Best of the Decade in Wexner Center Film/Video

Fri, Jan 15, 2010

Many people are compiling “best of the decade” lists – best album, best athlete, best book – and I thought it would be fitting to compile a list of the best or most memorable film/video events at the Wexner Center during the 2000's. The list of great filmmakers who have visited the center in the past ten years would easily fill such a list (Spike Lee, Pedro Costa, and Milos Forman all visited in a span of two months in early 2008), which would not come close to doing justice to the breadth and scope of our overall programming. That said, here is a very subjective list of highlights from the past decade. I made it a baker's dozen to produce a more representative list. Please share some of your favorites with us on our blog.

The List (in loose chronological order):

  1. Richard Linklater retrospective (February 2000)
    Linklater was the first of our now regular visiting filmmaker retrospectives. He stayed for two nights, engaging in an onstage conversation with clips the first, and introducing a double-feature of his film Before Sunrise as well as Some Came Running which he selected as one of his favorites that also screened throughout the month.

  2. Philip Kaufman (April 2001)
    Other than Martin Scorsese, Frederick Wiseman, and Milos Forman, no past visiting director has had a career that reaches back as far as Philip Kaufman (though iconic French actress Jeanne Moreau did visit in 1996). It meant a number of great films in his retrospective (The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) but what I remember most from Kaufman's visit is the number of quality of anecdotes from the productions listed above as well as his many other film. The event was made all the more memorable as the interview was conducted by former New Yorker critic and frequent New York Times contributor – and longtime Kaufman friend – Terrence Rafferty.

  3. Guy Maddin (Multiple visits, first February 2002)
    Guy has become such a favorite of not only our department but also our audience that we have him back as often as possible! He's visited for a retrospective, to introduce My Dad is 100 Years Old, Cowards Bend the Knee, and a double-feature of his choice – Blood Money and Day of Wrath. He is also working on a new feature as part of his Wexner Center Residency Award.

  4. Flag Wars (March 2003)
    Our screenings of Laura Poitras and Linda Goode Bryant's documentary Flag Wars are perhaps the best attended and most memorable events to ever take place in our theater. The film covers the tensions in Columbus's Olde Towne East neighborhood as more and more white gays move into the historically black working-class neighborhood. The screenings were accompanied by panel discussions with people from the neighborhood, politicians, and business people and sparked much frank and meaningful dialogue. The film was supported by the Wexner Center's Art & Technology residency program.

  5. Olivier Assayas (October 2003)/Claire Denis (October 2004)/Arnaud Desplechin (April 2005)
    I like to think of this as our French trilogy – three of France's leading directors of their collective generation all visiting in a relatively short window of time. All visited as part of retrospective's: Assayas introducing demonlover; Denis visiting just before the release of The Intruder; Desplechin to introduce Kings and Queen.

  6. Jacques Tati's Playtime (July 2004)/Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (February 2008 & 2009) in 70 mm
    There might be others but it is hard to imagine two better films to see in new 70mm prints on the big screen. Playtime proved incredibly popular with some seeing it all three nights it ran. It even inspired a group of cinephiles from Cleveland to rent a bus and travel down for the occasion. What's most exciting to me, however, is that we are still able to present films in this increasingly rare format. We'll be screening Playtime in 70mm again in April.

  7. The Box (2005)
    The 2005 renovation of the Wexner Center gave us a new programming space we've dubbed, simply, The Box. This new space allows us to screen short work that otherwise might not find a place in our theatrical program and also gallery-based work by both emerging and established artists. It has also become a great space for showcasing some of the work that's being made through our Art & Tech residency program. Some of the featured artists include: Ryan Trecartin, Anri Sala, William Jones, Michael Robinson, Pierre Huyghe, Marie Losier, Joe Sola, and Kota Ezawa.

  8. Sadie Benning Residency & Exhibition (2003-07)
    2003-4 Media Arts Residency Award winner Sadie Benning was the subject of a retrospective in February 2004. The award marked the beginning of a years-long relationship with the artist that culminated in 2007 with her very first solo gallery exhibition, Suspended Animation, organized by Media Arts associate curator Jennifer Lange. The show featured Sadie's painting and the premiere of Play Pause, which was shot and edited in our Art & Tech studios. Play Pause has since shown at a number of museums since its debut at the Wexner, including last spring/summer at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

  9. Chris Marker – Staring Back (2007)
    A special mention must be made of the 2007 exhibition Staring Back, featuring the photography of revered French filmmaker Chris Marker and organized by Bill Horrigan. Because of Bill's ongoing relationship with Marker, the Wexner Center is perhaps linked to Marker's more recent work like no other institution.

