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creative:impact - Fluent in film, Anna Baumgarten and Danny Mooney return to Ann Arbor with 'Disfluency' March 8

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Disfluency on Facebook
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"Disfluency" banner with accolades

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

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David Fair
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89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.

ABOUT ANNA BAUMGARTEN:

Anna hails from the Michigan mitten and is a Los Angeles-based Writer/Director and freelance TV Development Consultant. She has been a core development team member at Rob Dyrdek's Superjacket Productions and Mona Scott-Young's Monami Productions where she developed unscripted content for MTV, Nickelodeon, Vh1, WeTV, BET, and CMT.

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Anna Baumgarten
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Anna Baumgarten

Most recently, Anna's debut feature film Disfluency won the Jury Prize at the Austin Film Festival. Disfluency was developed at the inaugural Jim Cummings' Short to Feature Lab where Anna was one of ten fellows competitively selected for her short film Disfluency. Disfluency is also the recipient of the Duplass Brother's Hometown Heroes "Oh Shit!" Grant and a selection of 10th US in Progress Wroclaw. She has several feature and TV scripts currently in development.

As a filmmaker, Anna additionally has an independent TV pilot, a dozen short films, and a digital PSA campaign under her belt. Her short film Line Dry premiered at the Oscar Qualifying Palm Springs International Shortsfest in 2020. She has also written animated TV episodes for the Warner Bros 2017 revival series Wacky Races. She is the media partner of SafeBAE, an organization founded by the young survivors in Netflix’s Audrie & Daisy. SafeBAE works to provide sexual assault awareness and prevention education to middle, high school, and college students. Anna produced their digital PSA campaign #QuitThisShit featured in Teen Vogue.

EDUCATION: 

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Anna Baumgarten
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Anna Baumgarten receiving an award at the Austin Film Festival

Anna graduated with High Honors from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor school of Literature Science & the Arts with a concentration in Screen Arts & Cultures, a sub-concentration in screenwriting, and a minor in Sales from the Ross School of Business.

ABOUT DANNY MOONEY:

Danny Mooney is a jack of all trades in the film world. As a multi-hyphenate storyteller, Mooney continuously pushes the boundaries of indie cinema as a director, producer, writer, actor and beyond. Originally entering the world of entertainment as a performer, Danny has gone on to act under several well-known directors including Nick Stoller, C. Thomas Howell, Arnaud Desplechin, Jon Amiel, Zack Snyder and George Clooney. Mooney has also played across from such acting talent as Drew Barrymore, Jason Segal, Elliot Page, Henry Cavill, Benecio Del Toro, Greta Gerwig, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ryan Gosling.

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Danny Mooney on the set of "Love and Honor"

Born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Mooney grew up playing sports and partaking in the arts of all sorts. Mooney's first acting role was in a play rendition of Peter Pan while at Haisley Elementary School, where Mooney played the crocodile. He loved painting, drawing and playing the trombone in school while playing soccer, roller-blading and skateboarding after school. Forsythe Middle School chose Mooney as one of three students to paint a large-scale school mural of his choice at graduation, where he painted a flame-painted 1979 Camaro hot rod. Mooney then attended Pioneer High School, Michigan's largest high school at the time with just over 3,000 students, where he became more seriously interested in performance when Pioneer announced the start of a school improv troupe. Mooney made the seven-person troupe and began balancing his time between acting and playing both hockey and lacrosse - oftentimes having practice for all three in the same day. Mooney's first improv shows were on the same night as a home lacrosse game, so Mooney performed the first show, ran up to the lacrosse field to sit with the team in the locker room for half-time, then ran back to do the second improv show - which, after the game, the rest of the lacrosse team watched after sneaking into the back of the already-over-capacity theatre.

