The 2013 Society of Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) annual conference took place in Chicago, and as an active member of the society’s Animated-Media Special Interest Group, I volunteered to organize our group’s annual conference event. The result was a wonderful night of watching and talking about experimental animated films — some familiar and beloved, others less-known but equally remarkable.

To make the event happen on our small budget, I teamed up with Chicago’s amazing Eyeworks Festival, whose annual Festival of Experimental Animation I’ve been attending for a couple of years prior. Alexander Stewart and Lilli Carré, the two directors of the festival, are thoughtful and open-minded curators. We share an interest in expanding the definition of “experimental animation” beyond the obvious abstract works, to include also character-based animation. Together we agreed on a lineup of short U.S. films that, as a curated set, help define and re-define what constitutes an “experiment” in animated filmmaking.

Alexander and Lilli then secured the amazing Cinema Borealis for our screening. The Cinema Borealis is a local cultural gem and a place of true cinephilia. Established and run only for special events approved by its owner, the venue is set up like a huge warm living room (complete with plush chairs, rugs, and a fireplace), but with the best projection conditions for a top-notch screening.

Cinema Borealis Chicago
Experimental animation (made on celluloid film) should always be watched in a venue like Cinema Borealis. This image was taken inside the venue, shortly after guests began to arrive for the screening. Photographed by Philippe Gauthier.

Lilli Carré designed a great poster for the event, which subsequently became the cover of the program notes.

The poster for the "Defining Experimental Animation" screening, designed by Chicago artist and curator Lilli Carré.
The poster for the “Defining Experimental Animation” screening, designed by Chicago artist and curator Lilli Carré.

Since SCMS is an academic society, it was important to incorporate our work and expertise into the event itself. I asked my fellow members of the Animated-Media Special Interest Group to contribute program notes for each of the films. A different person wrote about each film, and I edited the contributions into a published booklet for the event. Since the screening was open not only to all members of the SCMS organization, but also to the greater Chicago public, the booklet provided an introduction to the theme of the screening and to all of the diverse works in the lineup.

Not long before the beginning of the screening. Photograph taken by Philippe Gauthier.
Not long before the beginning of the screening. Photographed by Philippe Gauthier.

The crowd ended up being a great mix of SCMS members and local Chicagoans (artists, cinephiles, and even a couple people who happened to spot our event poster online). The audience was enthusiastic, the venue was warm and welcoming, and the films were a joy to encounter on 16mm film on the big screen. It was one of the best nights I’ve ever had at SCMS, and I feel lucky that I got the opportunity to make it happen. My friend and fellow animation scholar Ryan Pierson, who also contributed notes toward the screening booklet, published an online review of the event.

Screening lineup
(all films presented on 16mm film):

Robert Breer, LMNO. 9:30, 1978
Kathy Rose, Mirror People. 4:00, 1974
Sally Cruikshank, Make Me Psychic. 8:00, 1978
Adam Beckett, Flesh Flows. 6:30, 1974
Stan Brakhage, Black Ice. 2:30, 1994
Barry Spinello, Sonata for Pen Brush and Ruler. 11:00, 1968
Janie Geiser, The Red Book. 11:00, 1994
Oskar Fischinger, Wax Experiments, 9:00, 1923
Daina Krumins, Babobilicons. 16:00, 1982
Larry Cuba, Two Space. 8:00, 1979