The Poetry of Logical Ideas: Mathematics in Film

Programmed by Clint Enns. Presented by the Winnipeg Cinematheque in Winnipeg, Manitoba on July 31, 2008, and back by popular demand on July 30, 2009.

Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.

Max Wilhelm Dehn

Back by popular demand. A return visit of last year’s smash hit program demonstrating the beauty of mathematics.

Dave Barber – Winnipeg Cinematheque

In short, experimental filmmakers often use mathematical concepts (both to create their films and within their films) and they often demonstrate the beauty of mathematics and mathematical thought through their films. In addition, mathematics and film making are both processes of abstraction, that is, they are both the process of removing from ideas their dependence on real world objects. Filmmakers and mathematicians use abstraction to simplify or to generalize complex ideas.

The process of discovering patterns/structure is also mathematical in nature. Experimental filmmakers often create patterns/structure in their work in order to allow the active spectator to discover these patterns/structure. The discovery of patterns/structure will often lead the active spectator to other, often more complex, revolutions since the process of discovering these patterns/structure forces the spectator to ultimately contemplate the work.

The films in this screening have been selected because they either:

i) demonstrate mathematical concepts


ii) demonstrate the beauty of mathematics and mathematical thought.


Synchromy / Synchromie | Norman McLaren | 1971 | 7 min.
Googolplex | Lillian Schwartz | 1972 | 5 min. | 16mm
Intervals | Peter Greenaway | 1969 | 6 min.
An Aesthetic Indulgence | Larry Kurnarsky| 1985 | 15 min.
Flatland | Eric Martin | 1965 | 11 min.
Symmetry | Philip Stapp | 1966 | 10 min.
Representations of Mathematics in Cinema | Clint Enns | 2008 | 18 min.
Donald in Mathmagic Land | Hamilton Luske | 1959 | 27 min.

Representations of Mathematics in Cinema

Representations of Mathematics in Cinema | 2008 | DV | 18 min.


A video compilation featuring good and bad examples of mathematical representation in contemporary cinema.

Sergio Leone – Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Michael Chapman – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)
Werner Herzog – Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)
Edward Sedgwick – Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm (1951)
Victor Fleming – The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Darren Aronofsky – Pi (1998)
Guy Maddin – Heart of the World (2001)
Jodie Foster – Little Man Tate (1991)
Gus Van Sant – Good Will Hunting (1997)
Wes Anderson – Rushmore (1998)
Ulrich Seidl – The Bosom Friend (1997)
George Paul ‘Duke’ Csicsery – N is a Number: A Portrait of Paul Erdős (1993)