Among the scores of movies hitting the screens at the Wisconsin Film Festival in April, twenty of them will be featured as part of three special series. Organized annually in conjunction with a variety of departments at the UW-Madison, these series offer a collection of films that "have a greater theme or purpose," says festival director Meg Hamel.
"As a festival that represents the University of Wisconsin," she explains, "when we do a series, it's an opportunity to choose films in collaboration with another part of the university." Hamel says two criteria are used for selecting films included in the special series. The first is that they must meet the standards of quality set for any film programmed for the festival; the second is that they must tell "interesting" stories within the scope of the series' theme.
One series -- Asian-American film -- is organized for nearly every festival with the Asian American Studies department at the university. This year's is titled "Diaspora Melancholy" and features eight films. "These may be made by an Asian-American filmmaker," explains Hamel, "and others may be about the Asian-American experience in some way." Their titles and directors follow, along with a couple of brief descriptions:
- Air Guitar Nation by Alexandra Lipsitz
- Americanese by Eric Byler
- The Cats of Mirikitani by Linda Hattandorf
"This film is about an extraordinary homeless man,' says Hamel, an 80-year-old Japanese-American artist named Jimmy Mirikitani living on the streets of New York City. "It's an incredibly personal story because the filmmaker invited him into her home after 9/11," explains Hamel, as he was no longer able to sell his art in downtown Manhattan. Learning about his internment at the Tule Lake camp during WWII, the death of much of his family in Hiroshima, and his long-term separation from his sister, Hattandorf follows his life as it becomes intertwined with her own. "The story ends up going in a direction that few documentarians set out to do," Hamel notes
- Finishing the Game by Justin Lin
- Man Push Cart by Ramin Bahrani
"This is a story that also has relevance to post-9/11 New York," says Hamel. Delayed from screening at the Wisconsin festival for a year due to scheduling issues, Man Push Cart is a drama about a Pakistani immigrant operating a coffee cart on the city's streets. Hamel emphasizes the writing in the film, which she describes as "deceptively simple."
- Punching at the Sun by Tanuj Chopra
- Sentenced Home by David Grabias and Nicole Newnham
- The Slanted Screen by Jeff Adachi
Another series titled "African Action Figures" offers four films and was organized with the UW's African Studies department. "What was important to the program was to find films that weren't stories told by an observer's perspective about African life," says Hamel, citing The Last King of Scotland as an example. Rather, "these represent African stories as told by Africans," she continues. Their titles, directors, and nation of origin follow:
- Bamako by Abderrahmane Sissako (Mali)
- Son of Man by Mark Dornford-May (South Africa)
- U-Carmen eKhayelitsha by Mark Dornford-May (South Africa)
- L'Appel des arÃnas (Wrestling Grounds) by Chiekh Ndiaye (Senegal)
The third series was organized in collaboration with the UW Department of Rehabilitative Psychology and Education. Titled "FilmÎ‡ABLE: Disabilities on Screen," there are eight films included in the series. "The challenge of putting this together was to find films that defy expectations about what a movie about a person with a disability will be," says Hamel. "There are many movies made about people with disabilities, but most of those are often so wrong and problematic in their portrayals," she continues. "It was really hard to find titles that were challenging and defy expectations of the audience."
Nevertheless, they were able to program eight for the series. Their titles and directors follow, along with a couple of brief descriptions:
- Black Sun by Gary Tarn Tarn's film features "beautiful imagery" notes Hamel, with the visuals presented on screen accompanying the narration of a man who lost his sight. "He was an artist, and had to learn new ways of living and develop a new outlook on life," she explains, with this journey portrayed through an imaginative visual method.
- Braindamadj'd? Take II by Paul Nadler
- The Collector of Bedford Street by Alice Elliot
- Kiss My Wheels by Miguel Grunstein and Dale Kruzic
- Escape Velocity by Scott Ligon
- The Cost of Living by Lloyd Newson
- This is a half-hour long film "is a loosely connected set of vignettes about DV8, a group of street performers in an English seaside town," explains Hamel.
- Heart of an Empire by Jay Thompson
- When Pigs Fly by Eric Breitenbach and Phyllis Redman
There are 33 days remaining until the opening of the ninth annual Wisconsin Film Festival.