Thanks to the recent Olympics, the U.S. has been paying an unusual amount of attention to our neighbors to the north ' first the ice-skating scandal, then the Canadian team kicking our butts in hockey. For its fourth go-round, the Wisconsin Film Festival is also turning its gaze northward, but for a much more compelling reason: to celebrate the films of QuÃbec.
Of course, a maple-leaf salute represents only a fraction of the activities the festival will pack into its April 4-7 run at the Orpheum Theatre, the Madison Civic Center, the Majestic Theatre, the Bartell Theatre, Steep & Brew-State Street, the UW Memorial Union, the UW Cinematheque and the UW Pyle Center. There will be parties with great bands and guest stars. There will be talks and panels featuring filmmakers like High Fidelity's Steve Pink. There will be an appearance by Debra Winger at the screening of Big Bad Love, the Suthin' drama she produced and stars in with hubby Arliss Howard.
And ' oh, yeah ' there will be films. One hundred and thirty-eight of them, to be exact, including documentaries, experimental works, shorts and a healthy dose of Wisconsin-oriented efforts.
Festival organizer Mary Carbine and her colleagues discovered some of this year's indie offerings at film festivals. Others were booked as a result of fortuitous partnerships. An intriguing eight-film series focusing on Israeli firebrand Amos GitaÃ is the result of GitaÃ's friendship with Ray Privett, the festival's guest curator. And the UW's Professional French Masters Program provided the spark for "New Wave North: Recent Films from QuÃbec."
"Given that these are actually North American films, it'll be interesting to see how audiences react to their 'foreign' quality," Carbine says of "New Wave North." "They definitely have a culturally distinct esthetic."
Other series include "Contemporary World Cinema," the edgy late-night movies of "After Dark," "Cinema at the Crossroads: Film in the New Europe" and "Wisconsin's Own Filmmakers."
As usual, Carbine put in some monster hours in programming the film festival, forgoing sleep and sanity. "Each year we're more experienced, so in that respect it does make things easier," she says of this year's excellent adventure. "We're not, for instance, reinventing the wheel when it comes to developing a ticket form."
In other ways, Festival 2002 wasn't such a breeze. The slumping economy and fallout from Sept. 11 have had a chilling effect on fund-raising. A handful of major sponsors from previous years had to drop out, and the programming budget has declined. "The current landscape made it really difficult for us to get in-kind donations," admits Carbine. "There were definitely choices we made that had to do with money."
The absence of a shuttle bus between venues and a slight increase in ticket prices are the two budget-related changes festival-goers are most likely to notice. Other changes ' no paid staff members to assist Carbine and a smaller marketing budget ' haven't had much of an effect on the breadth of the festival's offerings.
"That's good," says a clearly exhausted Carbine. "We don't want people focusing on the particulars. We want people to be open to discovery and to see some great films."