There are a mere nine weeks remaining until this year's Wisconsin Film Festival, which will be held at multiple venues throughout downtown Madison over the weekend of Thursday, Apr. 12 through Sunday, Apr. 15. Since the new year, festival director Meg Hamel and her team of assistants have been lining up this year's offerings; watching films, talking to distributors and filmmakers, and generally juggling a dozen things at once.
Hamel took a few moments of her time away from wrangling distributors in New York and Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon to share a few details about the organizing leading up to the festival. These follow below.
With over two months remaining until the light hits the screens over Tax Day weekend, Hamel and her team remain busy with bringing many elements of the festival together.
- One of their top priorities currently is recruiting volunteers for the fest. "One question people always ask is what tasks are involved," says Hamel "Most volunteering takes place during the festival itself," with tasks running from taking tickets to ushering to working with projectionists to introducing films. "We have teams of volunteers who run the theatres during the festival," she continues.
"What were really looking for is volunteers during the four days of the festival." Volunteers are encouraged to sign up as soon as possible, and are required to attend two training sessions in coming weeks. If you are interested, sign up here.
- One of the first films ready to go for the event is a restored copy of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein. "It's one of the funniest movies ever made, as far as I'm concerned," Hamel says. "To watch a movie like that in a big crowd with everybody laughing around you is so much fun, it's the best feeling."
- As for the other hundred-plus films, Hamel is busy working on final confirmations. "These are coming in from so many different places," she says. They work with distribution companies who will be putting some of these films in U.S. theaters later in the year, as well as with production companies and sometimes individual filmmakers. "We're just going through the list, double-checking and confirming that everything is ready to go."
- Part of this preparatory work includes coordinating screening times with festivals in other cities. Hamel is working with the Philadelphia Film Festival, which is starting before and ending after the big party here in Madison. Specifically, she is confirming with the Pennsylvania organizers over the scheduling of a Romanian film titled 12:08 East of Bucharest, so that it can be shipped to Wisconsin following its turn through Philly.
- These kinds of negotiations are typical for the Wisconsin Film Festival, given that many of the films screened at it are very new or rare. "In many cases, we may be showing the only print of the film that is in the United State," says Hamel, "and in some cases the only print in the world."
- Hamel is also working on changing some of the screening times, given the elimination of the University Square Four and Hilldale venues, and the addition of the lecture hall at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. "We'll likely start a little earlier on Sunday," she says, with films kicking off around 11:00 or 11:30 a.m. This is due in part, Hamel explains, to the fact that the festival is no longer falling over Daylight Savings Time weekend. Organizers are also considering screening some films earlier in the day on Friday.
"We'll certainly do whatever we can to make films available and accessible to all," Hamel says. "It's too early to know how many films will have repeat screenings, other than I want to find the right balance between bringing as much variety as we can to the program and keeping the screening times as flexible as possible."
- Hamel also encourages Madison film fans to check out Sweet Land, which is reopening at the Orpheum Theatre this weekend. The movie won the Steep & Brew Audience Award at the 2006 edition of the fest.
- Finally, the locations of the traditional Friday and Saturday night parties of the festival are being moved from the Orpheum Theatre lobby to Cafe Montmartre. This is being done in order to free up space for screenings in the main room of the theatre. "We've got some really great late night movies lined up for those two nights," Hamel hints.
As of Thursday, Feb. 8, there are only 63 days remaining until the start of opening of the ninth annual Wisconsin Film Festival. The clock is ticking.