Let’s Go to the Film Festival?

February 16, 2010

An article earlier this month in the New York Times about the Sundance Film Festival, held annually in January, and about film festivals in general asked: Are they still necessary?

I think it’s a valid question, though I certainly hope the answer is yes. Or that they are at least still considered a pleasant and worthwhile way to spend a weekend. I am coordinating four film festivals this March and April here in Wisconsin.

Ghostbird film still

"Ghostbird," the movie, will screen at three of the Making it Home Film Festivals. See film information on the Making it Home Film Festival Website at http://www.MakingWisconsinHome.org.

The festivals are called Making it Home, and they each will use a variety of films, from Wisconsin and around the world, to explore the many ways people and place affect one another. The first festival opens during Aldo Leopold days and the fourth and final festival takes place during the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. The environmental themes of the Making it Home Film Festivals make it especially important to ask out loud: Should we all save the carbon output by staying home and ordering up movies on Netflix?

The Wisconsin Humanities Council strives to support strong communities with public programs that encourage the use of history, culture, and conversation. We understand that films are powerfully good at telling stories and giving people something to talk about. We also figured that communities around the state would enjoy seeing free films and that, considering the strong tradition of caring deeply about the Wisconsin landscape and its natural resources, Wisconsinites would be eager to see some of the latest, most exciting new films from filmmakers around the world.

Robert Redford, founder of the Sundance Institute, which includes the annual festival and the Sundance Channel on cable, chooses to embrace technologies that allow people greater access to non-hollywood films. “Opening new vistas,” he is quoted as saying to describe his approach to the broad distribution of Sundance selections. He believes that the more access people have, the greater their overall appetite for independent film. The Making it Home Film Festivals draw from the Tales from Planet Earth Film Festival produced by the UW-Madison Nelson Institute in Madison.

Whats on your plate stars

The film "What's On Your Plate?" will screen at Making it Home Film Festivals, followed by family-friendly conversations about food! Film info at http://www.MakingWisconsinHome.org.

Ultimately, the goal and the appeal of film festivals like Making it Home and Sundance is to bring folks together to spend some time sitting still, in a darkened theater, to share the experience of a well-told story. Because when people gather, and feel moved or inspired, they are inclined to turn to one-another, friends and strangers, to talk.

The Making it Home Film Festivals, organized by the Wisconsin Humanities Council with local partners in Baraboo, Dodgeville, Milwaukee, and the Chequamegon Bay (Ashland/Bayfield), have been designed by and for those communities. Films were selected and events planned specifically to meet the interests of the people living in those regions, making the drive downtown to the main street theater worth the time (and energy). And while you can go to the Making it Home Website and watch trailers for some of the films, as well as short films made by Wisconsin filmmakers that will be interspersed throughout the festivals, I would agree with the Sundance fans: Attending a film festival is a life experience for which there is no substitute.

By Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council.


On whatever the heck it is I want as an artist

July 21, 2009

Sometimes, well, no almost all the time, “feel-good-overcome-triumph-my-life-is-great” movies and shows tick me off. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “my life is so terrible and I don’t have a gadjillion dollars to solve all of my problems wah wah why won’t someone fix it for me” blog. Really, I’m not that trite. I’m happily married, and between my wife and I we make enough money and overall I’ve got a pretty damn good life.

It’s just that when I watch shows/movies like this, I somehow end up feeling simultaneously inspired and like a failure all rolled up in to one overly intense ball of emotion. And then I get angry, because we all know it doesn’t always work out that way. People die, people fail, people don’t even bother to aspire, and that’s just how the world works.

What galls me isn’t the content really, I mean it’s just a show, a production that exists as a piece of art, and the multitude of people who participate in its creation will probably be happy to know that they evoke pretty intense and visceral emotions from me when I partake in them. No, the real problem is that when it comes to my own aspirations, artistic or otherwise, I have been known to get in my own way from time to time.

So I watch something that triggers this emotional response and then I start to feel crappy about achieving my dreams, I wondering if I should be farther along, (wherever that is???) and why right here and now isn’t a good enough place to be just because I watched some stupid show.

Of course, it took me writing all of that to consciously realize this. See I was going to rant a little bit about how not everyone can succeed and blah blah blah, but really, this is about me.

I’m struggling with my desire for success in my aspirations as an artist, as well as my desire as to be an active and positive participant in the various communities that I am part of. I struggle with that against the idea that mabye I want this because I think I should want it. That maybe these are superimposed ideals and desires, that maybe really all I want to do is just BE, simple, unfettered and unencumbered by those desires.

There’s an equilibrium in there somewhere, I just know it, and I strongly suspect that the tranquility and state of being I seek will somehow arrive THROUGH my aspirations and desires.

If I could just get out of my own frikkin way…

Spyros Heniadis


Football Under Cover (and Uncovered)

April 2, 2009

In a given nation, is gender equity in women’s sports a good measure of women’s status in general?

On Monday, Here on Earth‘s Jean Feraca interviewed brother and sister David and Marlene Assmann, who together created the film Football Under Cover (Marlene produced, and David co-directed with his filmmaking partner Ayat Najafi). The film documents their efforts to arrange a soccer game between Marlene’s German team and the Iranian National Women’s Team, as well as all the stumbling blocks they encountered along the way.

Jean Feraca hosts Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders on WPR

Jean Feraca hosts Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders on WPR

The historic meet-up finally took place in April 2006–about a year after planning began–on Iranian turf and under Iranian terms. In part, that meant both teams were clothed from head to toe, and no males were allowed to observe the game. (David Assmann and Ayat Najafi had to wait outside.) Also, the filmmakers had to agree not to screen the film in Iran.

Through the process, David Assmann observed: “I have the feeling that [Iranian] men kind of tend to settle for their little private freedom that they are granted–but the women are actually very strong and pushing their boundaries non-stop. So that’s where the change in Iran is coming from.”

Brother and sister alike voiced their admiration for the strength of the Iranian athletes–and Marlene Assmann added that soccer has been an empowering force in her life, too: “It can give you respect from other players and also, for example, from men because you can prove easily you can do something and also … try to be more brave on the football field and then put it in your social life …”

American women enjoy enormous freedoms that have been denied to Iranian women, but as some Here on Earth listeners who called in Monday pointed out, we still have a ways to go. While listening to the program, I couldn’t help musing that in the U.S., such an expose might be called American Football Uncovered–in reference to the women allowed closest to our football fields, cheerleaders.

This Inside Islam broadcast, along with others, is a collaboration between UW-Madison and Wisconsin Public Radio. Inside Islam is a new media initiative that challenges preconceptions about Muslims and Islamic faith around the world. The series regularly runs on WPR’s Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders program, hosted weekday afternoons by Jean Feraca. You can listen to broadcasts you missed online or see what Jean has lined up for the coming week at www.wpr.org/hereonearth/.

This year, the Wisconsin Film Festival will host a companion series of Inside Islam films. Football Under Cover is on the roster (Friday at 5:00 p.m. at Madison’s Orpheum Theatre), and David Assmann is slated to appear. The 2009 Wisconsin Film Festival will screen 199 films around Madison, April 2 (today!) through April 5.