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Film/Video Director David Filipi & staff
Jan 10, 2022
July 9, 2021, was a notable day for the center and our film department in particular as we welcomed a live audience back to our film theater for the first time since March 2020. We didn’t know what to expect; we were apprehensive but ultimately heartened when a couple of dozen people turned out to see Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Conceiving Ada (1997) over the course of two screenings. People were excited to be back in a cinema, seeing a film on the big screen, and they were eager to let us know. Perhaps no two films illustrated this better than screenings of Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967) in July, and the Wachowski’s Speed Racer (2008) in August. Both films were screened in 35mm, and one person even drove from Pittsburgh to see the latter title on film and on the big screen. And it was truly rewarding to hear from a number of people who had never seen Playtime, let alone on the big screen.
But before we returned to in-person screenings, we continued to present an eclectic array of programs online that reached thousands of viewers around the world during the first half of the year. In February, we were proud to partner with the Greater Columbus Arts Council and Film Columbus to present films by Cristyn Steward, Donte Woods-Spikes, and Sterling Carter, recipients of the Art Unites Cbus Film Award for short films made in response to the Black Lives Matter protests in Columbus. Later that month, we presented our seventh annual Cinema Revival: A Festival of Film Restoration entirely online. We featured conversations with artist Ja’Tovia Gary, Black Film Center/Archive Director Terri Francis, and Rich Whitehouse of the Video Game History Foundation, as well as a program of vintage films from around Italy provided by the Cineteca di Bologna. We were also excited to present the restoration of Mohammad Reza Aslani’s haunting Chess of the Wind (1976), accompanied by a panel featuring Mr. Aslani and his daughter Gita Aslani Shahrestani, Film Foundation Executive Director Margaret Bodde, and Cecilia Cenciarelli of the Cineteca di Bologna. It was a panel that most likely would not have been possible to pull off in-person given that the participants Zoomed in from Iran, France, New York, and Italy, respectively, and served to reinforce our belief in the benefits of virtual events to our ongoing program. And the film is a perfect example of the importance of film restoration in rethinking our shared film history.
Clockwise: Wex Film/Video Director David Filipi; Margaret Bodde, executive director of The Film Foundation; filmmaker Mohammad Reza Aslani; Gita Aslani Shahrestani, teacher and researcher, University of Paris Nanterre; Cecilia Cenciarelli, head of research & special projects, Cineteca di Bologna, seen discussing the film Chess of the Wind on Zoom
In March, Curatorial Assistant Layla Muchnik-Benali and Ohio State grad student Dareen Hussein organized the ambitious series Signs of Remembering: Women’s Resistance in Middle Eastern and North African Documentaries, featuring a virtual conversation with Mary Jirmanus Saba, director of A Feeling Greater Than Love. It was a remarkable achievement to arrange for us to be able to show all those films online. Our 25th Ohio Shorts program was another rousing success online in April, but we debuted the program in-person at the South Drive-in which prompted three more screenings at the venue over the course of the summer until we knew we could begin screening again in our theater.
Our in-person schedule returned to some semblance of normalcy in October. Though he ultimately could not join us in-person, we were thrilled to host a retrospective of films by Michael Schultz in conjunction with the release of Columbus-native Wil Haygood’s book Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World. It was a personal thrill to be able to see Car Wash on the big screen for the first time since its original release, and we were all excited to see another film in the series, Cooley High, named to the National Film Registry this year. Wil and Michael participated in a lively conversation during the series, and Michael was generous enough to participate in a virtual masterclass with students and aspiring filmmakers from around the area. My colleague Chris Stults organized a live/virtual hybrid version of our annual Unorthodocs festival, highlighted by an amazing screening of the locally-produced doc They Won’t Call it Murder (pictured at top of page and detailed below) and a virtual screening of past Wex guest Rosine Mbakam’s Prism. And in November we welcomed Bill Morrison back to the Wex for a screening and discussion of his new doc The Village Detective, which was supported by a Wexner Center Artist Residency Award in Film/Video. In trademark Morrison style, it is largely constructed from gloriously deteriorated found film footage and has to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.
