4 must-see short films at Wildwood 2016

We narrow down your decision-making for this year’s festival

Wildwood’s founders Craig Knitt, Jason Buss and Tom Thorne have made it their mission to shine a light on directors from Wisconsin, and for a decade and a half, that’s just what the Fox Cities-based festival has done.

This weekend, the Wildwood Film Festival celebrates its 15th year, beginning its program with a feature-length screening on Fri, Feb 19 and then four subsequent “sessions” of shorts the following Sat. That includes Madison-shot doc The Turkeys of Atwood Ave and the homicidal zaniness of Hi, Neighbor!. Roger Bindl retraces Dane County’s living history museum and Bayfield’s David Downing documents Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands. Music videos and a number of novel animation projects keep things honest, too.

Admittedly, if there’s a lot to see, there’s even more to cover, so here are a few must-see projects to narrow down your decision-making:

The Sonatina (Session #2 — 1:00p)

The Sonatina Kate Balsley Wildwood Film Festival

Less conceptual here than in The CucaranchulaKate Balsley unravels a musical reawakening for a young man who comes across an antique piano. Heartfelt and thoughtful, this piece of short-form drama finds an emotional center in Chris (Ed Poser), who is pulled between the leisurely pressures of after-work drinking buddies and a drive re-learn something once lost. It’s among the most straightforward selections in this year’s festival, and that’s a great thing.

Isola del Giglio (Session #2 — 1:00p)

Amery’s very own Tom Schroeder has quietly made a career out of his gorgeous animations, with creations popping up in commercials and grant-funded projects since the early 90s. Inspired in part by Jacques Tati, this rendering of a Sunday morning stroll the Italian town of Campese is a loose conclusion to Schroeder’s “water vacation trilogy” (1995’s Desert Dive-Inn2004’s A Plan). Scenes come complete with hand-scrawled notes on each vignette, a slight excess when the fluid sketchbook style provides enough leisurely pleasure all on its own.

The Life and Times of Thomas Thumb, Jr. (Session #3 — 3:00p)

Channeling Tim and Eric-style humor, Ryan Fox’s wonky short details the ups and downs of its titular average joe (He’s just “TJ” to friends and an offscreen narrator with a Southern drawl). Easily among the most conceptual submissions this year, Fox digs into some extremely dark places with his off-kilter beats before finding his way out of it in spectacularly indulgent fashion.

Appleton (Session #5 — 8:00p)

Jimmy Costa Appleton Wildwood wisconsin

Don’t confuse Appleton by Jimmy Costa for Appleton by Jimmy Costa. For one thing, Costa’s feature-length effort kicks off Wildwood on Fri night with its very own slot. But let’s not forget Costa’s shorter predecessor, which earned “Vimeo Staff Pick” accolades back in 2011. For its “big score” gone awry, the short combines small town sparseness, Bryan Koss’s crisp cinematography, and a somber, distant soundtrack for a revisited festival submission that’s an oldie but a goodie.

  • The Wildwood Film Festival runs Fri, Feb 19 and Sat, Feb 20 in the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center and the Kimberly Clark Theater in Appleton. Complete ticket information is at wildwoodfilmfest.com