Radio-television-film graduate student founds experimental film program for UT students

Kate Dannenmaier

A dark theater in the art building is filled with around 30 students who watch as John Lennon’s face slowly morphs from a grimace to a smile. The original clip of the singer is about one minute, but, for this particular film, the short video is stretched over an hour. This is what Paul Gansky, a radio-television-film graduate student and founder of The Mad Stork Cinema, calls experimental film.

Gansky and a group of graduate students founded The Mad Stork Cinema in 2012 to bring films to UT that would not otherwise reach audiences in Austin.

“If you’re not in Los Angeles, New York or Rotterdam or taking classes at the University of Colorado at Boulder, chances are you are never even going to know these films exist, much less get a chance to see them,” Gansky said.

Experimental cinema is non-narrative and designed to be provocative, angering or unsettling. The films are produced by one or two people for noncommercial purposes, rather than in a Hollywood studio, according to Gansky.

Rachel Stuckey, a programmer for The Mad Stork Cinema and studio art graduate student, said a wide range of students come to the screenings. 

“It’s hard to say that you could go to one screening and ‘know’ about experimental cinema, especially because you could go to one and it would really not be your thing, but you could go to another one and really enjoy it,” Stuckey said. “It’s always going to be a pretty unique and challenging experience.”

Gansky said the film screenings are meant to get people excited and talking about art they normally wouldn’t be exposed to.

“We needed to create a prolonged environment in which we would not only screen these films but also create a rich discussion around them with students, faculty and staff,” Gansky said.

Radio-television-film sophomore Bridget Keene, who went to two of The Mad Stork Cinema’s screenings last year, said one of the main reasons she and her friends went was to be able to discuss the films with Gansky, who was their instructor at the time.

“It has to do with breaking the rules of narrative structure that we’ve been taught in film school,” Keene said. “And, yeah, it calls back to a lot of the original film techniques and stuff, but it’s more about going past that and experimenting more with narrative structure and aesthetics.”

Stuckey said The Mad Stork Cinema’s upcoming screening should be fun to watch.

“We’re screening what’s called CinaMenace, which is energetic video about being bad, either through misuse of video equipment or kind of narratively digging into menacing personality aspects or activities,” Stuckey said.

Mad Stork Cinema has had screenings where 250 people show up and screenings where only five people come. Although the organization welcomes any and all students, Gansky said they’re not particularly interested in building a huge presence on campus.

“It’s really about creating quality events that usually only a few people are going to be interested in it,” Gansky said. “But we want to make sure that we’re satisfying that part of the student community.”