Mooney quickly fanned out from the improv comedy shows to hosting high school events and performing in sketch comedy and stand-up. While a high-school junior Mooney briefly went pro in roller hockey playing for Pepsi, winning the league’s Most Valuable Goalie despite the team coming in as runner-up in the championship. Shortly after that, Mooney was recruited to play roller hockey as a goalie for the University of Michigan, where he then attended on an academic scholarship for Mechanical Engineering to focus on car design. While in college, Mooney still made a quick run at continuing stand-up comedy and opened for such talent as actor/comedian Dave Coulier (Uncle Joey, Full House) and Comedy Central's Dane Cook World Tour-opener J. Chris Newberg.

Mooney then snuck into a film class during freshman year and immediately found his passion for filmmaking.

Mooney attended the class until the professor finally agreed to override Mooney into the class, despite Mooney still being an engineering student – and Mooney was hooked. So after finishing a year of Engineering, Mooney transferred to Michigan's Department of Screen Arts and Cultures to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Film, concentrating in directing and cinematography. That same professor from that first film class, Robert Rayher, then guided Mooney throughout his college career all the way through overseeing and executive producing Mooney's senior thesis film. During his sophomore year, Mooney was spotted performing at an improv show by one of the head instructors at the University of Michigan Residential College Theatre Department, and despite not being in the Residential College, Mooney was invited to study theatre and continue his love for the stage. He went on to perform in regional theatre as well as professionally in Moscow, Russia, as part of the only US theatre company in the International Chekhov Theatre Festival.

While in film school, Mooney accumulated a full range of experience in all departments eventually becoming a director, producer, cinematographer, writer, and editor. While in college, Mooney's awards included "Best Silent Film," "Best Cinematography," "Best Editor," "Best Director," "Best in Festival" twice, "Best Screenplay" twice and "Best Actor" four times. In 2006, he was the cinematography consultant along with the lead role in the film Dylan, which won "Best in Festival" at the University of Michigan Entertainment Coalition Film Festival in LA. That same year, Mooney also acted in the short film Moon Cake, which was nominated for a Student Oscar in the 2006 Academy Awards. Also in 2006, Mooney was one of three students at the University of Michigan to win the prestigious "Trueblood Fellowship Award for Film Performance" (in both acting and directing), and one of three to win the award again in 2007. In the 2007 Academy Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose Mooney's short Irish dance piece Do Fainne Sorcas as a Finalist in the Student Alternative Category, exhibiting the film with all Student Category Oscar Nominees at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. Mooney ended that year by receiving praise from Academy Award-winning Hollywood writer/critic Kurt Luedtke (Out of Africa) for his directing accomplishments in the short comedy Step, My Boy.

In early 2008, Mooney won the "Leo Burnett Award for Film Marketing and Business" for his marketing during preproduction on the Academy Recognized narrative short Fingers, which was declared "subtle and mesmerizing… already a winner” by The New York Film Review. As his senior thesis at Michigan, Mooney wrote, produced, directed, edited and acted in the short.

During his entire run at the University of Michigan, Mooney juggled being a film student, being a board-member of the student-run film production organization M-agination Films, being a theatre student along with still being the goalie for Michigan's varsity roller hockey team, where he helped lead the team to nationals every year. The University of Michigan eventually created "The Danny Mooney Award," which is awarded to whomever acts in the most student films each semester.

Mooney has had consistent festival play across the globe including opening the L.A. International Shorts Festival with a piece titled Little Joy, where he was a Director and Cinematographer, and world-premiering the feature film Bilal’s Stand in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, where Mooney – in true independent filmmaking fashion - was an actor, a 1st Assistant Director and an additional Director of Photography.

Mooney joined forces with producer Eddie Rubin and formed Deep Blue Pictures while still in college. Deep Blue has numerous features under the company’s belt since Mooney graduated from college in the spring of 2008, with both Mooney and Rubin also producing a myriad of additional feature films independently. The film Mooz-lum, co-produced by Mooney and Rubin, won “Best Narrative Feature” at the 2010 Urbanworld Film Festival and was the third film to sell out at the 2010 Chicago International Film Festival. Mooz-lum, starring Evan Ross, Nia Long and Danny Glover, took its limited release in theaters across the U.S. and Canada in mid-February 2011. Although on a limited number of screens, the film grossed more per screen than any other film in America for its opening weekend. RogerAndEbert.com declared “I suspect the Muslim narratives of 9/11 will soon grow into its own genre, and this film is a very good start.”

