The start of a new semester at UW-Madison means it's time for a new round of rare and foreign film screenings on campus, as the UW Cinematheque launches this weekend. There are five major series featured over the winter and spring months, everything from newly restored American features, to retrospectives of Jacques Rivette and Satyajit Ray, to a look inside the genuine glorious nation of Kazakhstan (and its neighbors). The series are co-curated by Tom Yoshikami and Karin Kolb, with the films generally screening over three nights most weekends.
This semester of Cinematheque marks the end of Yoshikami's three-year run as a curator. He'll remain busy in the world of Madison film, however. He is curating a second season of Rooftop Cinema -- presenting four weekends of avant-garde films -- at the gardens on top of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. For autumn, he is helping UW medical history professor Gregg Mitman organize an environmental film festival, Tales From the Planet Earth, and will remain active in assisting Cinematheque, particularly with its second series of Jean-Luc Godard films.
Yoshikami is also assisting Wisconsin Film Festival director Meg Hamel with this year's programming. "We're still in the process of watching a ton of films," he says, "and though I probably shouldn't name any specific titles right now, I will say Madison is in for some wonderful shows!"
The spring semester for Cinematheque kicks off Friday, Jan. 26, with a screening of the 1959 version of Imitation of Life directed by Douglas Sirk. Following a Saturday screening of CÃline et Julie vont en bateau by Jacques Rivette, the films end Sunday with a different Imitation of Life, this one released in 1934. Everything is shown at 4070 Vilas Hall on the UW campus, located at the corner of Park Street and University Avenue.
A complete listing of the spring 2007 Cinematheque series is available in the related downloads at the right. An interview with Yoshikami follows.
The Daily Page: In the first weekend of the semester, you are screening two versions of Imitation of Life. Then in March you are showing an early version of Chicago. Given that Cinematheque is in part dedicated to screening films from throughout the medium's history, what can people learn about the phenomenon of remakes from watching these?
Yoshikami: The phenomenon of remaking films is as old as the medium itself, but rarely are people able to see multiple versions of the same story back-to-back. Once we programmed Sirk's Imitation of Life, my co-programmer Karin Kolb came up with the great idea to couple it with John Stahl's lesser-known 1934 version of the film, which is not often screened.
One of the major themes of both films, for those who don't know, is race relations, and seeing how two different Hollywood filmmakers incorporate the theme into their narratives twenty-five years apart will be telling. But perhaps equally as interesting will be the stylistic similarities and differences between the two films. One can learn a lot about the history of film by watching remakes.
For both Chicago and Imitation of Life, audiences will presumably be familiar with the latter version before watching the former, which is the inverse of how I suspect most people tend watch/read remakes/adaptations. When a remake of a movie comes out, I, for instance, usually like to try to see the original first (or read the book), so that I can judge the remake against it. But with Imitation of Life (and to some extent Chicago, as I would suspect many people will be familiar with the recent musical version), audiences will have expectations that they'll bring with them. I'm curious to see how people will respond to them!
One of the series is "Restored Treasure's from America's Archives," a biannual look at refurbished films. How will changing technologies, both in terms of digital moviemaking and storage change restoration in the future?
Changing technology has and will continue to have an enormous impact on film restoration. I'm no expert on restorations, but if folks are interested I have to plug our screening of Leave Her to Heaven on March 24. Two of the archivists -- Mike Pogorzelski (director of the Academy Film Archive and a UW grad) and Schawn Belston (executive and former director of Film Preservation at 20th Century Fox) -- will be on hand to discuss this exact topic.
Leave Her to Heaven was restored digitally by both the Academy and Fox, and with digital restorations come a whole host of issues and concerns that Mike and Schawn will discuss. In addition to the changing technology used in the actual restoration process, digital technology plays a role in determining what is restored. One question I'm always fascinated by is why certain films are restored when others are not. These days, it's pretty common for a future DVD release to initiate a film's restoration.
There are only two nights of films featuring live musical accompaniment this spring, right? Why should people check that out?
Actually, we have three nights of films with live musical accompaniment.
On Feb. 9, we will collaborate with the Chazen Museum for an evening of films to coincide with their exhibition "New York City Life, 1905-1940: Prints by John Sloan and His Friends and Followers." We'll screen Cecil B. DeMille's early feature film Kindling (1915) as well as five short actuality films shot on location in and around New York City at the turn of the century. David Drazin, who has accompanied many of our silent films over the past several years (and who recently performed at the silent film festival in Pordonone, Italy), will be on the keys.
David will also accompany a double feature in our series "Restored Treasures from America's Archives" on May 5, when we show Her Wild Oat and For Alimony Only.
Our third night of piano accompaniment takes place on March 2, when we present the recently discovered silent musical (!) Chicago. Madison's own Matan Rubinstein, will accompany.
Why should people come check out these screenings?
The films themselves should be reason enough to come to the screenings -- they're rarely shown archival prints and are not available on DVD or video. But when you add the talents of David and Matan on the piano, you get a much richer experience.
On one hand, these screenings become more authentic in that audiences will be able to experience the films much like audiences did nearly 100 years ago, as most screenings in the silent era featured live music of some sort. On the other hand, you've got contemporary musicians who have grown up listening to 20th Century music, most of which wasn't around when these films were made and originally screened.
Now, that's not to say that you're going to hear Top 40 pop songs during these screenings as the pianists do try to play period-specific music, but that tension of trying to recreate an experience dozens of years after the fact will always exist, and is part of the fun. I should also mention that David and Matan are really fun to listen to!
