About the Moving Image Department
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Alanis Obomsawin in a long polka dot dress holding a child and talking with a film crew member outdoors near train tracks.
Alanis Obomsawin. Image courtesy National Film Board of Canada.

The Walker Art Center presents a wide range of moving image artists and contemporary filmmakers, explores the history and creative use of the cinematic medium, represents our global community, and engages our audience with artistic approaches to the ideas that define our times.

  • Pablo de Ocampo, Director and Curator, Moving Image
  • Deborah Girdwood, Program Manager
  • Patricia Ledesma Villon, Bentson Archivist and Assistant Curator

The Walker’s innovative, interdisciplinary, and community programs reflect the integrative force of moving images. Under the leadership of senior curator Sheryl Mousley, the creation and presentation of contemporary and historic screenings take place throughout the Walker: year-round in the Walker Cinema, the self-select Bentson Mediatheque, and in gallery exhibitions as well as online through new commissioned works by artists from around the world presented on the Walker website.

The Walker Dialogue & Retrospective series began with Clint Eastwood’s inaugural visit in 1990 and has hosted more than 60 guests to date. The array of stellar American and international directors featured in the program includes Robert Redford, Joel and Ethan Coen, Steve McQueen, Isabella Rossellini, Béla Tarr, Ang Lee, Claire Denis, Miloš Forman, Mike Leigh, Harry Belafonte, Kelly Reichardt, and Olivier Assayas. Many programs are archived and can be viewed on the Walker website.

INDIgenesis is a four-week series showcases area premieres of narrative and documentary features as well as short films by Indigenous filmmakers, discussions and presentations by special guests, and a free youth-focused program.

Filmmakers-in-Conversation began in 2010 as a means of connecting filmmakers with their audiences via in-depth discussions. Most recently, Frederick Wiseman joined the Walker’s Sheryl Mousley onstage after a screening of Titicut Follies to discuss the historic importance of this film on its 50th anniversary and its adaptation to a ballet in collaboration with the James Sewell Ballet. Other examples include Force Majeure by Swedish director Ruben Östlund, followed by a post-screening conversation with Dennis Lim, director of programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York; and You The Better by Ericka Beckman, followed by a conversation with Jay Sanders, curator of performance at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Filmmakers-in-Conversation programs have sustained the Walker’s vital community partnerships with filmmaking and academic organizations for many years.

The Walker’s collaboration with IFP/MN has resulted in the popular Film Independent Spirit Awards screening series. Walker members are invited to view nominated films in several categories alongside the voting members of IFP. The Walker and IFP/MN also frequently share visiting filmmakers who present master classes and workshops in addition to their Walker screenings.

Since 2008, our academic partners have worked closely with the Walker on historical series and retrospectives to connect new scholarship to significant works or artists. These partnerships have included programs such as “I am Not a Filmmaker,” the Films of Marcel Broodthaers; Riff on the Rif, films from North Africa; And Yet She Moves: Reviewing Feminist Cinema, a chronicle of the impact of activism over the last four decades which included the work of Lynn Hershman; People’s Republic of Cinema, a celebration of the cinematic version of history in exploring the 60th anniversary of post-revolutionary China; and Abderrahmane Sissako: Africa’s Visual Poet, a retrospective with post-screening conversations with Sissako moderated by African film specialists from St. Olaf, Carleton College, Macalester College, and the University of Minnesota.

In addition, Moving Image staff members contribute to scholarship and understanding of film through program notes at screenings, online publishing, introductions and post-screening discussions led by curators, scholars, and artists. In 2014, Mason Leaver-Yap began their appointment as the Walker’s Bentson Film Scholar and contributed scholarship on films in the Ruben Bentson Moving Image Collection through programming, online publishing, and work with commissioned moving image artists.

The Walker’s mission is to mark artists’ shifts in practice and programmatic experimentation. From this directive the annual series Expanding the Frame began in 2007 for directors breaking the boundaries of moving image. The 2017 program invited Minneapolis-based artists Sam Hoolihan, John Marks, and Crystal Myslajek to premiere a newly commissioned work of expanded cinema that uses hand-processed film stocks and musical performance to respond to rare prints from the Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection.

