07 April 2011

Wisconsin Film Festival 2011: Overview

Last weekend I attended the Wisconsin Film Festival here in Madison and saw eight films: Sasha (Saša, Germany 2010), Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren, Norway 2010), The Piano in a Factory (Gang de qin, China 2010), Medal of Honor (Medalia de onoare, Germany 2009), A Somewhat Gentle Man (En ganske snill mann, Norway 2010), Le quattro volte (Italy 2010), The Light Thief (Svet-Ake, Kyrgyzstan 2010), and Everything Will Be Fine (Alting bliver godt igen, Denmark 2010).

The festival ran from Wednesday, March 30th to Sunday, April 3rd and showcased 211 different films from all over the world. The films were spread pretty evenly between the 9 participating theaters, which can be seen on this map. The longest walk would probably be from Monona Terrace to either of the two Memorial Union theaters, which would take less than half an hour and be just over a mile. Surprisingly, all but one of the films I attended were shown at the Orpheum theaters. The one odd film was the first film at the festival, Sasha, which was at the Play Circle Theater in the Memorial Union. I also had a ticket to see Cluny Brown (1946) at the UW Cinematheque as my ninth and final film, but decided to forgo it as I wasn't sure if I'd make it in time and my parents were coming in to visit that evening.

More or less on time
At any rate, the festival seemed to run pretty smoothly and it seemed like all the films being shown were high-quality, with the exception of a few "so bad it's good" style cult films generally appreciated for their unintentional humour and unusual styles. The volunteer staff all seemed rather friendly, at least at the theaters I visited, and the shows ran more or less on time. I say "more or less" because every show seemed to have a habit of starting about 5 minutes after the printed show time, at which point someone (usually festival director Meg Hamel) would introduce the film and run the short intro reel listing the sponsors and so forth. So, in general, the film itself would often begin a bit after the printed show time. Still, it was nothing major, and certainly a sign that things were well-run. There were no horror stories of the theater that got way off schedule, messing up everyone's plans.

Personally, I had built in at least a half hour between showings to allow myself to get to the next theater. And since most of the time, getting to the next theater meant walking out and immediately getting in line for the next show, I had plenty of time and usually managed to nab some prime seats. However, as I said before, the delay did contribute a little to my skipping Cluny Brown, though the largest deciding factor was that it allowed me to eat dinner with my parents.

Excellent staff and volunteers
Meg Hamel was the director of the festival, and I think she did an excellent job. She was always busy overseeing everything, and tried to introduce as many films as she could. And every time she did make an introduction, it seemed like she had personally watched the film. I don't know many many of the 211 films she had watched herself beforehand, but I'd wager it was a vast majority of them. She also helped create a nice, inviting atmosphere by chatting up the audience.

I will also say that I was impressed with the manager of the Stage Door Theater, who I initially met when I tried to go to my first film at that theater by entering through the Orpheum Main Theater doors. I was at first turned away and told I had to walk around to the other side of the building, but the Stage Door manager chased after me and said he could led me through the backstage areas so I wouldn't have to walk around the block. I saw him frequently when I went to showing at the Stage Door, and while seating people for the sold-out screening of Le quattro volte, he went around to all the seats known to be somewhat defective to make sure that the people were comfortable enough in them and tried to direct them to better seats if possible.

Really, the festival was an excellently run affair, and with a very wide and interesting range of films. It has a lot of potential, especially under the helm of Meg Hamel, to grow into a major film festival in the United States. However, it might need more and larger theaters to be able to attract and accommodate larger crowds. Likewise, a bigger push towards granting awards could help it become more relevant in the film community as a whole and attract more submissions.

At any rate, expect my reviews of the eight films I saw next week.

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