"The process of assembling a complete festival takes months," says Wisconsin Film Fest director Meg Hamel. "We've just finished locking in two of the final films."
As the weeks count down to the festival weekend, a four-day film feast running from Thursday, Apr. 12 through Sunday, Apr. 15, the organizers are wrapping up the scheduling phase of the event and moving on to arrange all of the final details. Getting solid commitments for every film, though, has not been a simple process.
"Sometimes it can be very complicated to foresee what the life cycle of a given film and its schedule will be," says Hamel. "There are some films I might have seen a year-and-a-half ago, and have been trying to bring to Madison ever since. The timing might not have been right last year, for example, as we have to share with other festivals around the world." Therefore, Hamel and her volunteers have been busy working with filmmakers and distributors to make sure that their creations can make it onto the final program. "Even today," she says, "there were a couple of films we've just been able to confirm."
By the end of the week, though, with less than six weeks to go until opening night, everything should be locked down.
Hamel spoke with The Daily Page on Wednesday afternoon, sharing a few of these films on their way along with other emerging details about this year's festival.
- The final list of venues is ready to go. The returning venues are: the Orpheum Main, the Orpheum Stage Door, Cinematheque, the Frederic March Play Circle at the UW Memorial Union, the Bartell Theatre, and Monona Terrace. There are also four new venues this year, in use during different portions of the festival. They are: the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and the Capitol Theatre at Overture. The inclusion of these latter two venues along with the Orpheum means the 200 block of State Street will be the center of festival activity more so than any previous year.
- Hamel explains that there will be ticket caps at some festival screenings, but they will get scheduled in theatres that accomodate that capacity. "There might be some filmmakers or distributors who might have an agreement with a local theatre to show their film later, or maybe they're hoping to do so," she says. Therefore, a ticket cap will be placed on seats at the festival, so the Madison market isn't drained of interested viewers. "Festival-goers who have attended for many years may remember seeing films at the Orpheum that were sold out but the room wasn't full," Hamel notes as an example. This year, though, none of their films scheduled for the cavernous old movie palace will have an attendance cap other than capacity.
- The first film on opening night is set, and will include an appearance by its creators. This is Chalk, an improvisational faux documentary following a year in the life of four staffers at a high school. Co-written by Mike Akel and Chris Mass, and directed by the former, both will be attending the Thursday night screening at the Wisconsin Union Theatre. "It's very funny," Hamel says, "I found it almost painful in how awkward these characters are, with reviewers likening it to The Office." More details about the film can be found at chalkthefilm.com, including a nifty flash-based working chalkboard.
- The second opening night flick, also screening at the Wisconsin Union Theatre, should play well in Madison given recent filmmaking success in town by the house of Splu. Written and directed by Jay Thompson, Heart of an Empire is a documentary diving into the world of the 501st Legion, the global organization for fans who create and wear Stormtrooper and other screen-quality costumes from the dark side of the Star Wars universe.
"This fan club is particularly focused on charitable work," notes Hamel, with members appearing in costume for fundraisers, or to lift the spirits of sick children, for example. "It's a real home-grown documentary made by people familiar with the fan group," she says, "a really wonderful story about people who have gone out of their way to help others."
Thompson is scheduled to speak at the screening, which is the U.S. premiere of the film. "I'm led to believe," Hamel also notes, "that members of the 501st will be attending in costume as well." Looks like the Midwest Garrison may be invading Madison.
- Hamel is also anticipating that the two stars of King Corn will be attending the festival. Making its premiere at South By Southwest in less than two weeks, this documentary directed by Aaron Woolf follows Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney as they return to their roots in Iowa and set about growing a one acre plot of maize over the course of one season.
The importance of corn to the American economy and diet is becoming increasingly discussed as of late, thanks in part to last year's The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. As noted in a New York Times review of the book, corn is an omnipresent element in most persons' diet and a voracious consumer of land, government subsidies, and medical costs.
"It's this inventive documentary where these two guys learn what goes into farming," says Hamel, "to tell a story about modern agricultural practices."
- For those persons still wistfully recalling last summer's World Cup and looking forward to South Africa 2010, or perhaps simply interested in a unique film experience, a meditation on the power of Zizou will be filling the big screen in the main theatre at the Orpheum this spring. Zidane, un portrait du 21e siÃcle, created by Douglas Gordan and Phillipe Parreno, looks at a single match between Real Madrid and Villereal on April 23, 2005 as experienced by soccer legend Zinedine Zidane. "It's not a documentary of a soccer game or the individual player," explains Hamel about the film, but rather "92 minutes of sound, color, action and motion," complete with a hypnotizing soundtrack by Mogwai. "It's not a story that's told with a beginning or an end," she says, "but a really special kind of experience."
- Hamel reports that the festival has a "great group of volunteers signed up already," but they continue to seek more. If you're interested in volunteering, sign up here before the first set of meetings on Mar. 12-13.
There are 43 days remaining until the opening of the ninth annual Wisconsin Film Festival.