Cinema Off-Center and Experimental Makers, 1994–2020

Bruno Fung, animator Jody Mack, Jake Wang, Mary Jarvis
Experimental animator Jodie Mack (second from left) appears with members of the Cornell Cinema student staff (L – R: Bruno Fung, Jake Wang, Mary Jarvis) following a program of her short films, “Let Your Light Shine,” Oct 24, 2014.

When Cornell Cinema became part of the College of Arts & Sciences in academic year 1994–95 as a program of the Department of Theatre, Film & Dance (now Performing & Media Arts), its showcase for more alternative film series shifted to the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, taking place on Tuesday evenings in the Film Forum under the title Cinema Off-Center.

The space provided a home for touring series like Austrian Avant Garde Cinema, Eccentric Orbit: Video Art in Australia, New Video Japan, and annual compilations from the Ann Arbor, Black Maria Film & Video, Human Rights Watch, and Margaret Mead Film Festivals. Other series, curated by Cornell Cinema director Mary Fessenden, paid tribute to the venerable distributors Women Make Movies and Third World Newsreel, highlighted work by LGBTQ makers, and offered retrospectives of films by Alan Berliner, Chris Marker, the Quay Brothers, Jan Svankmajer, and members of the Winnipeg Film Group, including Guy Maddin.

A highlight of the Cinema Off-Center years was a series devoted to the work of experimental filmmaker Warren Sonbert (1947 - 1995), curated by film archivist & distributor Jon Gartenberg ’73. The final series to take place in the Schwartz Center was the seven-program The Story of Film: An Odyssey, a 900-minute, made for British television chronicle of the history of film, directed by Mark Cousins and based on his 2004 book The Story of Film, in the Fall of 2012.

Sprinkled throughout these series were visits by experimental filmmakers, as Fessenden has remained committed to bringing experimental and artist-made films and makers to Cornell Cinema throughout her tenure. (Some of these events took place in Willard Straight Theatre before 2012; all have been in Willard Straight since then.) All these guests can be found on the accompanying list, most of whom presented programs of their short films.

According to Fessenden, “Seeing experimental films for the first time in my early twenties was an eye-opening experience for me, and I have loved sharing this kind of work with Cornell students and community members for 25 years. Many of these events have been among my most memorable over the years, including visits by Craig Baldwin, Robert Beavers, James Benning, Jem Cohen, Alexandra Cuesta, Ximena Cuevas, Helga Fanderl, Su Friedrich, Ernie Gehr, Janie Geiser, Brent Green, Vincent Grenier, Mike Hoolboom, Peter Hutton, Ken & Flo Jacobs, Lewis Klahr, Jeanne Liotta, Marie Losier, Jodie Mack, Jesse McLean, Julie Murray, Tomonari Nishakawa, Luis Recoder & Sandra Gibson, Jennifer Reeves, Ben Rivers, Michael Robinson, Daichi Saito, Phil Solomon, Stacy Steers, Deborah Stratman, Malena Szlam, Naomi Uman, Steina Vasulka and so many more. Not only can experimental work ‘recontextualize mainstream media,’ to quote Richard Herskowitz, but it can expand one’s ways of seeing and engaging with images and ideas in a more general sense. Work shown at Cornell Cinema has been formative for not only students who have gone on to become artists and filmmakers themselves, but for students in countless other fields. Lucky for Cornell Cinema that manager Doug McLaren is also passionate about experimental films and has already curated some great programs, with more on the horizon.”

Guests: Cinema Off-Center & Experimental Makers

Cornell Alums in bold

  • Martin Arnold
  • Robert Ascher
  • Irit Batsry*
  • Robert Beavers*
  • Roger Beebe
  • James Benning*
  • Joshua Bonnetta
  • Stan Brakhage
  • Maura Brewer
  • Lawrence Brose
  • Bill Brown
  • Jonathan Caouette
  • Abigail Child
  • Sarah Christman
  • Jem Cohen*
  • Tony Cokes
  • Alexandra Cuesta
  • Ximena Cuevas*
  • David Dixon MFA ’10
  • Park Doing
  • Nathaniel Dorsky
  • Erin Espelie ’01
  • Helga Fanderl
  • Robert Fenz
  • Jim Finn
  • Darren Floyd
  • Melissa Friedling
  • Su Friedrich*
  • David Gatten
  • Ernie Gehr
  • Janie Geiser
  • Ariana Gerstein
  • Sandra Gibson
  • Jackie Goss
  • Brent Green
  • Vincent Grenier
  • Sabine Gruffat
  • Mike Hoolboom
  • Peter Hutton 
  • Ken & Flo Jacobs
  • Meg Jamieson
  • Arthur Jones
  • Lewis Klahr*
  • Peter Kubelka
  • Mark Lapore
  • Jason Livingston ’94
  • Marie Losier
  • Jodie Mack
  • Bruce McClure
  • Monteith McCollum
  • Matt McCormick*
  • Jennifer McCoy ’90 & Kevin McCoy 
  • Jesse McLean
  • Rebecca Meyers ‘97
  • Julie Murray
  • Tomonari Nishikawa
  • Pat O’Neill
  • Michael O'Reilly
  • Melody Owen
  • Julie Perini ’00
  • Leighton Pierce*
  • Luis Recoder
  • Daniel Reeves
  • Jennifer Reeves*
  • Ben Rivers
  • Michael Robinson
  • Jay Rosenblatt
  • Ben Russell
  • Lynne Sachs
  • Daïchi Saïto
  • Kelly Sears
  • Amie Siegel
  • Shelly Silver ’79
  • Phil Solomon
  • Stacy Steers
  • Caspar Stracke
  • Deborah Stratman
  • Malena Szlam
  • Julie Talen
  • Leslie Thornton*
  • Naomi Uman*
  • Steina Vasulka*

*These guests toured on the Central New York Programmers’ Group (CNYPG) circuit