Festival celebrates 10 years with ‘remarkable films’

Feb. 27, 2008

by Ellen Page

Tickets for this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival go on sale soon, and festival organizers will honor the event’s 10th year by doing what they do best: showing good films.

The 2008 festival will be held Thursday–Saturday, April 3–6, in locations around Madison.

Wisconsin Film Festival attendees

Wisconsin Film Festival attendees watch a screening of “Sweet Land” in the Orpheum Stage Door Theater during the eighth annual film fest in Madison. The 2008 Wisconsin Film Festival will be held Thursday–Saturday, April 3–6.

Meg Hamel, director of the Wisconsin Film Festival, says that she had a lot of great ideas for a 10th year celebration, but ultimately the priority was to “do the festival as it is and to do it well,” she says. “The festival has always very earnestly focused on choosing good films from around the world that people wouldn’t normally see. I thought the best way we could commemorate 10 years of the festival was by showing remarkable films.”

The milestone will be recognized, though, with the showing of “Man of the Century,” which was the opening night film in 1999, the festival’s first year. That festival was many years in the making, says Tino Balio, an emeritus professor of communication arts who was involved in the festival’s creation.

Balio says the idea for the film festival didn’t originate at UW–Madison, but with the Wisconsin Film Office, which initially hoped to use a film festival to promote opportunities for film and television production within the state. Although the Wisconsin Film Office laid plans for the festival, those plans fell through — just in time for the newly formed UW–Madison Arts Institute to step in. The institute was searching for opportunities to create arts programming that involved the Madison and state community in an outreach effort, so $10,000 was set aside to take on festival planning “as an experiment,” Balio says.

Several students were involved in developing the festival, giving them a chance to see what it took to create such an event. The weekend for the first Wisconsin Film Festival was beautiful, says Balio. “We drew a great crowd,” he says. “It confirmed that Madison hungered for a film festival and that people in the area were keenly interested in film.”

After the first year, an executive committee at the Arts Institute decided to establish the Wisconsin Film Festival as an annual event but had limited funding, so the institute’s artist in residence program was created, generating the funding needed to create a university position in which half of the responsibility would go toward film festival planning.

Subsequent festivals have all followed similar standards developed by the festival’s first director, Mary Carbine, says Balio, including the best films from U.S. festivals, Wisconsin films, retrospectives and archival films. “It was a lot of work to set up — getting the ticket system going, publicity, volunteers — but the festival has had huge support from everyone we’ve asked. It’s been a wonderful town-and-gown effort,” Balio adds.

Interest in the festival has increased every year, as have ticket sales, although ticket sales alone don’t finance the event. Partnerships with entities such as Isthmus are critical to the event’s financial success, and collaboration with campus departments and organizations also has advanced the academic mission of the festival, says Hamel.

This year the festival joined with the Center for Culture, History and the Environment, which presented the fall film festival “Tales from the Planet Earth,” which showcased environmental films. The two groups have agreed that the center would present a fall environmental film festival every two years, with the Wisconsin Film Festival featuring similar films during the opposite year. “We’ll use the films to help people understand these complex ideas without necessarily waiting two years to show them,” says Hamel.

This year’s Wisconsin Film Festival will include the film “Stuck” by Stuart Gordon, a UW–Madison alumnus who has also taught filmmaking during a previous stint as artist in residence. Another film, “Mongol,” was edited by alumnus Zach Staenberg and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film during this year’s Academy Awards. Staenberg previously won an Academy Award for his editing work on “The Matrix.”

Other films this year will include documentaries about Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as films related to consumer health in collaboration with the Center for Patient Partnerships in the Law School.

Hamel encourages anyone who hasn’t attended the festival before to check it out. “Just pick a convenient theater and go to whatever film is showing there,” she says. “Every film has something special about it — every film was hand-picked, and it’s a unique combination of films just for Wisconsin.”

Getting tickets to the Wisconsin Film Festival

The film program and schedule will be posted at Wisconsin Film Festival on Thursday, March 6, and a printed program will be available in that week’s Isthmus. Tickets will be available starting Saturday, March 8, through the Web site listed above and at the Memorial Union box office. Tickets will be $7 for general admission and $4 for students. The festival will be held Thursday–Saturday, April 3–6, in theaters around Madison.