Widely recognized for presenting a full range of moving image art forms, the Walker Art Center’s programs feature both contemporary and historical works. Starting in the 1940s, the Walker identified moving images as integral to contemporary life. Artists of that time were experimenting with film’s formal properties, such as light, motion, and sound, while also separating film art from conventional narrative cinema. The Walker recognized the importance of these developments and made a commitment to the presentation of both experimental, international and classic cinema as essential to its core mission—a philosophy that continues today.

The Early Days

Before Walker had a its own screening venue in 1971, film programs took place at the nearby Women’s Club Assembly and included contemporary works such as Five Film Exercises (1943–1947) by John and James Whitney and Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946) by Maya Deren. The Center Arts Council, a volunteer-run programming group, began to present films as early as 1953, including those by accomplished Hollywood directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Ernst Lubitsch, and Billy Wilder as well as works from abroad, such as Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) and Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (Song of the Road) (1955). Film classes for Walker members screened contemporary works like Jean Cocteau’s Orphée (Orpheus) (1951) and Sidney Meyers’ The Quiet One (1948).

During the 1960s, a bimonthly program featured films that critiqued contemporary culture. The program featured Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie’s Pull My Daisy (1958) and Ron Rice’s The Flower Thief (1960), which were balanced with classics such as Carl Theodore Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) (1928) and Sergei Eisenstein’s Oktyabr (October: Ten Days That Shook the World) (1927). In 1966, this program began to be curated thematically and included series such as Italian Neo-Realism, Expanded Cinema, which featured underground protest films such as those by Stan VanDerBeek, and the Experimental Film Series, featuring the avant-garde work of Ed Emshwiller, Kenneth Anger, and Bruce Baillie.

Film/Video Department Creation

In 1973, the Film/Video Department was officially formed and John Hanhardt was named as the first full-time film coordinator. That same year, the Walker’s Edmond R. Ruben Film Study Collection was established, along with an endowment to fund the development of the archive. Ruben, a leading figure in film exhibition in the Upper Midwest, and his wife Evelyn believed in collecting films as a way of preserving the art form. Today, with more than 1,000 titles, the Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection brings together classic and contemporary cinema as well as documentaries, avant-garde films, and video works by artists. The films are shown on original 16mm and 35mm film and digital formats. The collection is distinctive for its holdings by visual artists that range from classics by Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, and Fernand Léger to extensive contemporary work by William Klein, Derek Jarman, Bruce Conner, Marcel Broodthaers, Nam June Paik, and leading experimental artists who challenged the form and content of film, such as Paul Sharits and Stan Brakhage.

In 1974, Melinda Ward began her tenure as film coordinator and quickly instituted the exhibition structure that still has relevance today. She expanded the annual screening program to more than two hundred fifty different presentations of narrative, documentary, avant-garde, and animated films organized into series by filmmaker, historical periods, and stylistic themes. Some popular programs that began around this time still continue today, Sound for Silents: Music and Movies on the Hillside.

Breadth and Depth

Richard Peterson succeeded Ward in 1979, when she went on to create the Walker’s Learning Museum Program and then continued at Walker through 1985 as producer of the public television series “Alive from Off Center.” Peterson presented a broad range of films with a focus on contemporary avant-garde and added a significant number of these films to the Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection. He is recognized for bringing to the Walker silent film legend Abel Gance from France, along with his three-screen epic Napoleon. Peterson also coproduced Filmmakers Filming, a collaborative project with Film in the Cities for visiting filmmakers to show work at Walker and engage in master classes with this St. Paul–based community partner. At that time current Walker curator, Sheryl Mousley, was director of education at Film in the Cities.

