With lush plants, modern sculpture and and a view of the Capitol, the rooftop of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is one of downtown's most beautiful hangouts during the summer. The surroundings are even more impressive on Rooftop Cinema nights, when the museum shows films on a large screen set against a starry night sky.
This summer the film series returns to its roots with five programs of avant-garde shorts. Screenings take place shortly after sundown on selected Fridays in June and August. In the event of rain, screenings move indoors, to the museum's auditorium.
Though Rooftop Cinema has included feature-length films over the years, it was originally conceived as a set of short-film screenings, according to series curator Tom Yoshikami.
"When we started Rooftop nine years ago, we envisioned it as all short, avant-garde films, so this year I wanted to get back to that original idea," he says.
Animated films are one focus of this year's program, in part because MMoCA visitors have been enthusiastic about this genre at past Rooftop Cinema screenings. Plus, many filmmakers like to experiment in short, animated works, leading to innovations in technique and storytelling.
"The MMoCA rooftop is a wonderful space where people can see a view of Madison they don't often see, and the series' avant-garde films give them an easy entree into a type of film that might be more challenging, either thematically or narratively," Yoshikami says.
The 2014 series kicks off on June 6 with "The Magical Garden of Jan Svankmajer," which includes three shorts by the Czech filmmaker: The Garden (1968), Jabberwocky (1971) and Food (1992). These works feature the filmmaker's signature: dreamlike narratives that combine live action with stop-motion animation. Viewers may also notice some of the ways Svankmajer's creations have influenced famous feature filmmakers like Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam.
On June 13 the museum screens "The Animated Poetry of Caroline Leaf," four short works by a filmmaker who shaped Canada's artistic animation tradition during the 1960s and '70s. This program's selections -- Sand, or Peter and the Wolf (1968), The Street (1976), The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa (1977) and Two Sisters (1991) -- showcase her innovative approach to narrative animation. For Sand, or Peter and the Wolf, a take on composer Sergei Prokofiev's musical tale for children, Leaf filmed herself moving grains of sand on a sheet of glass rather. Two Sisters, meanwhile, is an original story Leaf animates by scratching figures onto the emulsion of 70mm film stock.
Another Czech animator is the subject of the June 20 program, "The Cabinet of Břetislav Pojar." A puppeteer by trade, Pojar began using relief puppet animation as a way to help his puppets move more freely. After emigrating to Canada in 1960, he began collaborating with the National Film Board of Canada to produce works incorporating drawn and stop-motion animation techniques, as well as humor and social commentary. The Rooftop Cinema program features several films he made with the film board: To See or Not to See (1969), Balablok (1972), E (1981), Mouseology (1994), Why (1995) and Narkoblues (1997).
The short Balablok provides a taste of the programming, though it is best experienced in the open air atop MMoCA.
The primary four-week run culminates on June 27 with "The Digital World of Lillian Schwartz," a program that highlights innovative works by a woman who began making art with computers in the 1960s, before most people were familiar with the machines. The program includes 11 of her shorts, including Pixilation (1970), Olympiad (1971) and Mutations (1972). Museum visitors get to watch these videos in 3D the old-fashioned way: with disposable 3D glasses.
At the end of the summer, on August 22, viewers can enjoy works by all four filmmakers featured in June. This program, "From Puppets to Pixels," features screenings of Dimensions of Dialogue (Moznosti dialogu) (1983) by Svankmajer, Interview (1979) and I Met a Man (1991) by Leaf, a reprise of Narkoblues (1997) by Pojar, and concludes with three additional works by Schwartz: Fantasies (1976), La Spiritata (1976) and Newtonian II (1978).
More details about the programming is provided in Rooftop Cinema's full 2014 schedule.