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From Hollywood to Shandigor, UW Cinematheque casts a wide net with fall 2021 programming

The campus movie epicenter returns September 3 at full capacity (masks required).

Photo Collage: Four selections from Cinematheque’s fall programming. (Clockwise from top left) Carol Kane stars in Joan Micklin Silver’s “Hester Street” in 1890s New York; an ensemble of supporting characters wash linens in basins in Mohammad Reza Aslani’s once lost “Chess Of The Wind”; Isabelle Adjani contorts herself in one of the most unhinged sequences of Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession”; the sisterly bonds between America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, and Blake Lively are brightly captured by Ken Kwapis in a scene from “Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants.”

This September the UW Cinematheque returns in full force, with a sizable slate of screenings across its usual venues—4070 Vilas Hall and Chazen Museum of Art as well as The Marquee at Union South. Masks will be required for everyone who plans to attend, in accordance with UW-Madison’s policy on indoor gatherings, but, barring any policy changes later in the semester, all theatres will be open to the public at full capacity.

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The fall season starts with a pair of filmmakers whose only similarity might be disliking Ingmar Bergman, which highlights just how wide a net Cinematheque casts in its programming. Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness (2020), opening the season on Friday, September 3, continues the Swedish director’s expertly composed run of mining comedy from the despair inherent in the modern world. Notorious big head Quentin Tarantino who is possibly the most publicly vocal proponent of 35mm projection, also shows up the following evening September 4, with Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (2019) hitting Madison for the first time on celluloid, the director’s preferred format. 

Some modern art house classics follow Hollywood in tow: Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 epic melodrama, Magnolia, on December 11, which signals one of Pat Healy’s two appearances in this season’s program; a 20th anniversary screening of David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001) November 6; Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), September 10, which is a film that arguably started the general American public’s interest in foreign cinema (showing in conjunction with the University Theatre’s staging of the same source material). There’s also Sean Baker’s humanistic The Florida Project from 2017 (starring Appleton native Willem Dafoe!) on November 13 and some appropriate titles for the holiday seasons—a Halloween eve (Devil’s Night) screening of the movie that yanked the chain to start the engine of the slasher genre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), as well as the quintessential movie about being depressed on Christmas and New Year’s, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960), closing out this season on December 17. 

Rediscovered releases also make a significant showing. The Cinematheque is reviving a number of titles that were shunned or suppressed altogether at the time of their original release for personal or politically motivated reasons. They include Melvin Van Peebles’ debut feature Story Of A Three Day Pass (1968), about the experience of a Black American soldier in France, which screens Saturday, September 18; then Distant Journey (1949) appears October 9, which was one of the first films to show firsthand experience of the Holocaust. Continuing the series in December is The Unknown Man Of Shandigor (1967), showing December 10, a surreal Cold War thriller about a scientist whose invention of a device to nullify nuclear weapons makes him a target for international espionage, and Chess Of The Wind (1976), December 3, the subject of a recent tweet on the magic of film restoration, a murder mystery set in a wealthy country estate. It was only shown once in its home country of Iran before being shelved as subversive in 1979 and thought to be lost until an original negative was found in a junk shop in 2014.

Some of the Premiere Showcase series also sustains the political bent—Cane Fire (2020) is a documentary about lack of representation of native Hawaiians in media filmed on the islands (The White Lotus being the latest example of many) showing October 16. New Order (2020), screening September 17, is a Mexican horror film about a rich family who fares poorly in a revolutionary uprising.

Brandon Colvin, former programmer of Micro-Wave Cinema from 2014 to 2018, and who holds a PhD in Film from UW-Madison, symbolically returns to Madison October 23 with the screening of his third feature, A Dim Valley (2020), about a trio of academic men, led by Colvin regular Robert Longstreet, who are all conducting research in the woods when they encounter a trio of women (Rosalie Lowe, Rachel McKeon and Feathers Wise) of mysterious origin and motivation. The three men (who also include director Zach Weintraub and comedian Whitmer Thomas) learn the important lesson that being horny at the same time as your friends has the potential to create a profound bond or maybe just be uncomfortable. On the opposite end of the spectrum of mysterious female power is Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981), screening November 5, a film that channels the director’s divorced guy energy into a bizarre and upsetting film that manages to mix the Berlin Wall, what has been described as a “Lovecraftian fuckmonster,” and the director’s own crumbling personal life into one of the all time great unhinged sequences from the masterful Isabelle Adjani—a performance that rivals Nicolas Cage in Vampire’s Kiss (1989) or Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (2009).

Landing somewhere between those two poles is The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants (2005), with seasoned director Ken Kwapis in attendance. The coming-of-age slumber party classic showcases a different kind of mystical power: a pair of pants that has the perfect fit on four different friends, which binds them all together as their lives go in different directions. Kwapis will field questions about the film as well as his nearly 40-year career directing film and TV on November 11. (IMDb says he has a project about The Shaggs in development. Somebody please ask him about that if I can’t make it.) He will also introduce a screening of his personal selection, George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973) November 12. (Its 1979 sequel More American Graffiti also screens November 19, sans Kwapis.) Having in-person Q&As will be a welcome return to normalcy after a year and a half of virtually distanced screenings. Live scoring is also making a comeback in a series of three silent films at the Chazen: Donald Sosin and Alicia Svigals will perform their new score for The Ancient Law (1923) September 26, and pianist David Drazin will return to accompany The First Degree (1923) October 24 and The Loves Of Carmen (1927) November 7. 

The sisterhood on display throughout the season is counterbalanced by some brotherly love as senior programmer Jim Healy brings his brother Pat Healy’s latest project We Need To Do Something (2021) on September 11, which continues the tradition that has brought Madison such lurid gems as Take Me (2017), Cheap Thrills (2013), and Compliance (2012). 

A few titles have also finally been rescheduled after their respective Cinematheque or Wisconsin Film Festival cancellations in the spring of 2020; Best Picture winner Bong Joon-Ho’s debut feature Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) is screening Sunday, October 17; Senegalese director’s Djibril Diop Mambéty’s final two short films Le France (1994) and The Girl Who Sold The Sun (1999) are screening October 29, and Achal Mishra’s The Village House (2019), which was part of the virtual 2021 Wisconsin Film Festival, reappears for a proper theatrical date October 2. 

Joan Micklin Silver, who passed away at the end of 2020, will be tributed with a strong showing of her independent features from a time where that term largely meant either Cassavetes or low-budget horror. Cinematheque has programmed three features she directed: Between The Lines (1977), Hester Street (1975), Between The Lines (1977), and Crossing Delancey (1988), screening September 24, October 8, and October 15, respectively. Another feature she produced is in the lineup for October 1, On The Yard (1978), directed by her husband Raphael D. Silver. Despite the indifference or outright hostility of film studios at the time, Silver brought stories rooted in her own experience as a Jewish woman in New York to the screen by establishing her own productions along with her husband Raphael. The headway made by Silver and contemporaries like Claudia Weill and Joyce Chopra in the 70s and 80s paved the way for the indie boom of the 90s, represented this season by Wayne Wang’s Chan Is Missing (1982), October 16. 


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