In between features over the years, Mooney directed a short series for Disney as well as numerous music videos, including one for Kanye West’s Def Jam artist Big Sean, featuring GLC. The video, titled Million Dollars, became the second most viral music video in the world upon its release, right behind Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. Mooney also acted in and directed several national spot commercials for companies such as Best Buy, Southwest Airlines and Coke Zero. Most notably, he helped develop and played the comedic lead in a performance-driven viral spec commercial for Mountain Dew, winning the Grand Prize from the annual MOFILM international commercial competition in London. Mooney and Director Marty Stano were presented the award by the U.K.’s Jonathan Ross at the 2011 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

2013 marked Mooney’s feature directorial debut with the film Love and Honor (originally known as AWOL, the film’s shooting title). The cast is led by The Hunger Games star Liam Hemsworth along with Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies, Hacksaw Ridge), Austin Stowell (Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, Colossal) and Aimee Teegarden (Friday Night Lights). Based on a true story from the Vietnam War, Love and Honor was penned by Jim Burnstein (who was also Mooney's screenwriting professor at UofM) and Garrett K. Schiff, and was executive produced by Deep Blue’s Eddie Rubin and produced by Patrick Olson and Chip Diggins (a former senior executive at both Disney and Paramount, and Barry Levinson’s former producing partner at Baltimore Pictures). Distributed domestically by IFC Films, Love and Honor was released in 30 cities on March 22nd, 2013, where it ran for the next 8 weeks. The film came out on a much larger scale in theaters overseas to rave reviews in late 2012 and early 2013, with one Russian critic writing “Young director Danny Mooney has created an astounding film” and Helium in Australia proclaiming, “Love and Honor is one of the most underrated films of 2012.” The film was then released on DVD and digital, climbing high on all the iTunes charts and hitting #1 on the iTunes romance movie chart during its second week out, and remaining on the Netflix “Trending Now” chart for nearly a year.

Mooney then jumped straight back into acting when French auteur Arnaud Desplechin chose him to play Benicio Del Toro’s insane asylum roommate in the post-World War II drama, Jimmy P: Psychotherapy Of A Plains Indian. The film premiered in Competition at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival to international critical acclaim and a Palme d’Or nomination. Jimmy P. was nominated in the 2014 César Awards (France’s Oscars) for “Best Picture,” “Best Director” and “Best Adapted Screenplay.”

Mooney then dug back into his humor-based roots and shot the ridiculous-yet-heartfelt comedy Saugatuck Cures, where Mooney played the lead role with co-star Max Adler (of Glee) as two childhood best friends on a road trip of exuberant high jinks. The film started hitting the festival circuit in the fall of 2014 with an instant buzz about the performances as well as how the film deals with several hot-button topics in today’s society, with The Huffington Post stating “Is Saugatuck Cures controversial? Definitely. Fun to watch? Yes.” and Condé Nast writer, Philip Wayne, calling Mooney’s role in the film a “jaw dropping performance… such an amazing work of artistry.” The film got a domestic limited theatrical run starting June 26th, 2015.

2016 marked the first season of Outsiders for Sony Pictures Television, where Mooney plays a recurring role. Created by award-winning playwright Peter Mattei and Executive Produced by Paul Giamatti and Peter Tolan, Outsiders set the record as the most-watched piece of original programming ever for the WGN network. Outsiders went two seasons before being cancelled, much to the chagrin of the fans all over the world.

