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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Fair
The Daily
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Wisconsin Film Festival returns to downtown Madison with Capitol Theater screenings
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The Capitol Theater has a huge, modern screen and the ambiance of a 1920s movie palace.
Credit:Eric Oxendorf

The Wisconsin Film Festival heads back to State Street this year after limiting screenings to the UW and Sundance Cinemas in 2013. April 6 features events at Overture Center's Capitol Theater, which offers the festival's largest screen and seating area.

When festival coordinator Ben Reiser and his colleagues went to look at the theater's capabilities, they came away impressed.

"We thought things looked and sounded great," he says. "The screen is gigantic, and they have a new sound system."

Several downtown screens, including those at Monona Terrace and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, haven't been able to show films in Digital Cinema Packages, the format that has taken Hollywood by storm recently. This is one reason festival leaders decided against screening movies there last year.

The Capitol Theater comes with other benefits, too.

"They have a wonderful organ, so we decided to program a silent film with live accompaniment, along with a couple of animated or semi-animated features that really deserve to be seen on a big screen," Reiser says.

Many film fests host events at movie palaces of yore. For instance, the Milwaukee Film Festival screens films at the glitzy Oriental Theatre, a landmark built in 1927. Reiser says the Capitol Theater (a renovated 1928 venue) has a similar feel.

"It's the closest thing we have to an old movie palace," he says, adding that the State Street location is a boon. "We thought people might want to spend a whole day downtown. We built in some long intermissions between films so... there's time to get a meal."

With about 150 films shown over the course of the festival (April 3-10), there is no lack of choice, but some films are bound to be bigger draws. Reiser says there are usually seats available for patrons who show up early.

“We never say screenings are 'sold out' in advance. But we sell a lot of tickets in advance, and very often people realize they can't see all [the films], so there tend to be empty seats," he says.

That's why the fest sells rush tickets 15 minutes before show time. But this doesn't involve selling advance tickets that belong to others.

"If you already have a ticket but don't arrive early, that ticket never becomes invalid," Reiser explains. "There have been maybe only one or two times out of all of the screenings at the festivals when no seats were left when the doors closed."

Reiser recommends showing up 30 minutes before show time, or perhaps even sooner, to join the rush line.

Filmgoers may want to get to the theater extra early for three films programming director Jim Healy considers "real finds" this year. He points to Laura Stewart's Shooter and Whitley, which he considers a "really striking and original new work that represents a filmmaker with vision." He also loves Club Sandwich, a Mexican comedy that won the Grand Jury Prize at the Torino Film Festival, and Paul Harrell's Something, Anything, a contemplative indie film reminiscent of the 2013 festival hit This Is Martin Bonner.

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