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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 21.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Daily
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UW Cinematheque curator Tom Yoshikami talks film
Birgitte Bardot stars in Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 film Contempt.
Credit:Strand Releasing

When it comes to films in Madison -- the kind displayed on the big screen and generally not available at the multiplexes -- Tom Yoshikami plays a significant role. He helps program the Wisconsin Film Festival, recently returning from the Toronto International Film Festival to scout out possible entries for Madison's 2007 movie extravaganza. He was also the curator of Rooftop Cinema, the experimental film series that ran in the rooftop garden at the new MMoCA over the summer of 2006. For most of the year, though, Yoshikami is responsible for organizing the Cinematheque at UW-Madison.

Cinematheque describes itself as "a coalition of academic departments and student film groups dedicated to showcasing films which would otherwise never reach Madison screens." Running on a weekly basis during the autumn and spring semesters (as well as for a short summer run), a variety of foreign, historic, and otherwise rare films are screened over the weekend at Vilas Hall on campus. This is Yoshikami's third year as the curator of Cinematheque.

The line-up for the Fall 2006 edition of Cinemathque is ambitious and varied. Leading the way is a fourteen-film series from French New Wave founding father Jean-Luc Godard, the first ever at the program focusing on the legendary director. There are two other series also focusing on auteurs: a five-film series focusing on the work of 1950s Indian director Satyajit Ray, and a three film series highlighting the more-recent work of the Hungarian director BÃla Tarr. There is also a five film series examining the first prominent actors in the 1910s (along with live piano accompaniment) and a sequel to a 2003 series (named "Heroic Grace") that will feature work from the seminal 1970s era of Chinese martial arts films. The full schedule for the season is available here.

These build on other series in recent years, which include: the films of F.W. Murnau, Mikio Naruse, and Fernando de Fuentes; international collections from Taiwan, the Netherlands, and the early Soviet Union; along with "early talkies" and an annual summertime excursion into African cinema, among many others.

This weekend's offerings kicks off Friday with three offerings from Godard: Contempt (Le MÃpris), and the short films OpÃration bÃton and Une Histoire d'eau. The Saturday screenings, meanwhile, will feature Ray's Aparajito (The Unvanquished). All are shown at 4070 Vilas Hall, at the corner of Park Street and University Avenue on the east end of the UW campus.

The Daily Page asked Yoshikami several questions about Cinematheque and its place in Madison filmdom. His responses follow below.

How long has the Cinematheque been around?
Yoshikami: Formally, this is the Cinematheque's ninth year in existence. But the Communication Arts Department has been informally showing various films to the public in 4070 Vilas Hall for many years before that.

Most curators of the Cinematheque program for two years. What do you think you will bring to the film series given that this is your third year?
As I continue to work with and cultivate relationships with archivists, distributors, and other programmers, I'm able to gain access to more and more films, which hopefully translates into higher quality programming.

When I contacted the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for instance, about the Godard series, they initially told us that we'd have to pay for international shipping for all of the prints, which would have made the cost of the series prohibitively expensive. I approached some colleagues at other venues around the country about playing the series, and because we were able to organize a "tour" of the prints, the Ministry decided to foot the cost of the international shipping.

I hope to collaborate with other Cinematheque-like venues more in the future as well as curate series that will travel outside of Madison.

The Daily Page: Where and how do you typically acquire your prints?
We acquire prints from a variety of sources, including archives from around the world, American distributors, international sales agents, and governmental agencies. The prints in our series All You Need is a Girl and a Gun: The Pre-'68 Cinema of Jean-Luc Godard, for example, are coming from the British Film Institute, the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and several American distributors.

But in addition to renting prints, we must also obtain the rights to screen every film we show. In some cases (especially when films have an American distributor), one company will rent us the print and charge us for screening rights.

In most cases, however, we end up renting a print from one source and obtaining screening rights from an entirely different source. Sometimes we can find a print of the film, but have difficulty in obtaining the screening rights, which can prevent us from screening films we would love to show.

When was the last time the Cinematheque screened a Godard series?
The Cinematheque has not run a Godard series in the past. His films have shown from time to time, but not as a cohesive series. Now, I should mention that Godard films were screened often back in the sixties and seventies, as the film society scene of campus was thriving. I've received emails from folks who showed the films back in the '70s explaining that they're happy Godard will be introduced to a whole new generation of film fan.

