In just one weekend, the UW-Cinematheque series can take film fans through 80 years of cinema across three continents.
This semester's series kicks off this weekend with a typically eclectic mix. It begins at 7 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday with the only Madison screenings of the French documentary “Faces Places,” which was just nominated Tuesday for an Academy Award.
Then at 7 p.m. Saturday comes a restoration of a 1987 film, ‘Daughter of the Nile,” by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien. The weekend concludes at 2 p.m. Sunday with the 1946 thriller “The Chase,” presented by UW film professor emeritus David Bordwell in conjunction with his new book on 1940s cinema, “Reinventing Hollywood.”
UW-Cinematheque director Jim Healy and his programming team are ardent film scholars and fans; they also program the Wisconsin Film Festival. Often, the challenge is reconciling all the films they wish they could screen with the relatively limited window of opportunity available. The Cinematheque shows films at 4070 Vilas Hall Thursday through Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoons at the Chazen Museum of Art, 800 University Ave.
“There’s a lot of unkind cuts when you’re programming at Cinematheque,” Healy said. “The last time a cut will be made will be for our own breathing room and sanity. We only have access to these exhibition spaces a few days a week.”
Screenings are free and open to the public, but seating is limited and first-come, first-serve, with no tickets sold.
Madison film fans are abuzz that the Cinematheque is bringing “La La Land” writer-director Damien Chazelle to town on Feb. 23 and Feb. 24. Healy said UW film professor Kelley Conway first met Chazelle at the Telluride Film Festival, and Chazelle was happy to come to UW-Madison.
“He immediately and enthusiastically agreed to come to meet with students, recognizing that we have a significant film studies program here,” Healy said. A cinephile himself, Chazelle will not only show a 35mm print of “La La Land” on Feb. 23, but will curate a daylong screening Saturday of some of his favorite films, including the 1961 French documentary “Chronicle of A Summer” and the John Ford Western “My Darling Clementine.”
Leading up to Chazelle’s appearance, on Friday nights in February, the Cinematheque will show his entire filmography as a director and writer, include “Whiplash” and the Chazelle-written thriller “Grand Piano.”
“It’ll be fun because you’ll be able to see the progression of a film career,” Healy said. “He’s a filmmaker who has arrived but is still rising.”
The other big guest the Cinematheque is bringing to Madison is UW-Madison graduate and cinematographer Peter Deming. Deming has worked extensively with directors Sam Raimi and David Lynch (including last year’s “Twin Peaks”), and will show the Raimi horror film “Drag Me To Hell” on April 21.
“We wanted to show something not a lot of people had seen,” Healy said. “He’s done a significant number of horror films, and he really makes horror films look great.”
The Cinematheque schedule, which is available at cinema.wisc.edu, also includes some Madison premieres of new films, restorations of films by acclaimed Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky (“Solaris”), and a miniseries of films from Central and South America co-sponsored by the UW department of Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies.
Healy said those partnerships are essential to growing the Cinematheque audience beyond the hardcore movie lovers who are there every weekend.
“We’re always going to have the 50 or 60 regular Cinematheque people who trust us and are devouring enough cinema that they’ll be there for everything,” he said. “But it always helps if you have a new film that isn’t on everybody’s radar to bring in another group.”
If he can, Healy tries to find room to program a favorite movie or two of his. This semester, it’s “Charley Varrick,” a 1973 thriller starring Walter Matthau as a small-town bank robber.
“Every calendar I’m able to put in one or two cult classics, movies that have a small, devoted following,” Healy said. “It’s just a movie that I never tire of, and I never tire of telling people about.”