Then came one of the most unorthodox projects from Mooney yet. The short film Injustice for All was released in the form of an independent, dark and twisted new take on Batman comic book legends The Joker and Harley Quinn. In his usual multi-hat-wearing fashion, Mooney was the director, a producer, the cinematographer and one of the actors in the film. The film was immediately embraced by the comic book community, with Horror Geek Life proclaiming “Danny Mooney’s direction is tight and focused… With complex characters, great performances, and a unique take on a story we all know, Injustice for All shines through its thick layer of darkness.” Along with Fansided stating “Director Danny Mooney, who also plays a very convincing Jimmy Olsen, skillfully brings to life Detroit’s backdrop as the decrepit, rotting Gotham City… This is a can’t miss short for all DC fans out there.” Injustice for All toured the Comic Con circuit for all of 2017, ultimately winning The Stan Lee Cup at Stan Lee’s L.A. Comic Con, which is the award given for the best piece of independent comic book content on the Comic Con circuit for that year. Mooney and producer/writer, Donavan Darius, were awarded this grand prize at the closing ceremony of Stan Lee’s L.A. Comic Con by hip-hop legend RUN DMC. Injustice for All was then invited back onto the Comic Con circuit and was showcased at many Comic Cons throughout all of 2018.

Foster Boy, starring Matthew Modine, Shane Paul McGhie and Louis Gossett Jr., was one of the few films to receive a theatrical release in 2020. Based on true events that took place in the American foster care system, Mooney executive produced the film along with Shaquille O’Neal with the hopes of raising awareness to the atrocities plaguing the current foster care infrastructure. In a similar socially-minded and conversation-starting mindset, Mooney produced the film Disfluency, which took the Jury award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2021 Austin Film Festival and continues its journey on the festival circuit into 2022.

With several films in post and always in development on numerous film and television projects, as well as always being active in the music video space, Mooney continues to be a Swiss Army knife in the world of storytelling.

Danny Mooney received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Michigan with a major in Film Production from the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures, concentrating in directing, producing and cinematography. He also received a minor in Acting, Drama and Text-to-Performance from the Michigan RC Theatre Department.

ABOUT THE FILM "DISFLUENCY":

In Anna Baumgarten's Disfluency, Jane (Sneaky Pete's Libe Barer) returns to her family's Michigan lakehouse to take stock of her life after failing her last college class. Jane's family does not know that she experienced a traumatic event at college that left her unable to focus on her studies. Still committed to becoming a speech therapist, Jane embarks on a study on language shifts based on circumstances, environment, and emotional state. But the study cannot distract Jane from the trauma that has derailed her immediate and future plans. The cast also includes Libe Barer's real-life sister Ariela Barer as Jane's sister Lacey; the Halloween franchise's Dylan Arnold as Jane's potential love interest Jordan; and Chelsea Alden as Jane's friend Amber, the mother of a young boy recently diagnosed as deaf. Drawn from Anna Baumgarten's personal experiences, Disfluency will screen during the Austin Film Festival at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 23 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Galaxy Theatres Austin. Anna Baumgarten makes her feature directorial debut with Disfluency, which is based on the 2018 short film she wrote and is executive produced by Jim Cummings. Baumgarten previously directed the short film Line Dry.

RESOURCES:

"Disfluency" film on Facebook

"Disfluency" film on Instagram

"Disfluency" screening at the Michigan Theater

TRANSCRIPTION:

Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. Thanks for tuning in every Tuesday as we meet creative guests with roots in Ann Arbor and explore how their creative businesses, products, programs, and services impact and add to our quality of life, place, and economy. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your creative:impact host. Let's go to Hollywood. Or rather, let's call Hollywood to meet two Michiganders, U of M grads, and filmmakers. First, welcome Anna Baumgarten, who directed the award-winning feature film "Disfluency" that is screening at the Michigan Theater March 8th. Welcome, Anna.

Anna Baumgarten: Hi, thank you so much for having us.

Deb Polich: Oh, we're glad you're here. And we're also welcoming Ann Arborite Danny Mooney, who produced the film. Welcome to creative:impact, Danny.

Danny Mooney: Thanks, Deb. Thanks so much for having us.

Deb Polich: Yeah. So, let's start with your backstories. Anna, you were raised in Commerce Township and, Danny, you call Ann Arbor home. You both found your way to study film at the University of Michigan, but at slightly different times. Anna, how do the two of you meet?