  10. Milos Forman (April 2008)
    We screened a handful of Forman's films in conjunction with his visit but the reason it was so memorable for me was his reaction following a rare screening of his first American film, Taking Off. I think Mr. Forman was a bit surprised, touched even, by the audience's overwhelmingly positive reaction to the film. He seemed genuinely moved by the outpouring of affection for the film and he gave a wonderful Q&A with the audience after.

  11. Phil Solomon retrospective (October 2008)
    Solomon has been making experimental/personal films for three decades (collaborating with Stan Brakhage on three films) but it was exciting to see his recent move into machinima – mining the contents of the Grand Theft Auto video games – for his most recent series of films and to witness the films' impact on many of the younger people in the audience. Organized by assistant curator Chris Stults, the series was accompanied by an installation of the world premiere of “EMPIRE” (also from the Grand Theft Auto series) as well as a preview of his upcoming work American Falls which opens at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in April.

  12. New Initiatives: the Zoom! Family Film Festival/the Wex Drive-in/Rare Films from the Baseball Hall of Fame
    We are always striving to introduce new audiences to our programming and these three ongoing programs, all introduced in the past decade, have proven very successful in that regard. Zoom!, a collaboration with our education department, offers families an opportunity to see child-friendly fare not typically available in local multiplexes or on commercial DVDs. Three times during the summer we hang a screen, truck in a film projector, and open up the plaza to anyone interested in seeing a film under the stars. The events have become incredibly popular (weather permitting), attracting up to 900 patrons with the promise of free ice cream, popcorn, and film fun. The Rare Films from the Baseball Hall of Fame event, started as a personal, presumably one-time, labor of love has turned into an annual event attracting hardball fans from all over the area. It has since been presented in Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco.

  13. New Releases
    The new releases that premiered at the Wexner Center are too many to list here. But a quick survey of the results of the Cinematheque Ontario poll would show that the majority of titles listed played at the Wexner Center if they played in Columbus at all.

Without question, the most heartening development over the past decade has been watching our attendance increase by nearly 5,000 patrons per year. It is both reassuring to know that there is an audience for the types of films and programs we present and rewarding to know that our efforts are being enjoyed and appreciated by so many people.

What is interesting is that despite what appears to be a growing interest in non-mainstream film programming there has not been a correlative interest in the local film press. In fact, the amount of film coverage in Columbus has sharply declined. When I moved here in 1994 there were three independent weeklies – the Alive, the Guardian, and The Other Paper – the Dispatch, and various other special interest publications. All could be counted on to provide regular, thoughtful, and expansive film coverage on a fairly regular basis. Now, the Guardian is gone, the Alive has been purchased by the Dispatch (leading to a drastic content change), and the editorial voice of The Other Paper has been reduced to say the least. Despite the fact that with the internet anyone can get coverage of studio films and major independents just about anywhere, the local media continues to focus almost exclusively on these types of films. There are terrific music-themed websites, such as donewaiting.com, that provide coverage of just about any music event going on in town. It's too bad there isn't a similar film site. For a film culture to grow and thrive in Columbus, it is crucial that there be curious and adventurous critics (not reviewers) who prod people to take a chance, who place a new film in the proper context, and who don't simply parrot studio press releases and settle for what is being offered at the multiplex.

At the beginning of the decade we presented a retrospective of the work of Taiwanese director Hou-Hsiao-hsien, who had just been name the director of the 1990s by the then-influential Village Voice poll, despite the fact that almost no one in the U.S. had even heard of him. Frank Gabrenya, the former longtime Dispatch critic, wrote about the “discovery” of Hou and gave prominent coverage to the unknown director even though the director wasn't visiting and nothing more special than the films were being presented. The series did better then we could ever imagined, thanks in no small part to Frank's open-mind and the coverage that resulted. We'd never get the same type of article today.

On behalf of everyone in our department – media arts director Bill Horrigan, media arts associate curator Jennifer Lange, assistant curator of film/video Chris Stults, Art & Tech studio editors Paul Hill and Mike Olenick, and the hardest working projectionist in the biz Bruce Bartoo – thank you for your support, your curiosity, and your faith and we hope to see you often at the movies.

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