Bruce Jenkins, who started his curatorial role in 1985, produced ambitious screening programs that embraced all genres. In 1990, he initiated the prestigious Walker Dialogue and Retrospective series series, which showcases the work of distinguished directors and actors, and features onstage dialogues between artists and noted critics. During the 1990s, moving images were increasingly incorporated into exhibitions, as artists from all disciplines explored the possibilities of the medium. The Film/Video department played a major role in exhibitions such as In the Spirit of Fluxus (1993), Bordering on Fiction: Chantal Akerman’s “D’Est” (1995), and 2000 B.C.: THE BRUCE CONNER STORY PART II (1999). From 2000 to 2003, Cis Bierinckx served as curator and expanded the presentation of contemporary world cinema through the Walker’s Bush Global Initiative and through expansive world cinema series, such as New Asian Currents, Africa Crossing, and Hubert Bals Fund at 15, and explored the transition to digital with a two-year festival titled Dig.It.

The Department Today

Building on this illustrious history of programming, the department is currently headed by Senior Curator Sheryl Mousley. Starting in 1998, she has presented moving images inside and outside the cinema to examine ways that filmmakers and artists alike explore our contemporary age. Mousley continued the Walker Dialogue and Retrospective series program that reached its 27th year in 2017. The 25th anniversary was commemorated with a Walker-produced documentary about the program presented in the exhibition Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections, celebrating the Walker’s 75th anniversary as a public art center. This installation is made up of excerpts from each Dialogue from the inaugural visit by Clint Eastwood through Steve McQueen with the 2013 premiere of 12 Years a Slave.

Mousley’s commitment to researching and curating contemporary and historic film programs continues with a dynamic program of premieres, the newest of feature films, the ongoing series Filmmakers-in-Conversation, which connects makers with their audience; and the experimental program of Expanding the Frame, which marks artists’ shift in practice and programmatic experimentation. All three programs started in 2007, and remain highlights of the programming today. Vivid partnerships with our academic and filmmaking communities are ongoing along with special international series that have evolved over the years to cover most of the globe with distinct programs coming from China, Latin America, and Iran. Mousley produced an annual international film festival of women directors that ran from 1999 to 2010, titled Women with Vision.

A popular program that has continued for more than 30 years is the British Arrows Awards that screen throughout the month of December. Recent exhibitions of films include The Renegades: American Avant Garde Film, 1960–1973; Album: Cinematheque Tangier, a project by Yto Barrada; The Clock by Christian Marclay; and installations such as whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir by Eve Sussman.

Creating Dialog

Over the years, the department has organized a number of seminars and panel discussions, including two major national conferences focused on the democratization of media production and the aesthetic of the new moving image: Media Arts in Transition, held in 1983; and its 1999 sequel, Media Arts in Transition, Again, which explored changes in the field within a rapidly expanding global, multidisciplinary, and technological context. Media Arts in Transition, Again was a trans-department collaboration with Moving Image, New Media Initiatives, Design, Visual Arts, and Education. In 2015, Superscript: Arts Journalism and Criticism in a Digital Age brought a diverse array of writers, editors, artists, curators, and theorists to address questions around online art publishing’s present and possible futures, and included two premieres of Bentson commissions for on-line moving image works. The Moving Image department’s artist-in-residence program has supported such projects as Cheryl Dunye’s screenwriting workshops conducted inside a prison that led to the production of the film Stranger Inside; Spencer Nakasako’s filmmaking classes with teens; Nicole Hewitt showing animation from Zagreb; Ramin Bahrani, Astra Taylor, Rakhshan Bani-E’temad, Debra Granik, and Zhao Liang teaching master classes at local schools along with showing their films at Walker. Long-term residencies have also resulted in new commissions, including Alan Berliner’s The Language of Names (2001–2002), Ericka Beckman’s FrameUP (2004–2005), and Wang Jianwei’s culinary performance/installation Moveable Taste.

Through innovative programming, community engagement, and a firm commitment to the history of the medium through the preservation, presentation, and digitization of the Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection, the Moving Image department at the Walker Art Center has become a cornerstone institution in the presentation of moving images that define our times.

The Walker Moving Image Commissions consist of two to five filmmakers who create new videos responding to the inspirations, inquiry, and influence of key artists in the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection. The Walker Moving Image Commissions are generously supported by the Bentson Foundation.

Program support

  • The Walker Moving Image Commissions are generously supported by the Bentson Foundation.

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