Two favorites from the Sundance and Cannes film festivals join a vintage Russian movie set on Mars.
The Walker Art Center Cinema reopens this weekend with special screenings following a six-month makeover. After nearly 40 years of operation, the multipurpose auditorium boasts upgrades both cosmetic and functional. The theater interior, formerly light gray, now is painted black, reducing ambient light during screenings. The technical systems have been beefed up with premium equipment including digital and 3-D projection, 16- and 35-mm film projectors, and Dolby sound. Renovations were funded by a $1 million grant from the Bentson Foundation. The money will also allow the Walker to digitize and present vintage films in its collection.
The films chosen for the refurbished cinema's maiden voyage are two fascinating premieres and a remarkable relic.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Cannes and Sundance smash "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is set in a community of fiercely independent fringe dwellers on the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Six-year-old Hushpuppy (captivating Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with her father in the Bathtub, a low-lying island continually threatened with flooding. We see her difficult but thrillingly free life through the naïve, optimistic eyes of a child, moving in a world where hardship, uncertainty and excitement play hand in hand. Director Behn Zeitlin's outstanding debut film fuses grubby realism with exhilarating imagination and sumptuous visual beauty. It's not just a work by an artist who has found his own voice, but one who has created his own language. The film opens theatrically in Minneapolis July 13. (Free; reservations required.)
"This Is Not a Film" 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
This brave, subversive documentary (or is it?) centers on dissident Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. Under house arrest in Tehran, he faces a six-year prison sentence and 20-year prohibition from making movies. Panahi acts out the project he has been forbidden to make in his apartment, marking out the floor plans of his sets with tape and reading the characters' parts. Alert viewers will marvel at how much political protest he has managed to insert in a film that superficially avoids all criticism of the theocratic regime. His TV shows the tsunami wracking Japan, while outside his windows the fireworks and street bonfires celebrating Persian New Year presage a revolutionary uprising. A courageous cry of protest that proves art will always trump censorship. ($7 to $9.)
"Aelita: Queen of Mars" 3 p.m. Sunday.
Before Buck Rogers and "Metropolis," this lavish 1924 Soviet production imagined delirious cubist-futuristic space adventures with cruel overlords and oppressed masses. A mysterious radio message echoes around the globe, and only a visionary Soviet engineer with a Mars fixation speculates that it's a communication from space. He embarks on a rocket trip to Mars, where capitalist Elders freeze workers and keep them refrigerated for later use. The 1924 film, shot within a brief window of ideological relaxation and freer expression, has a distinctly individualist, anti-revolutionary feel about it. The expansive Martian sets and evocative costumes influenced science-fiction films for decades to come, and the hallucinatory plot device that concludes the story could have inspired "Total Recall." ($10-$12, 612-375-7600, visit the Walker lobby desk or buy online at www.tickets.walkerart.org.)
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186