Anna Baumgarten: That's a great question. So, yes, I graduated from the University of Michigan in 2015, and I actually was an extra, which is kind of like a background actor. You know, crowd scenes like that, in a film "Love and Honor" that Danny was directing. So, that's not exactly when we met, but that's the first time that I was made aware of Danny. And then when I brought him on board for this, I actually just reached out because I knew he had shot a film in and around Ann Arbor and Michigan.

Deb Polich: And the rest is history.

Anna Baumgarten: Yeah. The rest is history.

Deb Polich: And Danny, you did "Love and Honor," and you screened that at the Michigan Theater. So, there's that in common between the two of you as well.

Danny Mooney: Yeah, definitely. The Michigan Theater is just so kind of always kind of bring back local talent and show us off and show the community kind of with some creative folks can do. And it's just always so humbling and such an honor to get to come home and do things in that amazing theater.

Deb Polich: Yeah. So, you know, we are a nation of media consumers. Though, unlike literature courses that most of us take in high school, you know, schools don't really teach visual media literacy. The art of filmmaking is very complex. Anna, when you got to film school, what did you discover that maybe you didn't know or that was the most surprising thing about the art of filmmaking?

Deb Polich: Well, when I went to film school, I was really focused on screenwriting.

Deb Polich: Uh huh.

Anna Baumgarten: I really hadn't planned to get involved with production. I had been an athlete on a lot of team sports growing up, and production really felt like a team. So, I just kind of fit right in, and I've been involved with production ever since.

Deb Polich: Very cool. And, Danny, how about you? What was the big surprise for you?

Danny Mooney: I think it is similar, actually. Like, my background was also in sports, and so, as I was playing roller hockey actually through the University of Michigan randomly enough, so I got injured freshman year. So, as my sports career was kind of waning over the five years I did varsity there, film kind of picked up and kind of replaced that team aspect for me. So, that was super similar for me as well.

Deb Polich: Well, you know, I like to point out to our listeners that there's an interconnectivity between the arts and pretty much everything else, and you guys just described the arts and sports connection. So, you both have film credits as producers and directors. And, Anna, you are the screenwriter for "Disfluency." What is it like to see your your work move from the written page to to a film?

Anna Baumgarten: It is one of the most rewarding things in the world. Writing is my first love, but seeing it come to life, there is nothing like it, especially when it's a story that you really want to share with everyone, share with the world.

Deb Polich: It's got to be pretty magical. And, Danny, your role as producer? How do you help make that happen?

Danny Mooney: I think, for me, the biggest thing is just kind of creating a space for Anna to kind of work her magic and having a script as awesome as what Anna put together for "Disfluency." It's just an amazing blueprint to kind of build as a foundation under the house of the story. And so, yeah, like just putting the people together, putting the pieces together, and just making sure to kind of like run interference. Does that make sense?

Deb Polich: Sure.

Danny Mooney: So Anna can really kind of just focus and hunker in and bring it to life.

Deb Polich: 891 WEMU's creative:impact continues. I'm Deb Polich. My guests are U of M grads and filmmakers Anna Baumgarten and Danny Mooney. Their award-winning film "Disfluency" shows at the Michigan Theater on March 8th. So, Anna, you've actually made "Disfluency" twice now-- once as a short, which premiered at the Michigan Theater's 2018 Cinetopia Film Festival as part of the Detroit Voices Project. And now, it's a feature film. So, tell us first what it's about.

Anna Baumgarten: So, "Disfluency" is a coming-of age-story that follows our character, Jane, as she is in her last year in college. She fails her final class and has to go home for the summer to regroup. That's where Michigan comes in, beautiful Michigan summers. And throughout the story, we realize that something traumatic happens, and it comes out, and we witness her go through the aftermath of all that.

Deb Polich: Wow, that sounds like a pretty tough subject. You know, was the short intended as a pilot? Or were you compelled in some other way to return to it and flesh it out as a feature-length film?

