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The Wis-Kino 2008 Spring Kabaret kicks off with angst, popsicles, and war

Patrons of Sundance Cinemas catching a flick on Friday night were greeted with a selection of local films when Wis-Kino held the kickoff to its Spring Kabaret at the year-old moviehouse at Hilldale Mall. The short filmmaking and screening group has been keeping the spirit of independent and spontaneous cinema alive in Madison since its founding over five years ago, and was invited by Sundance to hold its annual spring celebration at the theater this weekend.

Known as Spring Kabaret, this event is one of two Wis-Kino gatherings every year in which participating filmmakers are tasked with creating a short film five minutes in length or less over the course of two days, one that incorporates a required element into their creation. Unlike previous Kabarets, though, where a single theme was required of all participants, Wis-Kino co-directors Josh Klessig and Sam Lawson created a new system for this round. All filmmakers are to receive an individual requirement, drawn randomly from many potential options. A preview of the potential options was revealed when one filmmaker leaving early drew a bag of golf clubs as the required element for his short film.

Kabaret always begins with a regular screening, however, a monthly event in which filmmakers submit short works that may or may not incorporate an option theme, which for April was "Angst, Popsicles, and War." The screening was held in the North Lounge at Sundance, a open corner room with plush leather couches and a plasma TV that is located next to the main ticket line for the movie theater.

Plenty of moviegoers were curious about the event both before and during the screening, stealing glances at the gathering and asking questions of the organizers about Wis-Kino and its mission. Even Sundance employees stopped by, taking quick looks at the short films screening on the TV before assembled participants.

A list and brief descriptions of the six new shorts screened at the Spring Kabaret kickoff follow, along with one available online for viewing:

  • Gimme Back My Lollipop by John Feith
    A pair of squirrels scrambles around the trunks and tangled branches in a thicket of trees in this opening short, with subtitles giving voice to their argument? What is it about? Popsicles, of course. More nods to the theme are also found throughout the musical soundtrack, an industrial-tinged tune with the refrain, "Gimme back my lollipop!"

  • Tropospheria by Aaron Catalano
    A sequence of landscape and seaside scenes, shot at some of the most recognizable locales in the American West, form the backbone of this short, along with a close look at this past winter's lunar eclipse. It's also formatted as a music video, with the former Madison band NoahJohn providing an appropriate Americana tone.

  • World at Peace by Roger Bindl
    A pair of birds saves a world that's turned on itself in this animated film, set to the song #34 from the new Nine Inch Nails album Ghosts I-IV that's Creative Commons-licensed for filmmakers. "The song has a hypnotic beat that grows on you quickly," notes Bindl, who originally created the short for online contest sponsored by Trent Reznor to promote the album.

  • Captain America by Dave Poler
    Animation also takes center stage in this short, though of the computer-created variety. Set to music by The Doors and Paganini, it follows the attempts by a man to eliminate an insect plaguing his home.

  • A Popsicle Dialogue by Jason Shackelford
    A pair of popsicles chillin' in a freezer air their differences in this animated short. One blue raspberry and the other cherry, their argument escalates until they each wield the ultimate insult; that the other is a drip. The ultimately go too far, though, and a blow dryer settles the disagreement. There's a moral, though, as the film reveals itself as a PSA urging an end to "popsicle on popsicle violence."

  • Celebrity Bric-a-Brac Theatre: Saving Bill Clinton by Blame Society Productions
    The latest entry in the Celebrity Bric-a-Brac Theatre comedy series from Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda will be the first to screen on their new channel at AtomFilms. Stepping away from their previous holiday-themed episodes, this new short shown in an unfinished form takes on the 2008 Presidential election. A sax-wielding duck (with the voice of Bill Clinton) is kidnapped by the terra-ists, and its up to a pushy unicorn (Hillary Clinton), a genial bear (Barack Obama), and a foul-mouthed snail (John McCain, of course) to save him. Where's W in all this?

The Wis-Kino 2008 Spring Kabaret kickoff screening wasn't quite over yet, though, as three films from the 2007 Fall Kabaret were shown to give participants an idea of what could be created over the course of two days. These films were I, Butterfly by John Feith and Mr. History by Craig Knitt; also screened was Celebrity Bric-a-Brac Theatre: Madden's Romeo and Juliet, the Valentine's Day-themed short by the Blame Society crew.

After the lights were turned back on and the TV turned off, Klessig and Lawson discussed the rules for the Kabaret, focusing on this year's twist of individual required elements for the films. They offered three reasons for the change: one, the "honesty factor," as filmmakers would be likely to incorporate the element into their work if it was wholly their own; two, as an individual source of inspiration; and three, as a greater challenge to participants.

These individual elements consisted of themes, props, quotes, and titles for films, which were printed on strips of paper and drawn from a grocery bag by the Kabaret participants. A few that were drawn included props like a pumpkin or a gold medal, or quotes like "I'm going to England!" Filmmakers were allowed to lobby to trade or change their elements, but most stuck with what they drew. Unused themes included a pirate hat prop, the titles "Are you ready for the surprise?" and "Sweet Vanilla Pie," the theme "Dress Up," and the quote "Chocolate Rain," among other options.

Less than 46 hours remained for filmmakers to get their Kabaret selections shot, edited, and prepped for final screening, which starts at 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 20. The films will once again be shown at Sundance Cinemas, this time in Theatre 2, a full-sized auditorium with a bonafide big-screen.

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