A scene from “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” from the upcoming Cornell Cinema series, “A Francophone Film Festival.”

Cornell Cinema focuses on collaborations in new virtual world

After the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered movie theaters last spring, Cornell Cinema director Mary Fessenden had to move to a virtual model in order to offer films last fall, but she wanted to continue to offer the cinema’s usual variety, as well as films with ties to courses.

The fall 2020 season did just that, and this spring semester, Cornell Cinema will continue to offer a wide variety of films with course connections. Virtual screenings will begin in February.

“Last semester, people told me that they looked forward to the films every week,” she said. “They had more time, so they watched and appreciated films they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Of course, the fact that most of the films are offered for free helps.”

“Escher,” a documentary about Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, will be shown this spring as part of Cornell Cinema’s virtual offerings.

While there isn’t an abundance of films available for the Cinema to stream virtually, Fessenden said, she found enough in the fall semester to offer a range of classic titles, documentaries, films with connections to Cornell alums and films tied to classes being offered by professors across the university.

“You can find interesting interdisciplinary connections in many of these films,” she said, citing a documentary the cinema will be showing about Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, who saw himself as a scientist above all. The film’s animations express the mathematical dimensions of his work.

One silver lining of the virtual screenings has been the opportunity to easily invite “visiting” filmmakers to offer virtual talks, either before or after screenings, Fessenden said. “We can also record those conversations,” she said “and add them to our website so that people who see the film later on can also watch them.”

Highlights of this spring semester include “The World of Wong Kar Wai,” a seven-film series of early work by the Hong Kong auteur, all recently restored. Some titles include “Chungking Express,” “Happy Together” and “In the Mood for Love.” “These films rank among my favorites of all time,” Fessenden said. “The films are visually lush, the soundtracks really great, and I find their melancholy moods quite moving.” The series is cosponsored with the East Asia Program.

Also on tap: “A Francophone Film Festival,” in which Cornell Cinema will team up with faculty in the Department of Romance Studies. This lineup of six films, supported by a grant from the French-American Cultural Exchange in Education and the Arts, includes “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” “The Freshmen” and “Varda by Agnès,” a survey of work by the late French filmmaker Agnès Varda.

Read the full story on the College of Arts and Sciences website.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Abby Butler