Focus Group: Screening Room featuring Jonas Mekas

Thursday, May 9, 2013 - 7:00pm9:00pm

Art Building, Room 1.102

Free and Open to the Public

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Still from Screening Room with Jonas Mekas, 1981

Focus Group is a screening series centered on experimental film in its various formats, including but not limited to 16mm, 8mm, and digital video. Focusing on seminal filmmakers from the past and their contemporary counterparts, the screenings are introduced by artists, filmmakers, critics, and curators who additionally present discussion topics ranging from innovative approaches to the medium to issues in contemporary film culture. Through this exposure to unique and often rare films, as well as the critical dialogue surrounding them, Focus Group enables a broader understanding of the possibilities of cinema.

Screening Room, a 1970s television series that aired in Boston, invited independent filmmakers to screen and discuss their work on a commercial affiliate station (ABC-TV). The unique program, developed and hosted by filmmaker Robert Gardner, gave equal exposure to animation, documentary, and experimental film by artists such as Jean Rouch, Jonas Mekas, Hollis Frampton, Yvonne Rainer, and Michael Snow. Each episode featured conversations with filmmakers about their work, as well as excerpts, and often full-length films. The filmmakers that were presented on the show are now considered among the most influential contributors to their respective genres. Produced and released by Studio7Arts, an organization founded by Robert Gardner to support nonfiction media, the rarely seen Screening Room episodes are still invaluable today to creative thinkers, regardless of what medium they work in.

This spring, as part of the newly branded series, Focus Group, the VAC presents a different episode of Screening Room each month, providing a wide range of anecdotes, explanations, and methodologies from pioneers in film. Videos and films hand-picked by members of Experimental Response Cinema precede each screening.

For May’s edition, the VAC presents the October 1981 episode of Screening Room with Jonas Mekas, a filmmaker, film critic, archivist, poet, lecturer, and curator who is one of the leading figures of American avant-garde film and video. Born in Lithuania, Mekas immigrated to New York in 1949 after spending time in Nazi forced-labor and displaced-persons camps. He went on to create numerous narrative and diary films that have screened extensively at festivals and museums around the world, and he was the editor-in-chief of Film Culture, movie critic for the Village Voice, and co-founder of Anthology Film Archives, one of the world's largest and most important repositories of avant-garde films. In this episode of Screening Room, Mekas discusses the film preservation efforts of Anthology Film Archives and screens and elaborates on his own work, as well as films by other filmmakers such as Bruce Baillie, Stan Brakhage, Ernie Gehr, Joseph Cornell, and Marie Menken. Preceding the episode, Experimental Response Cinema representative Scott Stark will screen and discuss the Mekas film: Walden: Reel 2

Scott Stark has produced more than 60 films and videos since 1980. Additionally, he has created a number of gallery and non-gallery installations using film and video, and elaborate photographic collages using large grids of images. Born and educated in the midwest, he has always been interested in aggressively pushing his work beyond the threshold of traditional viewing expectations, challenging the audience to question its relationship to the cinematic process; yet he also tries to build into the work elements of humor and incongruity that allow the viewer an entryway into the work while maintaining a critical distance. Both a passionate purist and a cynical skeptic, he likes to emphasize the physicality of film while cross-referencing it to the world outside the theater, attempting to lay bare the paradoxes of modern culture and the magical nature of the perceptual experience.

Special thanks to The University of Texas at Austin Fine Arts Library and its staff for supporting the educational mission of the Visual Arts Center through acquisitions of works like Screening Room

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Experimental Response Cinema is an Austin-based collective of avant-garde film and video artists, devoted to bringing local, national, and international experimental films to Austin screens. They strive to show all media (16mm and 8mm film, digital video, and others) in its original format, under the best possible screening conditions.