Wisconsin Film Festival 2013 preview

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By Russell Reed, Mariah Wagner, Mark Scholbrock, David Klein

Yesterday afternoon, the Wisconsin Film Festival opened its ticket office to the general public, and the biggest story thus far has been the massive sellout of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing in only a few short hours. While we’re certainly looking forward to seeing it on the Festival’s closing night, Whedon’s black & white Shakespeare adaptation is just one of the many highlights the Festival is offering this year. Several of our staff writers put their heads together and came up with a few films to look forward to at the 2013 Wisconsin Film Festival.

A Hijacking

For a few simple reasons, A Hijacking (or Kapringen, in its native Danish) might be worth checking out. Writer/Director Tobias Lindholm seems to be seasoning himself with a blend of action and drama following his 2010 foreign hit, R. A Hijacking looks to be an intense ethical thriller as a Danish cargo ship’s crew gets taken over by Somali pirates. Nominated for Best Nordic Film at the Göteborg Film Festival in Sweden, Lindholm has already turned some heads with A Hijacking, even winning the Directors to Watch Award at the Palm Springs International Festival. Based on its track record, A Hijacking might be the sleeper hit of this year’s Film Festival and is absolutely worth your attention.

A Hijacking plays Friday, April 12th and Saturday, April 13th at Sundance

Dear Mr. Watterson

Winner of the 2013 Golden Badger award, Dear Mr. Watterson promises a look at the massive cultural impact of reclusive cartoonist Bill Watterson and his Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Almost 20 years after Watterson’s strip ended its print run, former Appleton and Madison resident Joel Schroeder sits down with scholars, fans, and other artists to explore the profound effect Calvin and Hobbes has had and continues to have on them. In addition to The Smart Ones, Dear Mr. Watterson also marks another entry from “Wisconsin’s Own” that was funded with help from a Kickstarter. And since it looks like Watterson himself isn’t likely to come out from his very private lifestyle anytime soon, this might be your best bet at getting close to everyone’s favorite spiky-haired boy and his tiger friend.

Dear Mr. Watterson plays Sunday, April 14th at the Union South Marquee and Monday, April 15th at Sundance

The Librarian and the Banjo

For some cinephiles, the word “banjo” might conjure up a scene from Deliverance, where the instrument engages in a musical duel with a guitar, foreshadowing and contrasting the life-and-death struggle of the horrific events to follow. But there’s also a lighter side. The documentary The Librarian and the Banjo explores how the true roots of this instrument were brought to light through Dena Epstein’s work at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Madison-based director Jim Carrier also promises to delve into the far-reaching effects of Epstein’s work, including the instrument’s place in black folk music and its resurgence on various music scenes. For anyone who enjoys the bright, happy sound of the banjo, this one is not to be missed.

The Librarian and the Banjo plays Sunday, April 14th at the UW Elvehjem Building


New Bedford, Massachusetts is the largest fishing port in the United States, but Leviathan from Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel is anything but a straightforward documentary. Earning rave reviews since its premiere at Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival, the film takes “up close and personal” to new extremes; it’s composited from over a dozen cameras handed off between various fishermen and its filmmakers. And if a fishing documentary that makes ample use of a fish eye lens doesn’t sound like a genius idea, we frankly don’t know what does.

Leviathan plays Friday, April 12th at the UW Elvehjem Building and Thursday, April 18th at Sundance

Berberian Sound Studio

“Fish out of water” might only tell half of the horrific story in Brtish director Peter Strickland’s latest, Berberian Sound Studio, which follows English actor Toby Jones as he records foley work in a 1970’s Italian horror studio. Picking up Best Director, Best Actor (Jones) and Best Achievement in Production at the 2012 British Independent Film Awards, this looks to feature plenty of homages to giallo and Argento as well as a hefty dose of atmospheric terror — that Jones works in the recording studio where the horror happens looks to be one heck of a premise. When it comes to scares, it’s often what one doesn’t see that proves to be most terrifying — Berberian Sound Studio just might literalize that.

Berberian Sound Studio plays Friday, April 12th at Sundance.

7 Boxes

This year’s festival is screening not one but two showings of 7 Boxes, a fast-paced chase thriller directed and shot in Paraguay. There seem to be so few thrillers that are filmed exceptionally well these days, and it’s often the foreign ones that find ways to bring fresh ideas to the screen in a creative way. With an interesting premise — a young boy receives a proposal to carry seven mysterious boxes through “Market Number Four” — 7 Boxes promises to live up to expectations while adding a little local flavor to the mix.

7 Boxes plays Friday, April 12th and Tuesday, April 16th at Sundance

Beyond the Hills

The paths of two young Romanian women begin at an orphanage, but their friendship dramatically splits when one finds refuge at an Orthodox convent. Writer/director Christian Mungiu put strong women characters and a heavy subject matter at the forefront in his 2007 feature, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and Beyond the Hills looks to be a powerful drama of the same ilk. Garnering praise for its beautifully shot cinematography and winning Best Screenplay at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, the film also features two breakout performances from Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur.

Beyond the Hills plays Sunday, April 14th at Sundance

Did we miss anything? Let us know how wrong we were with your own suggestions in the comments below.

It sounds like we’re top secret marketers for Sundance at Hilldale, but there’s a whole trove of great films playing all around the Madison area during the Festival. For a complete listing, check out the Film Festival’s online guide or pick up the March 15th edition of the Isthmus.