Kid detectives, genies and the best of Madison’s 48 Hour Film Festival

Max Casper in 'Dial D for Dick'

Two days, two screenings, and a whole bunch of short films. Here’s the cream of the crop from the annual filmmaking competition.

UPDATED 08-31-2015: This year’s judges and audience award winners have been announced.

Somehow, Madison’s 48 Hour Film Project teams never fail to independently arrive at some kind of crazy, shared zeitgeist  — and I don’t mean the required criteria. This year’s weekend-long filmmaking competition, whose entrants “premiered” finished products this past Wed at Sundance, required teams to incorporate a can opener, the line “How much money are we talking about?” and a spokesperson character by the name of Jim or Janine Spanwell. There are any number of clumsy ways to insert a prop into a scene or name-drop a salesman and be done with it, and while the 48 Hour Film Project could stand to fix a few things, the zany wavelengths at which Madison filmmakers met this year led to some wonderful, hilarious connections.

Let’s start with humor. Perennial blue collar entrants Oven Mitt Productions showed up with Whoop Ass, essentially a four-minute fauxmmercial for a canned product that, when cracked open, whoops the ass of its target. Madison software company Filament Games showed the ugly underside of the private sector with Sales Force, where a frazzled Elle Jacobson’s salesperson is threatened to close a deal with duct tape, kitchen knives, and the blackest of black humor. The detective story in Can It! came from this year’s youngest team, Coconut Water, a group of high school students who put on a quirky interrogation to find a stolen can opener. Josh Heath’s Pregnant With Fear featured the funniest use of character, casting Dale Mitchell as a bonkers paranormal shyster at the heart of a complex and absurdly petty con job.

It was Gremlins meets Faust in Genie in Can, which got laughs out of a hilarious, smart ass genie who grants wishes to his buyer in the worst ways possible. Eye Soar Media packed a “Sea Sapien” into their tin can, pairing the problematic scenario of entrusting a young girl to care for a mermaid creature on her own with fun “freeze frames” and Malcolm in the Middle style voiceover narration. In Jolly Satan, Smoking Monkey made a twisted take on their creature, with Anthony Wood’s titular produce mascot coaching a washed up pitchman (Patrick Holland) back to his spokesperson glory days. Adorned in clown face makeup and horns, Wood conjures a career resurrection out of montage and martial arts slapstick, with Smoking Monkey’s love of the Wisconsin wilderness again on full display.

2015 may have been the year for youngest performers, too. Overdrive Overdue, which paired Edgar Wright-style hyperbole with a Fourth of July holiday film, featured a deadpanning adolescent on the receiving end of Gwen Beatty’s quest to return a VHS to Four Star Video Co-op. In Dial D for Dick, a pint-sized detective (5 year old Max Casper) tracks a mystery with his adult-sized partner with a can of Spotted Dick pudding as their only lead. Phallic jokes aside, the inverted noir mined easy comedy gold from the sheer juxtaposition in age. Despite the fact that a second, more refined cut disqualified the team from making the submission deadline, the reactions from the audience may have been worth the late penalty alone.

Other highlights included Ai-Wisconsin’s La Audicion and But Wait There’s More!” which both used a surprising amount of Spanish for comedy and upending stereotypes. Northern Lights Productions applied a fun feminist lens as its three women make elaborate guesses at a skeevy bar patron’s inevitable pickup line. Magic Fur Hat’s 9 milked its main character’s obsessive compulsion for a terrific jump scare and a surprising amount of tension. Charlene Jeter played twin sisters in The Promise with the help of some impressive effects work, and as the only team brave enough to stick with the musical/western genre, Ace Visions and their first-time director used stellar songwriting to score a young woman and her unfortunate attempts to hit on a gay man.

Even with a different name and a few new faces though, Firmament Films Women’s Locker Room Productions stole the 7:00p show. In their “inspirational” film This One Last Time, a man (Matt Franklinson) leaves an AA meeting in frustration only to find a smooth-talking enabler in Dave Geisler, who might not be as self-assured as his B.S. makes him seem. Even with their draw of a bogus category, Women’s Locker Room didn’t skip a beat despite shooting until 2:00a on Sat and Sun mornings. Before the screening, I ran into Kris Schulz, who told me the team initially drew western/musical again. I never thought I’d say this after what we were treated to with last year’s Game Day, but thank God they threw it back.

  • The High Noon Saloon hosts a truncated Awards Party featuring this year’s 48 Hour Film Project winners on Fri, Aug 28 at 5:00p. Tickets are $5.