Film, like photography, is one of the characteristic art forms of the Twentieth Century. It is also quintessentially American as most of its invention, both technical and artistic, originated in this country. Therefore, it is natural that a museum, such as the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, which places an emphasis on modern American art, would consider the exhibition of film as inherent in its overall mission. With this goal in mind, the original plans for the Sheldon Gallery, opened in 1964, included a fully equipped projection booth and auditorium, both designed for the optimum in film exhibition. However, film exhibition was limited until 1973 when the Gallery began a full-time program under the name of the Sheldon Film Theater.
In 1990, Mary Riepma Ross, one of the Theater's most ardent and long-time supporters and a resident of New York City, established a $3.5 million irrevocable trust at the University Foundation for the purpose of building and endowing "The Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center." This gift made it possible for the Media Center to greatly enhance and expand its programming and services in several important directions. The new film center houses two state-of-the-art auditoriums, both designated for film and video screenings, as well as offices for its staff, a research library, and a film and video archive. Two theaters permit a greater accommodation of experimental film and video, of historically significant works, and films of a more mainstream appeal as well. The center's library and archive facilitate our efforts in the areas of the Theater's outreach and educational aspects. In the interim, until the new center was completed, the Sheldon Film Theater was renamed, as recognition of Mrs. Ross' beneficent gift, in her honor. Construction was scheduled to begin in June, 2001 and the new theater opened in January, 2003.
American independent cinema, one of the most vital aspects of this country's film production, is the main emphasis of the Ross Media Center's film exhibition program. Included are the finest in current independently produced American feature and short films--documentaries and narratives, comedies and dramas, live action and animation; all made with purpose, passion, and commitment to ideas. Films from every region of the United States are included: films about politics and social justice; films about history told by those who lived and shaped it; and personal films in which people intimately share their lives. However, the program is not limited to this area.
Hollywood industry productions, not included in local commercial theaters' repertoires, are programmed. Contemporary foreign films, judged to be among the best available, are screened to provide our audience with a comparison to the work done in this country. Classic American and foreign works are included to illustrate the history and evolution of the art of cinema. Documentaries which examine a wide variety of issues of concern are presented to a knowledgeable and questioning public. Video has emerged as an important art form in recent years and is included as well. Retrospectives on directors, filmmakers, actors and actresses, countries, genres, and themes are presented to enhance our audience's knowledge and appreciation of the arts of cinema and video.
The Friends of the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, which provides financial support for both programming and the acquisition of equipment, was begun in 1981 and functions as a community-oriented support group for the program. Individual and corporate members pay annual dues which are used to fund special projects and the Theater's general operating budget. The organization has a membership numbering over 800.
The Theater is extensively patronized by members of the general public, providing a major source of revenue for the program, and has garnered a national reputation as being one of the best of its kind in this country. We strive to offer a well-rounded program of high quality which is a credit to the University and the community of Lincoln.