Why are you waiting until Fall 2007 to complete the Godard series? Why not spring?
We are already committed to several other series in the spring (including another retrospective of a French director) and screening more Godard would have been too much French film in a single semester.

Why pick Satyajit Ray and BÃla Tarr for your other director-based world cinema series?
The Ray series is something that we've wanted to do for awhile now and this semester seemed to be a good time to start! The Academy Film Archive (whose director is a UW grad) is in the process of restoring Ray's entire oeuvre and we plan on showing five of his films every semester until we've show them all.

As for the Tarr series, one of the theaters with whom we're partnering on the Godard series negotiated brining in a print of Satantango from the Hungarian Film Archive and several venues around the country hopped on board to show it. A colleague of mine at the Northwest Film Forum decided to try to organize a small Tarr series (of films adapted from the novels of LÃszlà Krasznahorkai) to accompany the screening of Satantango, and, as was the case with our Godard series, made it available to other venues.

Most of the Heroic Grace 2 films are from the late 1970s and early '80s. What kind of linkages do these films have to more recent kung fu pieces and historical fantasy epics?
A lot of the contemporary directors of kung fu films grew up on these films -- these are the films from their youth! Cheng Che and Lau Kar-leung, the two directors that we're featuring this semester, really paved the way for more recent directors working in the genre.

You have live piano accompaniment for the Film Performance in the 1910s series. How does the pianist know what to play?
David Drazin, our wonderful accompanist who drives up from Evanston, Ill. to perform at the Cinematheque, has accompanied silent films for years. When we have a screener copy of a certain film, we send it to David and he's able to compose a "loose" score to the film. But, more often than not, screeners don't exist for the films we're showing, and David has to rely on his experience and intuition to improvise his performance. Usually he's watching the film for the first time during the screening!

David really is brilliant. He is quite a silent film buff, having watched hundreds of hours of early cinema, and has even made a career out of performing alongside them.

How do you work with the various UW cultural departments to organize the various series?
We have a really great relationship with many different departments and programs on campus and it's been a joy working with them putting together various series. Sometimes different departments contact me wanting to put on a series, as was the case with the Contemporary French series that we ran last spring.

I'll work with professors in a certain department to select the films and they often integrate Cinematheque screenings into their syllabi. Other times I approach specific departments hoping that a series will dovetail with their mission. When I approached the Center for Southeast Asia about the Satyajit Ray series, for example, they were thrilled at the opportunity to work together to bring these films to campus.

Considering the legacy of film screenings at the UW, particularly in terms of the film societies in the '60s and '70s and the experiences of people like David Zucker and Mike Wilmington, where does the Cinematheque fit into this history?
The Cinematheque absolutely comes from that film society tradition. Madison has always had a great film-going scene with adventurous audiences. Although film societies scene may not be as flourishing today as they once were (perhaps because of video and DVD), people still want to venture out and watch films with an audience.

And the Cinematheque is able to give them that experience of films that they often wouldn't be able to see any other place. In addition to showing films in their original format (which is often beautiful 35mm), we can offer our audience a collective experience that watching films at home just can't replicate.

The Cinematheque screens films from nearly every decade in the 20th Century. Where do you think film series and programs dedicated to preservation and the art form of the feature film fit as visual entertainment moves online?
Watching films over the internet will never replace watching 35mm prints in real theaters. Seeing films online or even projected on video can suggest what a certain film may look like, but there's just no comparison between even a beautifully produced DVD and a solid 35mm print.

There is, however, no question that the move towards video-on-demand and online film culture has affected film-going. On the one hand, as films are made increasingly available online, some people argue that there's no reason to go out to a theater to watch a film when one can see that same thing at home. On the other hand, as online film culture proliferates and as people become more knowledgeable about film, they learn that the movie they're watching on their computer might resemble what the filmmaker intended them to see, but is very different from watching a 35mm print of the same film.

I would hope that online film culture will only encourage people to visit their local cinematheques more often to see films -- perhaps the same one they downloaded the week before -- and experience something different.

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