It's been a successful year for the Wisconsin Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday. This annual festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary and fortunately a former indoor theater has been used for some of the performances.
The former Hilldale Theatre, operated by AMC until closing on December 1, will show seven films a day in three theaters. Then at 430 N. Midvale Boulevard. Earlier this year, he said he would donate his theater equipment to the film festival.
Additional screenings of 160 films scheduled for this year's festival, which will run until April 20, will take place on the UW-Madison campus. Location: Shannon Hall Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St. Chazen Art Museum, 750 University Avenue; UW Cinematheque, 821 University Avenue; and The Marquee, second floor of Union South, 1308 Dayton St.
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The Wisconsin Film Festival features films from around the world and locals, including shorts, feature films, documentaries, repertory films, restorations, and reinvented films. Special categories include Wisconsin Property, Wisconsin Movies, and the big-screen family series Little People.
Tickets for all 12 of the festival's shows were sold out on Monday night, festival manager Ben Reiser said.
Tickets are on sale throughout the festival for $12 each at wifilmfest.org and in theaters one hour before the show. Even when concert tickets sell out, festivals sell out tickets for vacant seats. UW-Madison students can get free tickets to any movie with free seats by using their Wiscard at the box office or at the entrance.
Earlier this spring, the festival added direct ticket sales at Hilldale and Leopold's Books Bar Caffè at 1301 Regent St. The Wisconsin Film Festival takes place in Hilldale on Wednesdays from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm.
“It appears that demand for cards in general (as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides) and paper cards in particular has increased this year,” Reiser said. Although tickets purchased in person cost the same as online, “there are people who enjoy this kind of interaction,” he says.
The festival kicked off Thursday night with Ukrainian director Antonio Lukich's feature-length comedy Luxembourg, Luxembourg, about two brothers who come together to visit their dying father. The feature film, which will be screened at 7:00 pm at Shannon Hall, will be followed by a reception at 5:00 pm. The director was invited to Madison to talk about "Luxembourg, Luxembourg," but Reiser says there are other opportunities for him to work in Ukraine.
Shows run around campus on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Hildale Show will run until April 20th.
Films in the Wisconsin series itself include a whimsical black-and-white silent comedy about a beaver-turned-tramp (The Beavers) and a Chris James Thompson documentary (We're Not Ghouls) about Yvonne. Bradley, a US Air Force public defender and lieutenant colonel who volunteered to defend a Guantanamo detainee. Bradley, Thompson and UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnukin will attend the screening, which will include a panel discussion.
Michael Nielsen's documentary Beyond Human Nature, set as a true crime drama based on the 1992 murder of a paper mill worker, was primarily filmed in Madison. Nielsen, who owns local video company StoryFirst Media, has been in the position for nine years. It was also selected for the Milwaukee and Green Bay Film Festivals and will be available on video-on-demand from May 2 through 1091 Pictures.
Cinema in the digital age
Over the past 25 years, the film festival has gone through several incarnations. Over the years, films have been shown at venues in the city center such as the Orpheus Theater and the Barthel Theatre.
That changed with the advent of digital cinema, Reiser said, when celluloid film projectors were replaced by much more expensive digital devices.
“All the technology that served cinema for the first 100 years is gone,” Reiser said. "For several years, we had a hard time getting copies of new movies because we didn't have these new digital projectors on campus," and they were too expensive to rent for downtown use.
The Hilldale Theater Space, later named Sundance Cinemas, was in use at the time. The commercial theater purchased a new digital projector, and an invitation to share their theater allowed Raiser to expand the annual festival from four or five days to a week.
While tickets are selling well this year, "we have a lot of movies and plays, so there's almost always something to watch if you want to watch it," he says. Particularly at the 1,100-seat Shannon Hall, you're more likely to find tickets to shows when the smaller halls have sold out.
A complete list of films can be found at wifilmfest.org.