As they did through most of 2020, our Film/Video Studio residency program continued to provide virtual support to artists from afar, assisting with editing, color-correcting, sound mixing and more demonstrating their collective dedication, ingenuity, flexibility, and commitment to the support of artists. Editors Paul Hill and Alexis McCrimmon and Studio Curator Jennifer Lange continue to provide virtual support, but they have also begun to work with artists in the studio as individual levels of comfort allow and you will see the fruits of their labor in upcoming exhibitions of work by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko and Hope Ginsburg, to name just two ongoing projects.
This is just a sample of the work of my departmental colleagues during 2021, and some of them have shared some favorite moments of the past year below.
It's Always Fair Weather; image courtesy of Warner Bros.
Running the 35mm print of It's Always Fair Weather (1955) was my most memorable 2021 moment in the booth. Watching Gene Kelly movies became my pandemic hobby so having this be one of our films as we returned to the theater was going full circle.
Jaamil Olawale Kososko, video still from Syllabus for Black Love (work in progress); image courtesy of the artist
A memorable studio moment for me this past year would have to be doing a couple of days of light production work for Residency Award recipient Jaamil Olawale Kosoko. Even though it was cold and raining it was nice to get outside for work and help shoot a movie after being cooped up in the house all year.
2021 Ohio Shorts presentation at South Drive-In; photo: Melissa Starker
Without a doubt, my favorite in-person moment was also the Wex’s very first of 2021—Ohio Shorts at the South High Drive-In. I can still hear the thunderous “applause” of car horns on that chilly April evening for our annual celebration of Ohio filmmakers. And watching the jury prize go to John Landry for his amazing film Standing in the Blink of a Night was made more powerful knowing that the Casey Goodson Jr. family was in the audience that night.
Beto Pérez, In the Future, 2021, 7 mins. Presented as part of the Visual AIDS Day With(out) Art program ENDURING CARE; image courtesy of Visual AIDS.
The first ever Cinéseries screening & discussion after the Day With(out) Art shorts program ENDURING CARE in December was an optimistic and intimate way to close out 2021. Being able to process the rich program of short films with a few other people gave me a sense of possibility for 2022, and I’m already looking forward to Cinéseries’ second program in January: Breakaway Shorts.
I Saw What You Did podcasters Danielle Henderson and Millie de Chirico at the Wex (image via Twitter)
In the autumn, the Wexner Center hosted two events that foregrounded community and the experience of being present as audience members. In October, as the opening night event of our annual Unorthodocs festival devoted to creative non-fiction filmmaking, we showed the documentary They Won’t Call It Murder in Mershon Auditorium with the directors Ingrid Raphaël and Melissa Gira Grant in person. The film focuses on the family members of people—many young, mostly Black—murdered by the Columbus Police Department and the lack of accountability for the officer’s actions. After the film, there was a panel with the film’s directors as well as mothers, sisters, and grandmothers of four Columbus residents killed by the CPD. The room was charged with calls for action, reflection, and justice and the power of convening as both an audience and a community.
The next month, the Wex hosted Millie De Chirico and Danielle Henderson from the I Saw What You Did podcast to present and discuss a themed “Damn the Man” double feature of 9 to 5 and Thelma and Louise. The podcast, one of the very, very few film podcasts to be hosted by two women of color, drew a sizable fanbase during the pandemic and this event, the podcast’s first live event, was a chance for the audience to share their formerly private passion for the show with others. That double feature would be a scorcher any time but as many people’s first theatrical screening in over a year, there was an heightened feeling of appreciation for a communal experience with the films and the conversation. And, for me, their conversation was a glimpse at a potential future where voices like theirs begin to move to the center of film culture.
Again, these are just some of our departmental memories from 2021. We look forward to welcoming you back in 2021 for such programs as Soundtrack by Herbie Hancock in January, Cinema Revival in February, Ohio Shorts in April, a Federico Fellini retrospective in the summer, and many, many more!
On behalf of Alexis, Chris, Jennifer, Layla, Rachael, and Paul, we’d like to wish you a Happy New Year and we can’t wait to see you in 2022!
Top of page: Melissa Gira Grant and Ingrid Raphael introduce the Unorthodocs 2021 screening of their short film They Won't Call it Murder; photo: Melissa Starker