"I'm so excited to call this our bonus night," said Wisconsin Film Festival director Meg Hamel. That was after the standing ovation.
Hamel was speaking of the festival's expansion, this year, to Wednesday. She was addressing the crowd in the nearly full auditorium of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, where the festival began Wednesday night with a 7 p.m. screening of The Art of the Steal, the documentary about the struggle for an art collection in Philadelphia. Also kicking off the festival was a 7 p.m. screening at the UW Memorial Union Play Circle of the Argentinian film Historias Extraordinarias.
She said she's still not ready to think of it as a five-day festival -- even though she tweeted some days back that the 2011 event also will include Wednesday.
Hamel thanked the audience and the sponsors. Then it was time for the movie to start. "It's one of my favorites," she said. But surely if you're the director of a five-day, 192-title festival, every film is one of your favorites.
"I look forward to seeing all of you for the next four nights, plus the bonus night," Hamel said. The 2010 Wisconsin Film Festival was under way.
In the back of the auditorium, one T-shirted volunteer whispered to another, "I'm just ready for this to begin."
It was a beautiful evening for a film festival. The weather was perfect, and State Street and the UW campus were thronged.
Even so, it was, for the film festival, a relatively quiet night. Movies were screening at just five of the festival's eight venues: MMoCA, the Play Circle, the Chazen Museum, and the Orpheum's two auditoriums. But good crowds gathered at all the sites, including the Orpheum, where a line of ticketholders snaked up State Street.
Outside the Orpheum, festival volunteers speculated that the ticketholders' wait would be more pleasant if the Orpheum waitstaff served them cocktails. Inside, just before her appearance across the street at MMoCA, Hamel patiently answered questions from one volunteer, and then another, and then another, and then a member of the technical staff. She looked calm. "You work all year, and then you only get that one chance to do the fest," she told me. This was it.
Historias Extraordinarias is 245 minutes long, so what's another 45 minutes? Shirley Winsborough was at the head of the line outside the Play Circle. She had arrived at 6:15 for the 7 p.m. screening. "We weren't sure if there would be a crowd," she said, gesturing to her companion, a man who didn't say much.
This is Winsborough's third Wisconsin Film Festival. She has arranged to see eight films this year. "That may be a mistake," she grinned. Why did she come to see Historias Extraordinarias? "We agreed on this one," she said, gesturing again to the man who didn't say much. It would be, she noted, the longest film she's ever seen.
Do they go to many movies, outside of the film festival? "Somewhat," she said. "We're readers. But these are interesting movies."
Just then a volunteer announced that the schedule was wrong. There would be not one intermission, as scheduled, but two.
Summer in the city
At 7:30, the first film of the festival to be screened in the Chazen Museum's auditorium began: The Exploding Girl, which was written and directed by Bradley Rust Gray and stars Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of Elia. It is a gently sad little movie about a college woman whiling away a summer break in New York City. Long-distance relations with her boyfriend are strained, but then there is the young man crashing on the couch. In truth, not much happens, but the New York locations are attractive and vibrant. Leaving the auditorium -- which was sweltering, just like New York was on the screen -- I heard some guys debating just how extensive the post-production work on the sound was.
Before the screening, a volunteer welcomed us, and he asked us to turn off our cellphones and pagers. "And if you have a pager," he said wryly, "remember, it's not 1988."