WFF 2004: Thursday Night Round-Up
Well, the 6th annual Wisconsin Film Festival kicked off yesterday afternoon with it's traditional opening event, a higher profile version of the Film Studies weekly colloquium. This time it was a short, yet rambling, presentation by noted film historian Douglas Gomery, on the subject of film festivals and independent cinema. Didn't learn much; surprise, surprise, film festivals are often driven by tourist and economic concerns, etc. The big news, David Bordwell is apparently retiring, so the entire presentation was peppered with asides praising the brilliancy of David Bordwell. Get a room, Gomery (just kidding)!
I'd barely just arrived at the presentation, there was a snafu with my tickets which I had to get resolved first. Plus, if you haven't heard already, I'm covering the festival for Flak Magazine
, so I also got to pick up my press credentials. Now I got me a shiny, laminated pass that hangs around my neck; I feel like Homer Simpson. Hmm, maybe I should use the lady's room, "All Access..."
Lucky I had the pass, because the biggest ticket package that the festival offered was for 16 programs and I had scheduled 17. I usually make a point to include some programs by both Wisconsin and avant-garde filmmakers (though some fit into both categories, it's killing two birds with one stone), and this festival was no different. I attended the "Wisconsin Own Shorts I: Documentary, Experimental, Narrative," program, a collection of 7 short films, ranging in length from 4 minutes to 32 minutes, all by filmmakers who were either born in Wisconsin or attended school here. Among the selections, were a short, rough hewn documentary about a drug-addicted drifter, a rather weird self-described "eco-fable," a short portion of a future PBS documentary on Wisconsin-born poet Lorine Niedecker, and a slickly professional noirish film about a female investigator spying on an cheating, yet abused, wife. There were three particularly notable entries in the program:
*Not Color Blind, Just Near-Sighted
(d. Aaron Greer) - A short video piece that points out the absurdism of categorizing people by color, it is based on the director's real life experiences at the Alabama DMV. Greer, who is biracial, is faced with a mini-existenstial crisis when the state only allows the choices of "W," "B", "H", or "X" (for foreigners) for racial classification. Despite being motivated by anger, the video is playful and ironic, playing with ability to digitally manipulate video color. Eventually, after hemming and hawing, Greer comes to an expertly timed conclusion, "Fuck It, I'm Honeydew..."
(d. Molly M. Mann) - A beautiful example of stop motion animation, shot in 35mm, in a 1.85:1 frame. Mann, using what appears to be construction paper cut-outs, creates a gothic and haunting atmosphere. A man, who emerges from a pool of water, finds a lost love and dances the night away in an abandoned mansion, before disappearing in the water again.
(d. Xav Laplae) - I kind of had some trepidation before viewing this film, as I disliked the director's last feature, The Foreigners
, which I saw at the 2002 WFF (remember that one McBain?). Still, this one was much, much better, an entertaining, and faithful (despite it?s truncated 32 minute running time, compared to the original three hours) recreation of Raj Kapur's famous 1973 Bollywood film Bobby
. The whole thing is rather absurd, as the filmmakers use streetchildren from Bombay and Goa, often in ridiculous wigs and early 70s sunglasses, to recreate key moments from the film, all of which is badly lip synched to Bobby
's original soundtrack. Even more bizarre, problems with the authorities forced the filmmakers off the streets, so they completed the story with crudely animated, and frankly, kind of creepy, paper-cut outs, filmed in their hotel rooms (other, more technically challenging parts of the film, were actually filmed in the Bombay studio system). It took me about five minutes before I realized that I've actually seen Bobby
over three years ago. I'm not exactly sure what the point of the film was, other than a loving tribute to a Bollywood classic, but it sure was entertaining.
The other program (the Thursday night program is composed of two blocks) that I attended was a screening of festival favorites Chris Smith, Sarah Price (directors of American Movie
, btw Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank were in attendance), and Dan Ollman's new documentary The Yes Men
, a comical portrait of the anti-WTO activists also known as "The Yes Men." After operating a satirical WTO parody site (www.gatt.org
), the Yes Men were invited to several conferences by confused organizers as actual representatives of the WTO . There they lampooned WTO policy with increasingly outrageous, yet mock-serious, riffs on globalization policy. Though it's pretty much preaching to the choir, The Yes Men
is a consistently playful and hilarious look at these merry pranksters, who manage to hoodwink just about everyone (it's actually kind of disturbing to see how these corporate managers seem nonplussed by these absurd stunts, such as controlling workers with electroshocks or selling US Presidential votes), before turning relatively serious at the end. Look for the film to be released by United Artists in August (I've got more to say about the film, but I'm going to reserve it for my Flak Magazine
review, but if anyone has questions, I'll answer them in comments).
The festival starts today at 5pm. Here is my schedule for the rest of the festival:
Friday, April 2nd
5pm - Angel on the Right
(d. Djamshed Usmonov, 2002, Tajikistan/France)
7pm - Me and My White Pal
(d. S. Pierre Yameogo, 2003, Burkina Faso/France)
9:30pm - Goodbye, Dragon Inn
(d. Tsai Ming-liang, 2003, Taiwan)
11:30pm - PTU
(d. Johnny To, 2003, Hong Kong/China)
Saturday, April 3rd
11am - The Watershed
(d. Mary Trunk, 2003, USA)
12:45pm - Patriot's Day
(d. Marian Marzynski, 2003, USA)
3pm - Eyes Without a Face
(d. George Franju, 1959, France)
5:30pm - S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine
(d. Rithy Panh, 2003, Cambodia/France)
7:15pm - Forget Baghdad
(d. Samir, 2002, Switzerland)
9:30pm - Khorma
(d. Jilani Saadi, 2002, Tunisia/France)
11:30pm - Ju-On: The Grudge
(d. Takashi Shimizu, 2002, Japan)
Sunday, April 4th
The Price of Freedom
(d. Bruce Norfleet, 2002, USA) & Human Shield
(d. Debra Hussong, 2003, USA)
Since Otar Left
(d. Julie Bertuccelli, 2003, France)
Last Life in the Universe
(d. Pen-ek Ratanaruang, 2003, Thailand)
Sumo East & West
(d. Ferne Pearlstein, 2003, USA)
Anyone interested in learning more can take a glance at the WFF website.
Just a quick plea to anyone who likes quality television. Check out the FOX series Wonderfalls
, which recently moved to Thursday nights at 9pm EST. Its quirky, in the best sense of the word, well-written, intelligent, and funny. And of course, its ratings are very, very low. Please give it a try before its too late.