Bits and pieces of light and darkness

The Walker Art Center's film and video program returns with a blast

Niels Strandskov

In the early days of film, when cinema was barely out of the carnival tent and the nickelodeon, art critics vigorously debated the question of whether movies could be art. “The seventh art,” as some commentators styled it, had a great deal of novelty but little in the way of legitimacy in the eyes of many of the more conservative aesthetes.

Nowadays, it’s hard to find anyone who won’t at least allow that film can be art, even if they turn up their noses at Hollywood product.

How did this transformation happen? In part, it was thanks to the efforts of traditional artistic institutions, some of which saw the shape of things to come quite early on.

One of those institutions was the Walker Art Center, whose redesigned space reaffirms its commitment to the seventh art.

“Going back to the 1940s, the Walker was showing films and inviting filmmakers to talk about their work,” said Sheryl Mousley, the Walker’s film and video curator.

From Maya Deren, an avant-garde director and film critic, to international film heroes such as Satyajit Ray and Akira Kurosawa, the early Walker film programs embraced a wide variety of styles and content.

“After World War II, the Walker was interested in opening its doors to films from around the world,” Mousley said.

Indeed, the Walker’s long-time commitment to world cinema has produced a list of programming that could serve as an entire major in film history.

Mousley said, however, that international cinema is just one of the three components of the Walker’s film and video programming.

Showing “bold, innovative American filmmakers and artists with an aesthetic of experimentation” is equally important to the Walker’s mission, she said.

To celebrate each rubric in the initial weeks of the center’s new space, Mousley and company have programmed a lineup that will set cinephiles’ eyelids aflutter in anticipation.

On Wednesday, the Walker will screen director Todd Solondz’s (“Welcome to the Dollhouse”) new film, “Palindromes.” Solondz will be present to introduce the film.

Then, April 29, avant-garde filmmaker Harry Smith’s final work, the experimental “Mahoganny,” will screen in a newly remastered 35mm print.

To round out the series April 30, director Theo Angelopoulos’ historical epic, “Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow,” marries 20th century Greek history with classical tragedy.

And just as this impressive program finishes, the Walker’s 12th annual Women with Vision series starts up, providing female filmmakers with a forum to let their voices be heard. (A full piece on Women with Vision will appear in A&E in two weeks.)

All this would be more spectacular if it weren’t par for the course. Year in and year out, the Walker’s film and video program has given Twin Cities movie lovers the opportunity to experience a variety of cinema that has few equals worldwide.