Rooftop Cinema

film and video under the stars

Jan Svankmajer, Jabberwocky (Zvahlav), 1971.

Caroline Leaf, The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa, 1977.

Břetislav Pojar, E, 1981. 

Lillian Schwartz, Olympiad, 1971.

Jan Svankmajer, Dimensions of Dialogue (Moznosti dialogu), 1983.


Bring a friend, bring a blanket or camp chairs, and prepare yourself for an evening of avant-garde and independent films and videos under the stars. Rooftop Cinema returns for its ninth season in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art's rooftop sculpture garden. Five evenings of animated short films start after sundown on Friday June 6, 13, 20, 27, and August 22. Each week in June features a mini-retrospective of one of four different pioneering animators, from the surreal tales of Jan Svankmajer to the 3-D computer landscapes (yes, we will pass out 3-D glasses!) of Lillian Schwartz. Our 2014 season concludes in August with a program featuring selections from all four animators not shown earlier in the summer. Rooftop Cinema is generously sponsored by maiahaus, Venture Investors LLC, Footlights, and Yelp.

This popular series is curated by Tom Yoshikami, doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication Arts and advisor at the Wisconsin Union, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and organized by MMoCA’s education department. Technical support is provided by Mike King.

Rooftop Cinema screenings begin at sundown, roughly 9:30 p.m in June and 8:30 pm in August. Rooftop Cinema is free for MMoCA members/$7 per screening for the general public; tickets are available from the lobby reception desk beginning one hour before screen time. Rooftop Cinema will relocate to MMoCA’s lecture hall if rain is predicted.

For more information, contact Tom Yoshikami.

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June 6: The Magical Garden of Jan Svankmajer

Legendary Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer is primarily known for his feature films that combine meticulous stop-motion animation and live action in bizarre, dreamlike narratives. Perhaps his best known is Alice, a 1987 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. But as impressive as his use of puppets in Alice and his reimagining of Faust (1994) may be, his features contain only a fraction of the imagination that can be found in his short films, a body of work that articulates one of the most individual and fascinating world views in the annals of animation. His work has had a strong influence on the careers of filmmakers like Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam. This program features three of Svankmajer’s most ambitious short films, including his absurdist live-action The Garden, which has never previously screened theatrically in the US. [Adapted from an article in The New York Times]

The Garden (Zahrada) (1968, Czechoslovakia, 19 min.)
Jabberwocky (Zvahlav) (1971, Czechoslovakia, 12 min.)
Food (1992, UK/Czechoslovakia, 17 min.)

June 13: The Animated Poetry of Caroline Leaf

The films of Caroline Leaf dramatically expand a tradition of artistic and artisanal animation that flourished in Canada and, to a lesser extent, the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. Although she has made few films, Leaf pioneered important new aesthetic and technical approaches to narrative animation, which have remained deeply influential for later artists, such as William Kentridge.

Made while in college, Leaf’s very first film Sand, or Peter and the Wolf, immediately revealed her talent in direct animation, working without any kind of image background or structural armature but here, instead, “drawing” live by manipulating and sculpting sand on glass, a painstaking and elusive technique with truly magical results. Movement, character, and environment are fused in a unique fashion in Leaf’s films, which are rendered with a startling immediate and intimate poetry. Made by painting directly on a pane of glass, The Street, powerfully evokes a post-WWII tenement neighborhood from the point of view of a young boy coming of age, with Leaf’s swirling, ever shifting figures delicately intertwining the boy's actual and imagined point of views.

Leaf’s skills in adapting literature reached a further high point in her poignant Kafka adaptation, The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa, where the shape-shifting logic of her animation found an ideal and arresting subject. One of her darkest and most moving films, Leaf’s most recent work Two Sisters was a notable departure—her first time working with an original story of her own and her first to embrace the technique of scratching directly onto the emulsion of 70mm film stock. [Adapted from the Harvard Film Archive]

Sand, or Peter and the Wolf (1968, Canada, 10 min.)
The Street (1976, Canada, 10 min.)
The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa (1977, Canada, 9 min.)
Two Sisters (1991, Canada, 10 min.)

June 20: The Cabinet of Břetislav Pojar

One of the most important figures in the storied history of Czech animation, Břetislav Pojar first gained recognition as a leading figure in AFIT Studio (Studio of Film Tricks) as a puppeteer and an early adopter of what is known as relief puppet animation, a technique that enables far greater freedom of movement. After a successful career in Czechoslovakia, Pojar emigrated to Canada in 1960, where he began a fruitful thirty-year collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada and where he produced some of his best work. Featuring relief puppetry as well as traditional stop-motion and drawn animation techniques, Pojar’s Canadian films are notable for their mesmerizing visual storytelling, strong social commentary, and sophisticated sense of humor.

To See or Not to See (1969, Canada, 15 min.)
Balablok (1972, Canada, 8 min.)
E (with Francine Desbiens, 1981, Canada, 7 min.)
Why? (1995, Canada, 9 min.)
Mouseology (1994, Canada, 9 min.)

June 27: The Digital World of Lillian Schwartz

Lillian Schwartz is one of the pioneers in computer art and is known as one of the first female artists to use computers as an art tool. In the 1960s, when Schwartz first began to explore this new medium for artistic expression, the common public perception was that such works were randomly created by the computers themselves. From the beginning, however, Schwartz made it clear in her work that the creative genius of the artist was in command of her technological toolbox. She even published a practical survey of the field, The Computer Artist’s Handbook. Even before becoming a member of the group, Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT), Schwartz had long demonstrated a keen interest in the combination of art with technology and science. Although fascinated with the technological aspects of the computer as a new approach to creating art, Schwartz was most concerned with the finished product—the permanent work of art. In the early computer works, one will find the somewhat limited results of the computer program enhanced with beautiful colors in more traditional materials, such as silkscreen and film. In time, the technology advanced to the degree that her digital works created with the computer could be viewed in their finished state on a high-quality monitor and printed out with the intensity and nuances of color desired. She continues to experiment and to push the medium to achieve the results for which she is striving. [Adapted from the Lillian Feldman Schwartz Collection, Ohio State University Libraries.]

Complimentary 3-D glasses will be distributed to the first 150 audience members.

Pixilation (1970, US, 4 min.)
UFO’S (1971, US, 3 min.)
Olympiad (1971, US, 3 min.) 
Mutations (1972, US, 7.5 min.)
Apotheosis (1972, US, 4.5 min.) 
Googolplex (1972, US, 5.5 min.)
Enigma (1972, US, 4 min.)
Papillons (1973, US, 4 min.)
Mirage (1974, US, 5 min.) 
Alae (1975, US, 5 min.)
Collage (1975, US, 5.5 min.)

August 22: From Puppets to Pixels

Rooftop Cinema concludes in August with an additional selection of short films by the four artists featured in June.

Dimensions of Dialogue (Moznosti dialogu) (Svankmajer, 1983, Czechoslovakia, 11 min.)
Interview (Leaf, 1979, Canada, 13 min.)
I Met a Man (Leaf, 1991, Canada, 1 min.)
Narkoblues (Pojar, 1997, Canada, 8 min.)
Fantasies (Schwartz, 1976, US, 5 min.)
La Spiritata (Schwartz, 1976, US, 4 min.)
Newtonian II (Schwartz, 1978, US, 5.5 min.)