For Hollwood, summer is the time to start showing fluff. But for the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, it's the time to start showing challenging avant-garde films that few people have ever heard of. The fifth annual Rooftop Cinema series begins on Friday, June 4, on the museum's rooftop sculpture garden. It continues on consecutive Fridays through June 25 at 9:30 p.m., with a best-of event on Aug. 6.
"Associations" (June 4) features short films by John Smith, with an emphasis on humor. (Yes, there are humorous avant-garde films.) "H2O" (June 11) includes five shorts with a watery theme, created by the likes of Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger and the UW's J.J. Murphy. "The Sight of Music" (June 18) highlights the creative use of music. And "Celestial Navigations" (June 25) focuses on mind-blowing animations by Al Jarnow. Popcorn and beverages from Fresco restaurant will help the disorienting images go down easier.
UW doctoral student Tom Yoshikami has curated Rooftop Cinema from the beginning. He's experimented with various formats, lengths and genres, and by now he has a pretty good sense of what works for the rooftop audience.
"Being able to watch fun, engaging and interesting films in one of Madison's most stunning settings is a big appeal," Yoshikami says. "As we watch more and more DVDs and films online at our homes, we lose out on the shared experience of enjoying films in large groups of people, which can really heighten the experience. It certainly doesn't hurt that the rooftop setting is so gorgeous, and people enjoy bringing a blanket, perhaps a picnic, and really making the film-going experience an event."
Yoshikami has built up a following over the years, with crowds approaching 250 people -- yes, 250 people for experimental cinema. In the process, he's tried to change audiences' perception of avant-garde films.
"I think a lot of people probably have the misconception that avant-garde film is 'boring' or 'too cerebral.' I hope to open up people's eyes to the wonderful, varied world of avant-garde cinema. There are all types of avant-garde films, and I try to balance some of the more difficult or cerebral films with ones that are highly accessible and often hilarious. I would suggest you come and open up your mind to something you'd never read about in any summer movie preview."