Putting the spotlight back on Spotlight Cinema

The arthouse and international film series returns to MMoCA on Wednesdays, starting October 6.

The arthouse and international film series returns to MMoCA on Wednesdays, starting October 6.

Header image: From top left to bottom right in order of their screening dates, an international poster collage of all eight Spotlight Cinema films. They begin with “Ema” on October 6, continue with “Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy” on November 3 (second row), and conclude with “Identifying Features” on December 1.

This season’s Spotlight Cinema series at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art begins with a bang. Or its visual equivalent, an urban traffic light burning in the dead of night. This striking image introduces Pablo Larraín’s Ema (2019), signaling the series’ return for in-person screenings on Wednesday, October 6. While the film received a free streaming premiere last year on May 1 (for one day only), Ema will now be getting a theatrical revival of sorts. This local premiere builds anticipation for Larraín’s latest film about Princess Diana, Spencer (2021), which continues his intermittent dramatizations of the inner lives of public figures like Jackie Kennedy and Pablo Neruda.


The remainder of the series, with a new feature every Wednesday (excluding Thanksgiving week), contains a mix of recognizable names and newcomers alike from all over the world. From modern Chile in Ema, the second week’s selection on October 13 takes audiences to Sicily with The Macaluso Sisters (2020). This sophomore film from Emma Dante, and follow-up to 2013’s A Street In Palermo, a study of grief and sisterly bonds, initially evokes Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Turkish breakthrough Mustang (2015) and, of course, Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of The Virgin Suicides (1999). 

Todd Haynes may not have been the first person to come to mind to direct a documentary on proto-punk and art rock pioneers The Velvet Underground (perhaps that would be Jim Jarmusch), but Haynes’ latest 2021 Cannes hit The Velvet Underground chronicles the pioneering avant-rock band’s career and includes present-day interviews with surviving members John Cale and Maureen “Moe” Tucker. It hits the screen at MMoCA on October 20.

Borrowing its title from a 2006 documentary by Marie Nyreröd, French director Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island (2021) takes audiences to the remote island of Fårö off the southeastern coast of Sweden for a bit of a surrealist drama inspired by Ingmar, the great auteur, with an international ensemble of stars like Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska, and Anders Danielsen Lie. It premieres October 27.

The series boasts an especially impressive November lineup, with films from Japan, Taiwan, and Germany. Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy (2021), screening November 3, is one of two new feature films by writer-director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi to get the festival treatment this year. This one is all about “dialectical possibilities of the chance encounter,” or so writes Beatrice Loayza, in this triptych anthology with as much literary splendor as visual elegance. Days (2020), the much buzzed-about feature from Taiwanese New Wave anchor Tsai Ming-liang, expands his penchant for slow cinema tropes even further into wordless ingenuity about a queer relationship, on November 10. 

Spotlight Cinema’s most ambitious pick arrives on November 17, in the form of the three-hour epic period drama, Fabian: Going To The Dogs (2021). Dominik Graf’s film, adapted from a 1931 novel by Erich Kästner, follows a disillusioned copywriter unlucky in love. At first blush, the narrative trajectory seems like a suitable counterpart to Burhan Qurbani’s recent adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz, which was included in this year’s virtual Wisconsin Film Festival.

Concluding the series after Thanksgiving week on December 1 is Fernanda Valadez’s feature-length debut, Identifying Features (2020). It is presented in conjunction with the museum’s “Caja de visiones” exhibit, which showcases Mexican art and artists like Angélica Contreras and Roberto Torres Mata, who we’ve covered at Tone Madison in the past. Valadez’s film has been exalted for its shallow focus cinematography in rendering the opacity of a mother’s search for her missing son just south of the Mexican-American border.

All ticket sales for these screenings will be handled at the door 30 minutes prior to the standard 7 p.m. show times. (MMoCA members and anyone 18 or younger will be admitted free of charge.) For additional information, please visit https://www.mmoca.org/mmoca-cinema.

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