"Not all those who wander are lost." This latter half of a couplet penned by J.R.R. Tolkein is the basic principle behind Street Quest, a new documentary created by Madison filmmaker Benson Gardner. The film follows Gardner and a team of five others as they embark on an expedition to find Madison's oldest street. The journey is intentionally discursive, as the group follows tangents of fancy as they wander among historical archives and effigy mounds in search of their quarry.
Originally slated to debut as part of the 2006 Wisconsin Book Festival, Street Quest was delayed for a few months, another side trip on its path from concept to premiere. The documentary is back on a path towards the public, as it is premiering at the UW Memorial Union's Frederic March Play Circle on Tuesday, Feb. 6. About an hour long, the film will be followed by a brief talk from Madison historian Stuart Levitan, along with a question-and-answer session with its creators.
The person envisioning this quest was Benson Gardner, a local filmmaker and book publicist. A co-founder and host of the Splu Urtaf show on WYOU, and co-founder of the Wis-Kino short film society here in Madison, Gardner traces his creative roots to comedy. This is apparent in Street Quest, which follows a winding and good-natured path from an art studio in Monona to a cool corner of Middleton.
Gardner assembled a fellowship of five more historical sleuths, each contributing a different conceptual (and technical) role to both the subject and execution of the film. Ray O'Neill took on the history and lead camera, Sheila Shigley handled the archives and research, Philip Ryan served as a tour guide and sound recordist, Brad Knight was the cabbie who worked as teambuilder, Veronica Rueckert wrote and edited the script, and finally Gardner acted as ringleader -- the Charlie to their angels, as he describes himself on camera. The Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, WYOU and Wis-Kino also supported the documentary, with numerous persons involved in local screen-based creations assisting Gardner and his team.
Their quest let them through many corners of Dane County, beginning in the studio of Harry Whitehorse
The expedition made many stops and investigated numerous leads, checking out wind-twisted trees, James Doty's original plat map for the city, a cluster of effigy mounds in Olbrich Park, the pages of David Mollenhoff's Madison, abandoned dams, and the Peck Cabin marker on King Street (and more) along the way. With the help of a knowledgeable guide, the group did indeed find what may just be the oldest street in the area, one that you can traverse to this day.
Though they successfully complete their quest to find Madison's most ancient path, this isn't the end of the film. Rather it concludes with a trip to another corner of town, something appropriate to the whole adventure -- one where they can take their shoes off.
"There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something," wrote Tolkein in an early work. "You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after."