We offer up a few “Wisconsin’s Own” suggestions before festival tickets go on sale this weekend
Full disclosure, I was one of the jurors for this year’s “Golden Badger” awards. I ate a lot.
I also couldn’t be prouder of the films Kristin Catalano (Clarence, WFF 2015), Eric J. Nelson (Siszilla, WFF 2013; Forest Products, WFF 2016) and I chose this year. Cliff, Superfan! is among the most seamless documentaries featured in 2017 films with state connections, beginning with the sweet and strange Clifford Hayashi’s obsession with Stanford athletics before unfolding into a more serious look at the importance of community. Kate Raney’s Lingua Absentia is a devastating recreation of a young woman’s dizzying battles with schizophrenia and cancer, a viewing experience that might have proven to be wholly mortifying were it not for a sensitive approach and tactual animation style. Daedalus and Icarus marks the hard work and flights of creative fancy from Crestwood Elementary School, a group effort between fourth-grade stop-motion animators and their fifth-grade composer counterparts.
Outside of the “Golden Badger” films, we’ll continue showcasing “Wisconsin’s Own” through our “5 Questions” interviews. Before tickets go on sale this weekend, here are five more locally-sourced selections worth highlighting:
Let’s start on a contentious note. When Alma awakens in The Missing Sun to find her alcoholic husband in a state of paralysis, she looks to his estranged son and a sun priest to bring him back. Brennan Vance doesn’t spoon-feed anything to his viewers short of ambivalent black-and-white cinematography, which seamlessly drains into overcast skies days. The Missing Sun is unlike any other “Wisconsin’s Own” selection this year, a reckoning of strained marriages and bad communication through take-no-bullshit characters and spirit crystals. As the old saying goes, if you love someone, set them free on an inter-dimensional journey through time and space.
There’s a moment in The Dundee Project where a UFO enthusiast gazes out into the night sky. Camera flashes and glow sticks reveal an a combination of ecstasy and awe in his expression. “UFO Bob” is a believer and the enthralling centerpiece in this short-form ethnography. Don’t let talk of “the first film directed by Mark Borchardt in 15 years” be the defining story here. The American Movie star’s authorial presence is but one of many on full display at “UFO Daze” near Kettle Moraine Forest, a colorful swill of conspiracy theorists, kitsch, and cheap beer. Drink up.
The two former Iraq War soldiers in Almost Sunrise claim their walk from southern Wisconsin to the California coast is for awareness. And for a good cause. PTSD and depression are crippling realities for far too many veterans who, more often that not, are forced to cope without support systems. But director Michael Collins also takes this crowdpleasing story and shows the profound sense of being stuck. With a public television distribution deal already under its belt, this won’t be the only chance Wisconsin has to see it, but few images will enthrall festival audiences this year like that of a distraught soldier, waiting alone in a VA elevator.
In Fake Jewels, two childhood friends revisit their old neighborhood haunts, digging shallow holes in search of their most valued possession: a hot pink treasure chest adorned with fake jewels. As the afternoon drags on, all is not as it seems for Emily (Ruilin Huang) and Jen (Alyssa Beasley), whose lopsided hunt begins to feel more like a chore than a chance to reminisce. Kate Feldt and Wesley Morgan co-direct with confidence and fund. A key emotional beat is given time to breathe while rapid cuts treat us to a flurry of memories of where they got their eyes pierced or which park they were in when they swore off rec league softball for good.
Silently Steal Away unearths the mystery behind Jack Raymond, the enigmatic radio host behind a program that’s been in broadcast syndication out of Chippewa Falls for decades. As niche a topic as one can get, director Andrew Swant and his narrator Mark Borchardt (again) comb through old radio broadcasts and newspaper clippings to find the story behind the suburban legend that is Mr. Raymond. Like Searching for Sugarman dipped in The Third Man‘s eerie atmosphere, Swant plays up the intrigue with second-hand accounts from area artists and enthusiasts, including the current proprietors of “The Jack Raymond Show” at WCFW (“…where FM stands for Fine Music”) and the dependably uncombed Justin Vernon. In a stroke of irony, the notoriously private Ryan Olson (of Polica and supergroup Gayngs) adds his two cents with a modulated voice and a blurred-out face.
- The Wisconsin Film Festival runs Mar 30 through Apr 6. Tickets go on sale Sat, Mar 11 at noon.