The 2010 Wisconsin Film Festival starts in just under a month, running April 14-18 at eight theaters. The schedule will be announced in Thursday's Isthmus.
In the meantime, the festival's two staff members and volunteer crew are busy getting the last of their ducks in a row. "If this is like a marathon," says festival director Meg Hamel, "we're probably at mile 22."
Hamel says the approximately 190-film lineup is now locked down (two more movies were squeezed in just last night), and this week is among the busiest for her and operations director Allen Ebert, as they finish the materials for the print and online guides. "This week, I wear the hats of editor, Web manager, database guru and graphic designer," she says. "It takes a lot of different skills to wrap this part up."
The Daily Page: So, where do things stand right now?
Hamel: This is the end of an extremely long process of not just watching, selecting and confirming the films, but then also triple-checking all of the formats, because many films come in on digital tape and some theaters can play some flavors of type and some can't. And we've gathered all the cast and credit information, double-checked the length. The data we put together for the program includes all those little details, and then we've also been writing descriptions of the films. It's kind of like writing a novel -- it's 40,000 words that get written in a week.
What was the biggest challenge this year?
Making the decision to add screens on Wednesday night and Friday during the day. Normally, we've been a four-day festival -- Thursday and Friday nights, and all day Saturday and Sunday. And I've wanted to expand, but it was really hard to pull the trigger, because of our tiny staff. There's not just the question of whether audiences will show up, but whether we'll have enough volunteers to work the new times. Just last weekend we had our first set of volunteer meetings.
What's the trickiest part about scheduling?
About half of the films are short films, and since the shorts usually play together in a program, you have to figure out exactly the right way to organize them. That's one of the biggest challenges -- just making sure you have a good home for everything. Sometimes there are films I can't find the right place for, so then I just hope to bring them back the next year. Fortunately, short films rarely feel as if they're too old -- it's not like you can get them from Netflix.
Tickets will go on sale March 20. What do you do to prepare for that?
Because we're using all these different theaters, we have to kind of invent a box office from scratch. We use a room on the second floor of the Wisconsin Union, set up computers and install our software, so that we can sell tickets online and from the room, and hire students to staff it. And then we set up our own mini box office at each theater.
Are you tired of watching movies yet?
Yes! But it's worth explaining what I mean by that. From September through February, I'm watching films every night when I go home; so all of the festival programming is done outside of normal working hours -- I basically have two jobs. And what's hard is that I watch a lot of films that will turn out not to be a fit for us, or that will turn out not to be available, so a lot of hours are spent watching things that won't make the cut. So it's not the act of watching films; it's the sheer number that don't pan out for one reason or another. It's a huge moment when the first of our prints arrive, because then the festival is no longer just something in my head -- I can actually put my hand on a reel of film.