirrel from Rocky and Bullwinkle."

Member station WDET's Celeste Headlee reports.

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