Movies made about and by folks in the Badger State are a central element of the Wisconsin Film Festival, featured not only through a pair of juried competitions, but also included among the broad slate of flicks that make up the bulk of the programming. Of course, that's hardly the only focus of the fest, which also lines up scores of American and international films, though not necessarily those immediately familiar to most moviegoers.
"I was more deliberately trying to find under the radar filmmakers, things that weren't the big bidding war titles," says festival director Meg Hamel about programming this year's, and indeed every year's schedule. Nevertheless, there are always entries for which viewers can find familiar names in the credits, particularly in the director's seat or among the cast.
After many months of sifting and winnowing hundreds of potential selections, organizers have wrapped up programming for this tenth annual festival, and have moved on to wrangling volunteers and preparing venues. Hamel recently spoke with The Daily Page about a septet of films included in this year's programming, all of which may be familiar in some way or another to filmgoers.
Here are a few of these bigger-name domestic and international movies screening in the 2008 festival:
- Chop Shop is the second feature film by director Ramin Bahrani, and the second of his films to screen at the festival in the last two years. Like his debut Man Push Cart that was shown in the 2007 fest, this new film tells a tale of just getting by. The hero is a 12-year-old street orphan named Alejandro, who lives and works in the Iron Triangle, a neighborhood in Queens filled with auto body shops, scrap yards, and other industrial businesses. "It's an extremely realistic, extremely gritty story," says Hamel, "an impressive look at people living on the fringes."
- Also screening at the festival is The Unknown Woman by Giuseppe Tornatore, the director best known for the 1988 classic Cinema Paradiso. This new film, originally titled La Sconosciuta, is about the past catching up with a young Ukrainian woman living and working in Italy.
- The 1980 "Miracle on Ice" by the U.S. hockey team isn't the only showdown between the Soviet Union and its sporting underdog in the Olympics. The documentary Freedom's Fury, created by Colin K. Gray and Megan Raney, steps back 24 years earlier in the Cold War. The setting is the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, where Hungary and the Soviet Union water polo teams face off in the semifinals. More importantly, though, it was barely a month after tanks from the CCCP invaded its satellite to crush the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, setting up the showdown that became known as the Blood in the Water Match.
- Hungary was victorious over the Soviets what is likely the most famous match in water polo history, and went on to win the gold medal in Melbourne. The story detailed in the documentary is also recounted in Children of Glory -- or Szabadság, szerelem -- a major dramatization of the bloody confrontations on the streets of Budapest and in a pool in Melbourne. Directed by Krisztina Goda, this film also attracted the participation of big name Hollywood Hungarian-Americans Andrew G. Vajna and Joe Eszterhas. It is deliberately programmed to follow its counterpart in the festival, offering filmgoers a chance to view the documentary before seeing this epic version of the same story.
- The rooftops of Edinburgh are one setting of Mr. Foe, a.k.a. Hallam Foe, where the title character played by Jamie Bell (of Billy Elliot fame) blazes voyeuristic trails while pursuing both the cause of his mother's death and his latest infatuation. It boasts a cast of several other well-known British actors, including Sophia Myles, Ciaran Hinds, Ewen Bremmer, and Claire Forlani, not to mention a soundtrack of Scottish indie groups (Orange Juice, Franz Ferdinand, Sons and Daughters) and an appropriately odd set of animated opening credits. "A curiously dark film," notes Hamel.
- Any cinephile worth their salt is likely familiar with Le Ballon rouge (The Red Balloon), the 1956 short film by Albert Lamorisse that finds the title object following a young boy around the XXe arrondissement of Paris one day. This film is the inspiration for The Flight of the Red Balloon (Le Voyage du ballon rouge), directed by Hsiao-hsien Hou and starring Juliette Binoche. "It's beautifully acted and beautifully film," says Hamel of her interest in programming it.
- The 1966 FIFA World Cup was famously both held in and won by England, and is considered a watershed moment in the modern global emergence of the beautiful game. The final match of the Cup is also a frustration par excellence for the lead character in Sixty Six, the new comedy directed by Paul Weiland and starring Helena Bonham Carter. Specifically, a boy in London is getting ready for his Bar Mitzvah when football intervenes, as excitement over English victories put continually sets back the planning for his big party. "It's this very charming and funny British film," says Hamel. "We don't do much in the way of family films, but this is the kind of thing you could imagine taking your kids to."
A few more films screening at the festival have also been announced by their creators over the last few weeks.
- Margot and Henry Have an Adventure is described by filmmakers Rachel Wolther and Jason Klorfein as "an offbeat comedy about two idiot slackers who hang out in parking lots." Hailing from Chicago, the pair has announced that they'll be attending the screening in Madison. Here's one question for them: Where's My Motherfucking Wallet?
- Say Hello, Apple fans and foes, to Welcome to MacIntosh, a new documentary by Rob Baca and Josh Rizzo about the computer and electronics brand that sells music, lifestyle, and a lot of talk about its past, present and future. The filmmakers announced its programming in the Wisconsin Film Fest a few weeks ago, following that up a day later with a press release targeted towards the vast fields of online Apple fans that follow the company's every move. "Whether a long time Mac fanatic or new to computers," they declare, Welcome to Macintosh takes you from the early days of the Apple-I to the latest and greatest Apple has to offer." A couple more bites be tasted in a teaser and trailer for the doc.
- Maine Story is a short drama directed by Nina Chernik that will be screening in Madison in the midst of a busy spring tour at festivals around the nation. Running 24 minutes, the film recounts the story of a woman coming to terms with the reality of her day-to-day life.
The complete festival schedule is now ready to go, with times and locations for screenings set from its beginning on the evening of Thursday, April 3 through its end on the night of Sunday, April 6. The complete Wisconsin Film Festival schedule will be released this Thursday, March 6, meanwhile, and tickets go on sale on Saturday, March 8.