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Wexner Center Reopens Theater

Hope Madden Hope Madden Wexner Center Reopens Theater
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It is movie season—the first in over a year to be celebrated at the actual movies rather than on your couch—but there was one last holdout, one last Columbus independent theater that hadn’t yet reopened its doors.

Well, the wait is over. The Wexner Center for the Arts reopens its in-house film/video program on Friday, July 9 with a set of films by Cleveland-born artist Lynn Hershman Leeson. The series, showcasing three of the filmmaker’s films starring Tilda Swinton—Conceiving Ada (1997), Teknolust (2002), and Strange Culture (2007)— was originally planned as a virtual event, but things changed.

“It’s kind of funny how it just so happened so quickly,” says David Filipi, the Wex’s Director of Film/Video. “Maybe 10 weeks ago we were looking at October to start programs again and we were very comfortable with that. And then in Ohio, all the sudden everything was going to be open. And then we thought, I guess there’s no reason why we couldn’t do this in person, right?”

No one wanted to rush things, though.

“We talked internally to make sure the staff was comfortable, and we were following OSU protocols, and within the course of a few days we moved it from being an online series to being an in-person series,” Filipi says.

The program consists of three of Leeson’s films, plus a virtual conversation with the filmmaker on Thursday, July 22. The series will be followed in late July with a slate of films meant to remind people of what they may have missed without the big screen.

“We had been talking about it almost since the first day of shutdown,” Filipi recalls. “We really need to do something that reminds people about what it’s like to go to the movies in person. We started talking about some films that would be great to show big, really call attention to the fact that you’re seeing this on the bigger screen in a theater.”

The team landed on Speed Racer (2008), Lady and the Tramp (1955), It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), Playtime (1967), and Daughters of the Dust (1991).

“It was tough narrowing it down,” Filipi admits. “We knew we only had spots for five or six films, so that was kind of hard. Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust was picked because of its landmark cinematography. Here was someone photographing people that were not always accurately represented on film, depending on who was doing the cinematography. The costumes, the imagery—it is just breathtaking to see that film big.”

Lady and the Tramp made the cut, according to Filipi, because they were looking for a family-friendly film, and the canine classic was Disney’s first cinemascope offering. The Gene Kelly musical It’s Always Fair Weather represents an underseen musical experience, while Playtime is a film Filipi says needs to be watched “big.”

But he’s most excited about the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer.

“The people that liked it back in 2008 didn’t like it, they loved it,” he says. “It kind of developed this cult following over the years, and in the last year or two you see articles about how people got it so wrong in 2008. It’s almost like a 2-hour experimental film. They were really having fun with the language of cinema.”

More than anything, Filipi is ready to get back to seeing films with a crowd.

“There’s just no replacing watching a movie with an audience, being there, appreciating it with them, hearing from them,” he says. “That’s definitely the most rewarding part because ultimately, you’re sharing with people. You really felt when that piece is missing.”

The Wexner Center will continue its virtual programming, as well as its drive-in programming. Escape from New York (1981) will show at the South Drive-In Theater (3050 S. High St.) on Thursday, July 15 and Spike Lee’s 1989 classic Do the Right Thing screens Thursday, August 12.

For tickets to the Leeson program, as well as additional information and showtimes, visit wexarts.org.

Follow Hope on Twitter @maddwolf and listen to her weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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