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Summer avant-garde film series in Madison takes digital turn

<i>Le Jetée</i> by Chris Marker
Le Jetée by Chris Marker
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"I wonder if this is on YouTube or Google Video?"

This was one of the first questions Rooftop Cinema curator Tom Yoshikami asked himself when programming the second annual edition of the avant-garde film series that's set to kick off on Friday evening atop the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

The advent of online video is not only changing the entertainment landscape, but that of art as well, particularly in the case of historical short films that are increasingly to be found in the ether. "I'm not able to fly to film festivals all the time," explains Yoshikami, "so seeing a clip online gives me a small understanding of what the film might look like if it were projected."

While putting the finishing touches on the four-week series, he spent a little time searching for online versions of the films included in the programming. He found four.

Is Yoshikami concerned that the availability of these films online, including one of the biggest titles of the first week, might reduce interest in people attending the actual show, or for that matter, the long-term prospects of short film screenings?

Not really, he says, pointing to the shared experience of watching films with others. "I would guess that people rarely say, 'I remember the first time I saw that on YouTube,' unless they were watching with a group of people," he notes. "The size of the audience adds to the magic of the film."

The complete schedule and series descriptions for this summer's Rooftop Cinema follows, along with links to four online versions of films screening over the four-week series:

Friday, June 8 at 9:30 pm
The Strange World of Science Fiction
Wouldn't it be great if the museum's rooftop transformed into an intergalactic spaceship and blasted into space? While you're holding your breath, MMoCA brings you a diverse program of avant-garde sci-fi films.
  • Science Fiction by J.J. Murphy (USA, 1979, 16mm, color/sound, 5 min.)
  • Visitor by Frank Cantone Jr. (USA, 1985, 16mm, B&W/sound, 2.5 min.)
  • Dwarf Star by Michael Kuchar (USA, 1974, 16mm, color/sound, 20 min.)
  • La Jetée (The Jetty) by Chris Marker (France, 1962, 16mm, B&W/sound, 28 min.)
    Watch the short film that inspired Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys.


Friday, June 15 at 9:30 pm
By Hand: the Art of Animation
The process of animation takes center stage in this program that deconstructs the art of making still images come to life. With techniques ranging from computer-generated imagery to hand drawing the films in this program traverse 40 years of animation and animators in the avant-garde.
  • Ryan by Chris Landreth (Canada, 2004, DVD, color/so., 14 min.)
    Watch the short film that won the 2004 Academy Award for Animated Short Film.
  • The 40 and 1 Nights (or Jess' Didactic Nickelodeon) by Larry Jordan (USA, 1961, 16mm, color/sound, 6 min.)
  • Spiral by Emily Breer (USA, 1987, 16mm, color/sound, 12 min.)
  • The Film that Rises to the Surface of Clarified Butter by Owen Land (USA, 1968, 16mm, B&W/sound, 9 min.)
  • Trikfilm 3 by George Griffin (USA, 1973, 16mm, color/sound, 4 min.)
  • 70 by Robert Breer (USA, 1970,16mm, color/silent, 4 min.)
    Watch the short film, a spray paint and stencil animated short that was taken from the Le mouvement des images DVD issued in 2006 by the Centre Pompidou.


Friday, June 22 at 9:30 pm
Film as/on a Battlefield
The great American director Samuel Fuller once remarked that "film is like a battlefield." The five films in this program consider the idea of battlefields and destruction, with targets as varied as U.S. military bases in the Middle East and the filmstrip itself.
  • Anaconda Targets by Dominic Angerame (USA, 2004, DVD, B&W/sound, 12 min.)
  • Neighbours by Norman McLaren (Canada, 1952, DVD, color/sound, 9 min.)
    Watch the short film issued by the National Film Board of Canada.
  • Cosmetic Emergency by Martha Colburn (USA, 2005, DVD, color/so, 8 min.)
  • Diploteratology: Bardo Follies by Owen Land (USA, 1967, 16mm, B&W/silent., 7 min.)
  • Friendly Fire by Thorston Fleisch (USA, 2003, 16mm, color/sound, 7 min.)


Friday, June 29 at 9:30 pm W.O.R.D. G.A.M.E.S.
From punning on a single word to a flurry of 4000 words flashing by on screen, the films in this program play with language in a variety of fun and funny ways. Not just for English majors.
  • Word Movie (Fluxfilm 29) by Paul Sharits (USA, 1966, 16mm, color/sound, 4 min.)
  • Associations by John Smith (UK, 1975, 16mm, color/sound, 7 min.)
  • Test by Kerry Laitala (USA, 1998, 16mm color/sound, 3 min.)
  • Bleu Shut by Robert Nelson (USA, 1970, 16mm, color/sound, 30 min.)


An extended version of the schedule, including descriptions of each film, is available in the related downloads at right, along with an interview with Yoshikami.

He cautions that these versions of the films pale in comparison to the screen experience. "You don't see the image that the artist intended to you to see," he says. "On a basic level, it's like looking at a painting reproduced in a newspaper, which will be extremely different than seeing it in person."

Nevertheless, Yoshikami values the exposure these online versions give to both their creators and particularly viewers. "For people that might not be able to see the film otherwise," he says, "at least they have a little bit better understanding than if they were to simply read a plot description. It's a learning tool."

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