Any Badger likely remembers their tour of the school, if they had one. Despite all of the marketing and hype, tour guides always readily admitted what they believed to be the school’s only flaw: There was no movie theater within walking distance.
And yet, despite the frequency of this complaint, it failed to acknowledge the deeper truth. Between Memorial Union and now Union South, as well as independent film showings around the campus area and the Wisconsin Film Festival, the campus area does offer the occasional opportunity to catch a flick worth watching.
But for Mike King and Tom Yoshikami, curators of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Spotlight Cinema Series, the offerings are not enough.
What the campus still lacks, according to them, is the chance to see lesser-known independent and art house films on a consistent basis. Although it might be after a film is out of theaters, the unions allow people to see the “Black Swan”s or “Iron Man 2″s of the cinematic world eventually. Catching the Sundance selection everyone’s been talking about or a film getting attention at the Wisconsin Film Festival, for example, proves far more difficult.
As King put it, “Over the past few years, many local art house theaters have closed, which meant that many of the best new films weren’t screening theatrically in Madison at all.”
Entering this dwindling art house film scene is the MMoCA’s Spotlight Cinema series. Their current lineup, spanning the semester, features a five-film collection of documentaries and independent films on a variety of topics. Instead of being thematically unified, they simply try to bring into the public spotlight worthwhile and original films from around the world.
“We like putting together an eclectic lineup-films from different continents, and of different styles,” King said.
In doing so, they hope to revive the formally communal nature that lent itself to the viewing of art house films. The two also try to bring films from their favorite directors to Madison, often before their release in other parts of the United States.
The series’ selections prove this claim true. One film, “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” isn’t even showing in New York until December. Another, “Corpo Celeste,” isn’t slated to show anywhere until 2012.
The first film, “The Interrupters,” ran last Thursday. It follows the lives of three reformed gang members from Chicago’s South Side, re-entering the community and desperately trying to positively impact its residents and stop the violence that has plagued the neighborhood for decades. Gritty and haunting, “The Interrupters” is much like the gang violence it portrays in that it takes absolutely no prisoners.
It is also the embodiment of the crossroads the Spotlight series tries to find: “The Interrupters” was a Sundance selection and an excellently shot documentary. In addition, it tells the tale of people not too far from Madison, with footage of lives many Madison residents have heard about but never seen. As King put it, “There was palpable tension in the room … that you would never get at home.”
The Spotlight Cinema tries to tap into and amplify the art cinema undercurrent running through Madison. All of the films have been well received both by critics and audiences, and the venue and quality of the films make the $7 charge well worth it. Large enough to seat a respectable audience, but small enough to make the viewing personal, MMoCA’s Lecture Hall is the perfect venue for the kinds of films being featured. King agreed, “We couldn’t think of a better place for this.”
Perhaps there is no major movie theater in the nearby campus area, but there’s no doubt that a sizable piece of the student body would rather see an independent film with John C. Reilly than the next installment of the “Twilight” saga. Running intermittently on Thursdays at 7 p.m., “Spotlight is a chance to step away from your Netflix queue and have a communal experience with great art cinema.”
The Spotlight Cinema series is running through December at MMoCA at 227 State St. For more information, visit mmoca.org.