Madison has seen a tremendous surge in independent filmmaking over the last few years, a trend that only looks to be building. More affordable cameras and editing software has lowered barriers to entry, particularly in the ongoing explosion of documentaries, and the online video revolution has led to a whole new audience for an ever-increasing legion of shorts. Now many of these local creations have been compiled into the 36-Hour On-Air Film Festival, a fundraiser marathon of movies that will be shown on WYOU Channel 4 this weekend.
The prospect of diminishing budgets has compelled WYOU to become increasingly inventive with fundraising over the last few years. The non-profit public access cable television station started an annual awards show three years ago, honoring its programming in various categories with an awards, most recently last June at the Overture Center. Then in early spring the station hosted a virtual Rock Band gaming competition that it aired live over four weeks. Volunteers and supporters even created a promo featuring actress Scarlett Johansson, the Hollywood star urging support for WYOU and public access TV.
Now the station finds itself in even more serious trouble, following the passage and subsequent signing into law last year of the Video Competition Act, a transformation of Wisconsin's regulatory system for subscription video and TV. Among other changes, there will no longer be any requirements under the new regime for cable companies and their subscribers to fund and broadcast public, educational, and government (PEG) cable access channels. These stations around the state, including WYOU, air local programming of government and other public meetings, school events, and homegrown entertainment, as well as provide training for people interested in broadcasting. These changes were vociferously opposed by WYOU and a coalition of community media supporters, but a well-funded advertising and campaign contribution strategy by national supporters of the deregulation all but ensured its passage.
WYOU currently receives nearly $140,000 dollars from PEG fees charged to subscribers by Charter Communications, a figure that represents some 80% of its annual financial support. Those funds will be gone in two years, though, under the new system, so now the station is searching for ways to build its fundraising base via pledge drives and other user contributions. The 36-Hour On-Air Film Festival is one such fundraiser.
Inspired by the annual Wisconsin Film Festival, the station issued a call for films in late April, and subsequently screened the submissions before volunteers through the month of May. Scores of films were subsequently selected for the fest.
The programming represents a broad spectrum of genres and approaches to independent filmmaking in Madison, with nearly two dozen film blocks in the festival. These categories include Storyboard Productions, Wis-Kino Shorts, Educational, Children's Hour, Nature Shorts, Doc Block, Mockumentary, The UnDead Zone, Double Meaning Shorts, Late Night Hijinks Shorts, and Bizzaro, among many others. The films that comprise the festival, dozens in all, range in length from as short as two minutes to as long as an hour-and-a-half.
Altogether, the programming comes together in an impressive line-up that represents much of the best of local filmmaking over the last few years. The longer works include titles like: the blood-soaked and tuneful horror-comedy Massacre (The Musical); the Mifflin Street Co-op doc More Than a Meal; the historical byways sleuthing adventure Street Quest; behind the music in Cork N' Bottle String Band: The Ken's Bar Story; the marketing mania mockumentary Going Great White; the bizarre universe in the sci-fi adventure The Yungling; for starters, that is. The short works are even more diverse, and feature the oeuvres of Wis-Kino contributors John Feith and Aaron Catalano, a series of docs by Luciano Matheron, and many other creations.
The fun begins on WYOU Cable Channel 4 at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 28, and runs a full day-and-a-half until 11 p.m. on Sunday, June 29. More details can be found in the official festival schedule (PDF) and synopses (PDF) of the programming. For those persons without cable, or even a TV, festival submissions will be screened at Escape Java Joint on Willy Street from noon-8 p.m. on Sunday.
After all is screened and done, a panel of judges and viewers alike will be able to rate all of the programming online at wyou.org. The films that receive the highest marks in their respective category will hit the big screen, with a special final show on Sunday, July 6 from 6-9 p.m. at Sundance Cinemas.