Judging the Golden Badgers
In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.
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MICROTONES by Scott Gordon, editor-in-chief and publisher
Each year the Wisconsin Film Festival hands out some laurels in the form of the Golden Badger Awards, a juried honor that focuses on filmmakers with "Wisconsin ties." (See the criteria here.) This year, festival programmers asked Edwanike Harbour, who writes frequently about film for Tone Madison and has also written for Madison Film Forum and Taste Of Cinema, to serve on the jury alongside filmmakers Emir Cakaroz and D.P. Carlson. They ended up bestowing Golden Badgers on three films screening at this year's fest: James Runde's Played Out, Todd McGrain's Elephant Path, and Bill Brown's Life On The Mississippi. I already know that Edwanike has a formidable grasp of what's going on in the film world, but wanted to find out more about what it's like to serve on the Golden Badger jury. Edwanike was kind enough to answer a few questions about it.
To start on a general level: what’s the actual process of the Golden Badger jury?
The award is designed to highlight selections from Wisconsin’s filmmakers. The process entails watching a wide selection of films in which either the subject matter or filmmaker has some connection to Wisconsin. Maybe they were born here, went to school here, or the film took place here. We watch the films and make decisions based on merit and how engaging they were.
By the time the jury sees these, have the festival programmers already determined what is in the fest, or not?
By and large yes. They have always made solid choices, at least from my perspective, over the past several years. It is so amazing to see the wide berth of talent coming out of this state.
As a jury member, why did you choose to recognize certain films? What stood out to you about some of this year’s winners?
All three were exceptionally shot, edited, and well-directed. We took time to look at the total package as opposed to focusing on one aspect or another of the movies. There were some solid entries this year and we look forward to what some of the filmmakers have in store for the future. Elephant Path was such an engaging documentary. It was informative without being exploitative of the subject matter. It was very well put together and was similar to something one would find on PBS.
It seems like this is one of very few times in the year that a Madison film event puts a strong spotlight on Wisconsin filmmakers. How has the process impacted your view of the state’s filmmaking community?
I think it’s a unique opportunity to showcase the talent of the state. I’m sure it’s difficult to synthesize something for the entire state and have it be accessible to everyone, but I think it serves as a good reminder of the excellent work that is taking place in our own community. Not everyone needs to move to LA.
So, I know you watch an extraordinary amount of movies and have obviously built up a lot of knowledge and opinions along the way. But what were the challenging parts of doing this?
It is a marathon of movie watching, which, for me, is a treat. However, you want to be as objective as possible after watching everything back to back and making sure it’s not a blur at that point.
How many total entries did you have to watch for this? And would you say the thought process of watching a film as part of an award jury is any different from watching a film as a critic?
Roughly 40 entries or so. It’s definitely a different experience because as a juror I kept in mind which films might resonate more with audiences, more so than what I would like personally. I really appreciated having the experience and seeing what goes into making the selections for the festival.
Beyond the winners themselves, what else do you think people should keep an eye out for if they want to take in more Wisconsin-made films at this year’s festival?
The Short and Sweet program is always a delight. Also, the Crestwood Elementary students have consistently put out great stop-motion animation shorts [namely this year's selection A Valkyrie's Tale]. Carol Brandt’s Pet Names screened at SXSW in recent years. She’s a perfect example of the outstanding talent that comes from Wisconsin. The Cabin and Husband, Ensured [both screening at the Wisconsin Gone Wild program] were hilarious. I would try and catch those as well.
New this week:
On the podcast, Milwaukee-based director Carol Brandt discusses her latest feature, Pet Names, which screens on April 5 during the Wisconsin Film Festival.
Madison filmmaker James Runde talks with us about his "featurette" Played Out, screening April 6 at the film fest.
For yet more on Wisconsin-connected film at this year's festival, we picked out six shorts and one feature you should see.
A visit to Madison's new Portillo's, where the hot dogs are cheap and the tamales are evil.
Longtime Madison concert promoter Tag Evers spoke with us about arts policy before winning Madison's 13th District City Council seat this week.
Elsewhere on the Madison internet: WORT analyzes the impact of Tuesday's transformative local election. The Miss Saigon mess at Overture Center keepscreating fallout. Daryl Hall & John Oates announce an April 25 show at Breese Stevens Field. A new Live At WSUM compilation features on-air performances from artists including Bonny Doon and Broadway Muse.