The best of “BIFF” includes Cheeseheads, encores for Clarence, and a few beefed up shorts
I always sleep on the Beloit International Film Festival which is a shame because it’s a quiet beast. Slipping in just two months before the Wisconsin Film Festival, “BIFF” actually sticks around town longer than its Madison-based cousin, playing host to domestic and foreign documentaries, fiction, and short films across 10 separate days.
Beginning this Fri, Feb 19, BIFF and Beloit College celebrate the festival’s 11th year with — among Alison Bagnall’s Funny Bunny and the exquisitely rendered Song of the Sea — a solid slate of films with Wisconsin ties. From a number of features to a “Wisconsin vs. Illinois” short film showdown that’s (probably) in the name of fun, here’s a closer a look at this year’s local fare:
Clarence (Feb 19, Feb 27)
So thorough, so genuine, and so very satisfying, this no-frills documentary from Kristin Catalano moved at least one theater at Sundance during last year’s Wisconsin Film Festival, present company included. A Milwaukee native now residing in Los Angeles, Catalano has no qualms about her deeply personal attachment to her subject, 85-year old World War II vet Clarence Garrett, who made an indelible impression on her experiences as a child. Clarence lovingly returns the favor, detailing its subject’s dream of completing a college education nearly fifty years in the making. BIFF has wisely secured an appearance from Catalano, as the story behind her project is almost as moving as the end result.
Cheeseheads: The Documentary (Feb 19, Feb 21, Feb 27)
Director John Mitchell has already been making the rounds with this ode to his home state — and that’s on top of an ambitious pledge to donate a copy of the documentary to every library he can find. A noble cause on its own, the promotion of Cheeseheads: The Documentary is at risk of overshadowing its primary goal: to prove there’s more to this state than the people wearing foam blocks of cheddar. Internal contradictions and all, Mitchell is set to appear in-person as well. You can ask him about the 140 different cities he drove through to make this.
We Interrupt This Broadcast (Feb 20, Feb 28)
Fans of Milwaukee-based bands Field Report and Fatty Acids are bound to know Kurt Raether’s work already, and his new short no less delightfully niche and positively strange. Featuring a museum guard who indulges in Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast while on night shift, We Interrupt This Broadcast wastes no time blending its exuberance with left-field weirdness. Raether puts a great twist on the faux hysteria of Welles’ infamous theatrics, and Quinn Hester’s gorgeous cinematography emboldens the static creepiness of exhibit displays. Scientifically speaking, this is at least 50 times better than Night at the Museum and with a fraction of the time commitment.
We Know You Have a Choice (Feb 20, Feb 28)
If you’ve ever traversed the logical morass that is calling Charter’s support line, you’ll instantly identify with this razor sharp chamber comedy. Designed around one woman’s (Sue Cremin) sisyphean attempt to remove an erroneous service charge, We Know You Have a Choice is a hilarious mash-up of increasing gamesmanship. Cremin puts on a one-person show with increasing desperation, taking down the names of the reps she puts up with and delivering empty threats with exaggerated familiarity. Director Eric Simonson injects a brilliant bit of humanity mid-way through but not without reminding you of that time you went to the bathroom while on hold.
Pass the Canvas (Feb 20, Feb 21, Feb 27)
Samuel Karow ‘s 16-minute docu-short illustrates in frank, endearing terms the impact of a quality education. And like Catalano’s Clarence, it does so with a personal touch. One of Karow’s subjects, Eric J. Nelson, taught the filmmaker in middle school. The days of art class have clearly paid off for Karow since then, racking up considerable acclaim for the experimental 3 Miles East. Alongside his creative partner and wife, fellow educator Margot Jones, Nelson shows a profound appreciation for the arts and the importance of tradition in education. Pass the Canvas melds those ideas in the best way, uniting a background narrative between student and teacher with two artists whose shared passions brought them together in ways both expected and otherwise.
That’s not all, either. Other local selections at BIFF include Greece from Kenosha’s Sarah Deakins; A Farmer’s Road comes from John Murray, who’s cut his teeth at Milwaukee studios; and Dinosaur, Spencer Ortega’s wacky, indulgent fantasy of a young man who thinks he’s well, you know.
- The Beloit International Film Festival runs from Fri, Feb 19 through Sun, Feb 28. You can find complete showtimes and ticket information at beloitfilmfest.org