Sundance Cinemas Madison will be screening a trio of locally-made movies this weekend in what organizers hope will become a regular occurrence at the Hilldale movie theater. Launched in response to a query from a Madison filmmaker, this inaugural screening will feature three documentaries in a single program on Saturday, December 1. They are: What is Normal? by Mary Jo Oathout, Back to the Land... Again by Gretta Wing Miller and Aarick Beher, and Born Again Free Speech: Victory of The Mic 92.1 by Luciano Matheron.
"Last spring, I sent an email to the president of Sundance Cinemas just to see if some of the filmmakers could meet Robert Redford when he came to town," says Oathout, who got things rolling with the new chain, which is getting set to open its second theater in San Francisco in a couple of weeks. While that fell through when Redford's plans changed due to the shooting of Lions for Lambs, Oathout did hear back from Sundance a few months later and subsequently asked about the possibility of the theater screening locally-made films on a monthly basis.
Now that idea is coming to fruition, at least on a trial basis.
"The reason why we're doing it is that it just fits in perfectly with our whole philosophy about being a place where we supports artists," says Nancy Gribler, a vice-president of marketing for Sundance Cinemas. "The idea is that we have a lot of really great filmmakers in Madison, and so this is simply a great opportunity to showcase some of their work."
Oathout submitted three films to Sundance, all of which were reviewed and okayed for launching the showcase. They are:
- What is Normal? by Mary Jo Oathout
This 60 minute work made its world premiere at the 2001 Wisconsin Film Festival in the Wisconsin's Own series. The documentary tells the stories of five local residents with disabilities. "Institutionalized as children, they now live productive, creative lives fully involved in the community," notes the official festival description. "Through their stories, they enlighten others about those perceived as 'not normal.'"
- Back to the Land... Again by Gretta Wing Miller and Aarick Beher
Though this 58 minute documentary screened last March at the Sedona International Film Festival, it's all about organics in southwestern Wisconsin. "This documentary explores the emergence of the organic industry and its rising market share; the implications of the National Organic Standard; and organic agriculture as a means of reversing the decades-long disappearance of the family farm," notes its official description in the Arizona festival.
- Born Again Free Speech: Victory of The Mic 92.1 by Luciano Matheron
The final documentary of the showcase is 30 minutes long, and was released this year by Brazen Productions, a video company run by Matheron along with Dane County Sup. Barbara Vedder and their son, former Dane County Sup. Echnaton Vedder. "This documentary captures the grassroots movement to keep progressive talk radio on the air," reads its description. "Born Again Free Speech will take you through the organizing process, introduce you to the people who did it, and share with you their spirited victory against all odds."
"This is a really great opportunity for the filmmakers to show their work with state of the art audio-visual technology," says Oathout, noting the difficulty and costs of setting up screenings in large movie theaters outside of a festival environment. "I think it would be wonderful if we can keep it going."
More local showcases are a possibility, but it depends upon the response to the screening on Saturday. "This is the first time we've done this, so we hope to see peoples' reactions," notes Gribler. However, Madison filmmakers interested in submitting their films for consideration should contact Sundance at madisoninfo (at) sundancecinemas.net. "Tell us about your film and give us some contact information," she says. "Our film department will take a look at them and see if it makes sense for us to screen them."