Anna Baumgarten: "Disfluency" was pulled from a very personal experience, so I was compelled to make the short because I really wanted to share my story and experience with the world. We started garnering interest for a feature film, so we, I mean, we ran with it. The biggest difference between the short and the feature is the short takes place in the college setting, and the feature takes place kind of post-college. And I also wrote and produced the short, and I ended up writing and helping Danny produce and directing the feature. So, directing was a big step for me when we moved on towards the feature.

Deb Polich: So many talents. You know, so as part of this whole process, Danny, besides helping Anna round out the story, did you guys make any other major changes to the original concept?

Danny Mooney: It's funny that when Anna first kind of told me about the project and everything, I read the script before I went and watched the short just to kind of get into what we were going for first and then going back to the short. And so, it was kind of cool to do it in that order to kind of see what came of it and then see what the origin of it was. And there was definitely some changes. I mean, obviously, just like the length of the storytelling requires so much more in a feature, but overall, like, the heart of it was still there. And Anna did such a good job at creating a story to steal people, to make people feel less alone, and to kind of get a support system to the viewers. And so, that was something that did stay very consistent between the two.

Deb Polich: That's cool. So, you know, we hear so much about how long it takes to get a green light for a film. And, even then, some films take years to complete if they are ever made at all. "Disfluency" seem to be on a pretty fast track. I think it was two years.

Anna Baumgarten: Yeah.

Deb Polich: Anna, how did you make that happen? Was that luck or preparation?

Anna Baumgarten: Well, first I would say that we were our own green light.

Deb Polich: OK.

Anna Baumgarten: We didn't wait for, you know, a studio or particular company to take interest. We went out and started gathering investors at all different, you know, price points. So, we kind of, you know, did it ourselves. I will say "Disfluency" was part of a storytelling lab called The Short to Feature Lab run by Jim Cummings and Ben Wisner and Fanchon Angle. That really gave us like a, you know, a base to work off of. We really went out there and kind of got it ourselves.

Deb Polich: So, you know, there's a network of U of M film study grads in L.A. How important is that network for your work, Danny? And maybe yours too, Anna?

Danny Mooney: Oh, it's so important, I think one of the biggest things I got out of film school was was a support system and teammates, as we were saying earlier. Just it's a great system of teammates. And so for this movie, what was so cool is we, I mean, we shot it in Michigan, in, a lot of it, in Anna's home in Commerce Township. And, yeah, it was rounded out by largely University of Michigan alumni. I would probably say 80 percentish of our crew is University of Michigan alumni.

Deb Polich: Amazing.

Danny Mooney: And a lot still lived there, but also a lot came back in from the West Coast and a couple from the East Coast, and we really kind of put together a homegrown Michigan guard crew, which was really fun.

Deb Polich: So, you're both going to be back in Ann Arbor for the free screening of "Disfluency" at the Michigan Theater on March 8th. Can I mention that once more? So, Anna, what are you looking most forward to when you get back home?

Anna Baumgarten: The thing I'm looking forward to most is sharing it with the students at U of M and the surrounding colleges. For me, when I was a student and even now--and I think forever in my career--having mentors and seeing people who've been able to achieve what they set out to do was so inspiring to me and is so inspiring to me. I'm really looking forward to connecting with students and talking to them about filmmaking and, you know, showing them that it is possible to pursue this.

Deb Polich: So, giving back. So important. You know, we're going to look forward to seeing "Disfluency" and sticking around for your Q&A after the film. And I want to thank both you and Danny, Anna, for giving us this sneak preview. Thanks for being on the show.

Anna Baumgarten: Thank you.

Danny Mooney: Thanks so much for having us, Deb.

Deb Polich: That's U of M grads and filmmakers Anna Baumgarten and Danny Mooney. Anna and Danny will be back in town with their award-winning film "Disfluency" when it shows at the Michigan Theater on March 8th. Find more about our filmmakers and the screening at WEMU dot org. I'm Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. Please join me next week to meet another creative Washtenaw guest. This is your community NPR Radio Station, 891 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.

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Polich co-hosts the weekly segment creative:impact with David Fair which feature creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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