Rooftop Cinema goes heavy on animation for 2016

MMOCA’s summer film program returns on June 3 with a night of Don Hertzfeldt shorts. 

MMOCA’s summer film program returns on June 3 with a night of Don Hertzfeldt shorts. 


Piotr Kamler's 1982 film

Piotr Kamler’s 1982 film “Chronopolis” screens on June 24 at Rooftop Cinema.

Last summer, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Rooftop Cinema series marked two big milestones: Its 10th season, and longtime curator Tom Yoshikami moving from Madison to Vancouver. With the latter, I was a bit worried about the series’ future, but MMOCA has announced Rooftop’s 2016 schedule, taking place each Friday in June plus a final installment on August 19. It’s in keeping with the series’ usual spirit—presenting mostly experimental films, but with enough whimsy and humor to make it broadly accessible—and this season four of the five screenings will focus entirely on animation.

It begins June 3 with a night of American animator Don Hertzfeldt’s early short films. That will of course include monuments of brutal stick-figure warpage like 2000’s Rejected and 1998’s Billy’s Balloon, but also his 2005 film The Meaning Of Life, which bears glimmers of the cosmic wonder and emotional depth Hertzfeldt would come to show in his 2012 feature It’s Such a Beautiful Day.

June 10 is devoted to the work of Naoyuki Tsuji. In selections like 2003’s A Feather Stares At The Dark, he animates with charcoal drawings, making for characters who inhabit streaky, haunted worlds and sometimes leave ghostly trails behind as they move. Other works on the program, like 1992’s Wake Up and 1994’s For Almost Forgotten Stories, showcase his work with puppet animation.

On June 17 the series turns to American animator Karen Aqua, who died in 2011 at the age of 57. Many of us have already experienced Aqua’s work without knowing it, through the short segments she created for Sesame Street in the 1990s. But this Rooftop program will focus on her more personal, political, and experimental works.

The one feature-length presentation of the season comes on June 24 with Polish filmmaker Piotr Kamle’s 1982 sci-fi exploration Chronopolis. The film has a bit of Metropolis’ ornamental retro-futuristic look, but also has a bold surrealism of its own. Its characters live in a fanciful sky-city and cope with “the monotony of immortality” by creating all manner of strange inventions, rendered with a wild but still cohesive variety of animation techniques.

The final night, on August 19, departs from animation to screen a few segments from the early-2000s British series Look Around You. It parodies scientific education videos with skits that marvel at pointless scientific experiments and craptastic inventions. Its humor is at once wildly absurd and very British-bone-dry. It’s not exactly what you’d expect an experimental film series to screen, but that’s what keeps Rooftop Cinema interesting.

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