Last semester, you launched the first round of a two-part Godard series, and this semester you are screening films made by Jacques Rivette. How important is the French New Wave in cinematheque-style programs around the country?
Well, some may say that it's been a bit over-emphasized in my programming and, to be honest, I wouldn't entirely disagree. The French New Wave is definitely a major movement in film's history -- it's produced a handful of amazing filmmakers, dozens of fantastic films, and it's also one of, if not the most, influential movements. But it's certainly not necessary to have New Wave films on every calendar.
However, the Cinematheque hadn't shown a series of New Wave films prior to our Godard series in the fall, so you might say that we're just making up for lost time. But seriously, my tastes run towards to the New Wave directors, and I've wanted to do a Godard series since I began programming. It just so happens that there's been a bit of a Godard resurgence of late, which is why his retrospectives (as well as monographs and conferences) have been popular at cinematheques of late.
Rivette is a different story -- he's a fairly well-known name, but surprisingly few of his films have been screened in North America. When the Museum of the Moving Image took up the torch of organizing a Rivette retrospective we couldn't pass it up. Many of the prints we'll be screening are coming from France and without the collective efforts of many cinematheque-like venues (the Rivette retrospective is "on tour," so to speak, screening at over a dozen venues across the country in the coming months), it would have been very difficult to import them. Timing plays a large roll in programming and good timing is great.
What is the MadCat International Women's Film Festival? What's the story behind it?
The MadCat International Women's Film Festival takes place in San Francisco each September and hosts dozens of experimental and independent films made by women from all over the world. Festival Director Ariella Ben-Dov then curates a touring package of some of the highlights from the fall festival and brings it all over the country. Katherine Spring, my predecessor at the Cinematheque, programmed the touring Festival a few years ago and we're happy to have it back on our schedule.
What, if anything, is different about this semester's Satyajit Ray from the fall series?
Our Ray series last semester consisted of Ray's first five features (from 1955 to 1959). We'll show five of his next six this semester (running from 1960 through 1964). Much like our Fritz Lang series from several years ago, and our Godard series of last and next autumns, what excites me about this series is that we'll be able to trace the maturation of single director over their entire career.
Whereas our "A Humanist's Vision of India: Part 1" featured "The Apu Trilogy," which was a coming-of-age tale of a young boy, several of Ray's films in our series this semester will focus on the idea of "the modern woman." Both Devi and Charulata -- considered to be two of Ray's finest -- feature very strong female leads and will show audiences a different side of Ray. Our series this semester concludes with Abhijan, which was Ray's first attempt to speak to a wider, more popular audience. This should make for an interesting counterpart to "The Apu Trilogy." It's also where we'll pick up next fall for the third part in our multi-year Ray retrospective.
We will continue to show five restored prints of Ray films every semester until we make it though his entire career, which will take us about three years.
Spanish films, or at least directors, are in something of a Renaissance currently when it comes to trendy Hollywood features. Does this year's LACIS Film Festival reflect this?
The fact that LACIS (UW's Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program) chose to highlight films from Spain and Portugal for their annual festival this year is a coincidence -- each year LACIS highlights films from a certain geographic region and Spain and Portugal were due up.
But to speak to the popularity of Spanish films in America, I went to see Pan's Labyrinth last weekend at Point cinemas and I was excited and surprised to see such a packed house for a foreign-language film at a multiplex. (Sadly, though, there was a couple in front of me who got up and left as soon as the first subtitle hit the screen.) I presume that when AlmodÃvar's Volver comes out, it will play to equally big audiences here in Madison.
It's hard to imagine that either of these films would have played a multiplex in Madison ten years ago, but audiences are more willing than ever before to not let language come between them and good cinema. I'd like to think that this is due, in part, to do with the success of the Wisconsin Film Festival, which gives people the chance to see all sorts of films that they wouldn't normally see.
Similarly, does the Central Asian series reflect a growing prominence of films made in the former Soviet republics, particularly given the political realities in today's world?
The Center for Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CREECA) approached us about doing to a series of films from Central Asia -- the 'Stans, as they're called.
Originally, we hoped to present a shorter incarnation of an expansive series that played at the Film Society of Lincoln Center a couple of years ago. But once Karin Kolb began working on tracking down titles, she discovered that there were several interesting recent films from Central Asia that had yet to make their way to Madison, and the idea of a series focusing on contemporary films was born.
I don't, however, want to paint the portrait of filmmaking in Central Asia as booming. One of the reasons why only four of the 'Stans are represented is that we couldn't find a recent film from Turkmenistan to fit the bill. Their national Turkenfilm Studio was shut down in 1996 by then-president-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov (who recently passed away) to make room for the construction of a new highway. One way that these post-Soviet governments can export an image of their nation is through film.
I can imagine that the Kazakh government, for instance, is looking forward to international audiences seeing Schizo, which shows a Kazakhstan very different from the one portrayed in Borat. I'd like to add that Karin named the series "Coming of Age" not only because the 'Stans are growing up, so to speak, but also because the films are all coming-of-age stories, which ties them together well.
The UW Cinematheque recently launched a new website, one that Yoshikami describes as "still very much a work in progress," one that they're interested in learning what people would like to see on it. Their goal is to build it into "a resource that people will want to return to," he says, and not simply a place to see what's screening over the weekend.