To start, this blog has nothing to do with presidential politics. I’m sure many readers are thankful for that. Instead, there is an event that turns 18 years old this month – the age eligible to vote – and has embraced the democratic process for many years. A warm welcome to spring, the Wisconsin Film Festival (WFF) begins this week on Thursday and celebrates its 18th year bringing the joy of film to its fans.
There’s a lot of voting that happens at the festival. Some individuals have spent the last several months watching films and participating in the collaborative process to figure out the best films for this year’s audience. The jury reviewing Wisconsin’s Own – the category of film dedicated to our state’s filmmakers – have made their selection for the Golden Badger Award, akin to a WFF Oscar. The ceremony for the winners is held on opening night. Most importantly, this year’s cinephiles again have the opportunity to vote for their favorites as part of the Steep & Brew Audience Award. Categories for the award are narrative, documentary, and best rediscovery.
Each year the festival becomes more exciting to us as the organizers expand and come up with fabulous ways to make the event something for everyone, yet in Madison’s unique way. The 2016 festival expands to the east side with films shown at the historic Barrymore Theatre. Opening night will also feature Madison’s own disco cover band, VO5, playing at the Harmony Bar just down the road from the Barrymore. For families attending the festival, the “Big Screens, Little Folks” program returns with films geared toward children ages 5-11 (and a great option since Madison schools happen to be closed on Friday during the festival due to a professional development day).
In the spirit of the voting theme, and bringing back something we did a couple years ago, below are Peggy and my top selections for the festival. While there are many more fantastic films, we hope these will pique your interest to fully immerse yourself in a week of cinema here in Madison.
- The Apostate. Set in Madrid, a young man tries to leave the Catholic Church and runs into some baffling obstacles. The film is a humorous examination of the contradictions among religion and agnosticism.
- The Club. Peggy is on a theme here. The Club is another film in Spanish, this one set in Chile, and with a storyline related to the Catholic Church. The narrative film, however, has a much more serious theme with its story about transgressions of modern-day priests.
- The Crow’s Egg. An engaging and warm move, The Crow’s Egg follows two young brothers growing up in an Indian slum and their dream to eat a slice of pizza from the newly opened pizza parlor. It’s a feel-good movie with an element of social conscience.
- Kill Me Please. Brazilian director and screenwriter, Anita Rocha da Silveira, offers a macabre tale about a wave of murders using the artistry of brightly colored cinematography combined with a “killer” soundtrack.
- The Love Witch. A witch seeks a lover using potions in this sexy and funny film. Reflecting the art of film in the late 60s and early 70s, the director photographs her movies on 35mm film and WFF will screen The Love Witch from a 35mm print.
- Cosmos. Cosmos is the much-anticipated first film in fifteen years from Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski, who sadly died in February at the age of 75. Hailed by WFF as a “cinematic maelstrom”, the film follows two friends to a guesthouse in Portugal and chronicles a story full of omens, obsession, paranoia and jealousy.
- Louder Than Bombs. Featured at the Cannes Film Festival and a Best Film at the Stockholm Film Festival, Louder Than Bombs is a story about the revelations of a father and his two sons upon going through the departed mother’s work as a war photographer. The story masterly fragments time and reality using flashbacks, voiceovers, and dreams to understand the characters’ psyches.
- Mad About Madison. This WFF Shorts Program features selections from local filmmakers. Laugh at the Atwood Avenue turkeys, discover local preservation efforts, and take in a couple of perspectives on life at UW-Madison.
- Sing Street. Set in Ireland in 1985, Sing Street is a heroic tale of success and conflict when a 14-year old boy forms a band and becomes all the rage in the neighborood. Directed by John Carney, whose credits include Once and Begin Again, the film is a sure favorite for those who enjoy the nostalgia of 80s pop music.
- Under the Sun. This documentary filmed in North Korea reveals the unseen daily life of the country’s citizens. Directed by Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, Under the Sun provides a rare glimpse into the homes, schools, and factories behind the Bamboo Curtain.
To read about these films and more, you can visit the WFF website at 2016.wifilmfest.org or pick up a paper film guide at many outlets around town. We hope to see you out and about during this year’s festival and to celebrate Wisconsin Film Festival’s 18th birthday. It’s sure to be a nice break from the ongoing news about the other votes we’re making in 2016!