This year’s Golden Badger winners, auteurist introspection, a documentary on bees & more
The 2016 Wisconsin Film Festival guide is out today, and there are nearly 40 featured filmmakers with ties to the state. From documentaries, short films, experimental oddities and narrative features, the “Wisconsin’s Own” program is like a festival in and of itself, and simply put, there are far too many entries to preview everything in one post.
But I can still preview some. Rest assured, we’ll be covering the festival in greater detail — including another round of our “5 Questions” interviews — but for now, here’s a down and dirty look at a handful of eye-catching selections:
- A Ghost In The Making: Searching for the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee is a sumptuously produced search for its titular insect. Featuring gorgeous photography from Clay Bolt, the film’s ecological tour guide, this conservationist case eventually takes Bolt to Madison’s Arboretum as Ghost retraces the nosema parasite that’s extinguishing nature’s most unappreciated creatures. ‘The bees are dying!’ has become a hollow aphorism, but here it’s explored as an engrossing and immediate reality, fully fleshed out in crisp, digital beauty.
- Marc Kornblatt logs his thoughts and anxieties in Still60, an infectious internal monologue that finds the director looking inward as he nears his 60th birthday. Broken into meditative “sits,” Still60 juxtaposes the stillness of its subject’s reflections with personal insight and self-deprecating observations delivered via unfiltered narration. Kornblatt — who won a Golden Badger Award in 2014 and just wrapped a documentary series on Oakhill’s Humanities Project — turns his camera around for a quirky and homespun piece of introspection.
- Round River is a placid, 30-minute drama in which a young woman’s visit with her mother turns into an uncomfortable family triangle. In his impressive Golden Badger Award-winning debut, Xia Mangus plays with fuzzy focuses and a central Aldo Leopold metaphor, exploring the notion of cyclical traps and regression against the contrast of the endless stretch and promise of the great outdoors.
- Excising the Heart is a pint-sized catharsis via tone poem. Set against nothing but raw sound and somber piano, Samuel Karow’s short is intensely emotional in depicting the demolition of a decades-old barn. But the lyricism of the total package elevates the subjectivity of losing a family treasure to universal truths of loss and memory. It’s the sad cousin to The Round Barns of Vernon County.
- Kara Mulrooney’s jazzy@32 has the An Evening at Angelo’s director probing the weird depths of her fertility dreams in a novel format: frequenting psychic chat rooms. With its title taken from Mulrooney’s online handle, this Golden Badger winner presents both a film and accompanying personalities you haven’t seen before, with an introspective thrust adding to its reassessment of cinematic form.
- Bound to be an audience favorite, IMMOO at 240 Frames Per Second makes the rigors of the Madison Ironman look oh so sweet as it delivers exactly what its title promises. Slowing down competitors as they swim, run, and bike across the finish line, Steve Donovan finds grace in sweaty, grunt-filled endurance. With the help of singer-songwriter Lizzie Weber‘s aching piano, this milks one exercise for another.
- Stefano Galli’s Lamerica focuses on the country’s piecemeal elements with specificity and an outsider’s perspective. And if its trailer is to be taken at face value, this Golden Badger winner also promises more than a touch of offbeat humor.
I’d be remiss to ignore some familiar titles, too. Ryan Fox’s The Life and Times of Thomas Thumb, Jr. graced the Wildwood Film Festival earlier this year with its oddball humor and indulgent tangents, like a human interest story directed by Harmony Korine. June Falling Down mirrors an emotional return home with director Rebecca Weaver bringing her production from the west coast back to her home state. Madison-based The Turkeys of Atwood Ave documents the Wisconsin’s huge pride in the smallest way. UW-Madison scholar and experimental filmmaker John Powers will present his The House You Were Born In, and the hilarious ne’er-do-well campus comedy White and Lazy might very well be the best student-produced selection you’ll see this year.
- The Wisconsin Film Festival runs Apr 14 through Apr 21. Tickets go on sale this Sat, Mar 19.