Let’s just dive right in, shall we? Part two of my whether-you-want-them-or-not reviews of films I took in at 13th annual Wisconsin Film Festival!
Marwencol: This was my favorite documentary at the festival. Peter the Prince attended this screening with me and he really dug it, too. We meet the film’s subject Mark Hogancamp a couple of years after he suffered a brutal beating at the hands of five men. The attack left him brain-damaged to the point where he had to relearn simple skills such as eating and dressing himself. But the thrust of the film is about the fantasy world of Marwencol that Mark subsequently created in his backyard. Using miniature action figures, Mark has constructed an epic World War II adventure story that mirrors his own life’s events; he even has an alter-ego in the form of a GI nicknamed Hogie. He archives the story by taking dramatic photographs of the elaborate dioramas. While the pictures serve as a therapy of sorts for Mark, there’s no denying their power in terms of their scope and artistry. And when a New York City art gallery becomes interested in displaying Mark’s astonishing photos, you witness his struggle over whether or not he wants to share his private world of recovery with the public. Like all good documentaries the film also rolls out some fascinating revelations along the way, but at heart it is a reminder that even the most devastating events can cultivate something of beauty and significance. Marwencol is available on Blu-Ray and DVD on 4/12, so get it on your Netflix queue, people. Seriously.
The Color Wheel: This is a screening I will remember not only for the film but for the audience reaction to it. The movie follows Colin and JR, a pair of bickering siblings who reluctantly take a road trip together when JR needs her brother’s help in retrieving her belongings from an ex-boyfriend’s apartment. Director Alex Ross Perry (who was present for the screening) co-wrote and co-stars in the film with Carlen Altman, and the two aptly navigate acerbic, intelligent, darkly funny banter that masks a deeper emotional pain. But Perry makes a choice very late in the film that is one of those moments that can potentially alienate an audience. Based on the collective mass who opted not to stick around for the post-screening Q&A, I’d deduce that The Color Wheel alienated over half of the crowd at the screening I attended. I was sort of astounded to witness all of the good will that Perry built up through his sharply-written characters and well-executed-for-such-a-low-budget film suddenly evaporate with a sizable chunk of the audience in the course of one scene – believe me, you could feel the shift in the theatre. Of course, I’m sure he’s used to the response – bold choices bring about bold reactions. And while I didn’t agree with the direction The Color Wheel took, I think Perry will be an interesting cinematic voice to follow and I appreciate the post-screening discussion he generated. (And I’m also relieved that I took my friend Melissa to the screening and not Executive Producer Dad!)
The New Year: I first saw The New Year at the Los Angeles Film Festival last June. Director Brett Haley (who spoke before and after the screening) co-wrote the script with his sister-in-law Elizabeth Kenedy and shot it for $8K in his hometown of Pensacola, Florida. Now that in itself is a feat, especially considering how great the film looks. But beyond that, Haley tells a familiar story (sweet twenty-something searches for direction in her life) in a refreshingly honest, subtly emotional way. And lead actress Trieste Kelly Dunn gives a heartfelt, captivating performance that is grounded in all of the pain and truth that occurs when searching for your life’s purpose. I think hers is what is classified as a “breakthrough” performance – Dunn has a long career ahead of her. Keep an eye out for both her and Haley.
Anita: I will admit that if this film were American I would probably avoid it. Anita is the name of the lead character, a young woman with Down’s Syndrome who finds herself lost in her home city of Buenos Aires, Argentina after a terrible bombing occurs in her neighborhood. I was hopeful that a foreign eye on this type of subject matter would be able to resist the temptation to slide into treacly manipulation – and Anita did not disappoint. That’s not to say it doesn’t pack an emotional punch; you’d have to possess a heart of ice not to be moved by this woman’s unique journey. But director Marcos Carnavale comes by his emotions honestly…and not everyone Anita encounters is willing to help her. In fact, most don’t know exactly what to do with her. And therein lies the beauty of this film as it explores the worst and the best of human compassion. I was happy to see that Anita won the Wisconsin Film Festival’s Audience Award. Well-deserved, indeed.
Apparently, almost 36,000 tickets were sold at the Wisconsin Film Festival this year – and that amount grew from last year. I was so encouraged by the support and enthusiasm shown by the audiences who flocked to this year’s festival; every screening I attended was packed if not sold out entirely. As an aspiring independent filmmaker who hopes to make some movies in the state of Wisconsin, I’m emboldened by the love shown for indie cinema by America’s Dairyland. Turns out Cheeseheads are pretty cultured! (No pun intended.)
NEXT UP: More from Madison