One-and-done films at the 2016 Wisconsin Film Festival
A survey of this year’s biggest scheduling quandaries.
One of the biggest benefits of the Wisconsin Film Festival expanding its length a few years ago was that it not only allowed for more films to be screened, but that it also allowed for in-demand films to be screened multiple times so everyone who wanted to could get a decent shot at a seat. Even with this increased cinematic real estate though, some films still only get one screening for whatever reason or another, and this year looks like another mix of occasional Sophie’s Choice scenarios worth mulling over before tickets go on sale at noon Saturday.
The fest opens Thursday, April 14 with its single screening of Hunt For The Wilderpeople, the latest from Taika Waititi (who you might remember as the director of last years inspired vampire spoof What We Do In The Shadows), which is likely to flex a bit of muscle and sell out the Barrymore’s 900-ish capacity pretty fast fast so don’t wait too long if you want to get in on this one.
Friday has a couple of unchallenged kid-sized one-offs, Oddball and Birds Of Passage. Both are adorable animal-centric fare from the Big Screens, Little Folks series, and are worth prioritizing if stories about a dog protecting a baby penguin sanctuary or a disabled girl on a mission to save her pet duckling sound up your alley. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to catch both though, unless you can make it to the Barrymore from the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in under a half hour including parking and whatnot. Friday evening you’ll have to pick between the options of recent Sundance Film Fest Special Jury Prize winner Morris From America at the Barrymore and the racially charged 1951 rediscovery The Well at the Chazen Museum of Art.
On Saturday things start to really get gummed-up for folks who want to have it all. Fans of Hollywood’s pre-code era should jump on tickets to the anthology comedy If I Had A Million, which contains the efforts of seven directors including Ernst Lubitsch, Norman Z. McLeod, and William A. Seiter. Early afternoon brings a tough call between two documentaries, the award-winning environmental film Behemoth and The Cantor Of Swabia, both of which overlap with an incredibly rare screening of 1984’s SNL-adjacent Nothing Lasts Forever (the later is preceded by a bunch of short films and introduced by director Tom Schiller in person). Robert Altman fans won’t want to miss the one-off screening of his early shorts and first feature film Corn’s-A-Poppin, but in doing so they’re locking themselves out of Rebecca Weaver’s Wisconsin’s Own entry June Falling Down. Lovers of legitimately lowbrow 1980s genre dreck (and I know there are a handful of you!) should lock in their seats for a single screening of John Carr’s grimy 1983 film Death Wish Club as soon as they go on sale.
On Sunday afternoon you can either pay your respects to David Bowie’s masterful early-1980s turn in Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, or bow at the altar of the avant-garde with the Wisconsin's Own Experimental Shorts collection. The latter also features the latest work from Guy Maddin, Bring Me The Head Of Tim Horton, in conversation with far-out works from regional filmmakers... but you cannot do both! Choose wisely.
See whatever you want on Monday (and every day, for that matter) because it’s all stuff that screens a couple of times across the fest. Tuesday evening is your only shot at seeing the absurdist military/political dramedy Medal Of Victory, which was filmed pretty much entirely in Wisconsin. Wednesday is another catch-up day with no single-screenings, so catch up on some stuff you missed.
The closing night of the festival, Thursday, April 21, has packed a few incredible features into its final moments, forcing fest-goers to choose between Whit Stillman’s latest prim and proper comedy Love & Friendship, Anna Biller’s care-worn throwback to mystical softcore 1970s smut The Love Witch, and Matt Johnson’s moon-landing meta-mockumentary Operation Avalanche. The latter two get my personal vote for generating the most immovable rock-and-a-hard-place dilemma of the festival schedule, but these are good problems to have, right?