We highlight 10 striking features as the race to digest the fest’s lineup begins. | By Hanna Kohn, Grant Phipps, and Steven Spoerl
Rejoice, film freaks! The Wisconsin Film Festival is back this year—from May 13 through 20—and more flexible than usual, offering a full eight days of curated movies available for home streaming at one’s leisure. The guide had a surprise unveiling hours ahead of schedule this week in both its online and print versions (by mail, if you happen to be on the festival’s mailing list—see this official “unboxing” for a visual example).
Tickets for the general public go on sale Saturday, May 1 at noon. Even though selections are available to watch through Eventive whenever you please (for a 24-hour window once you’ve hit play), tickets are still finite—some films have a viewer capacity set by their distributors. So, it’s still pertinent to peruse the guide in order to scoop up those virtual passes instead of waiting until the last minute for any films that scream “date night!” or feel like pensive Sunday-morning fare.
If you’re a cinephile, it may once again be dismaying to realize there are no big screens or chances to incidentally bump into like-minded moviegoers in the wild, whether that be in the winding lines of AMC 6 hallways and sidewalks or in the shadowy overpass of Vilas Hall and greater campus vicinity. While virtual formatting does spare you the muss and fuss of killing time between venue jaunts and bearing the randomly unpredictable post-Q&A where the succession of audience questions are actually more like comments in disguise, that too is part of the beloved festival experience. Befitting a proper festival environment, staff have taken the time to pre-record a number of direct interviews with featured filmmakers, which adds something distinctive to the scattered act of streaming movies.
Yet, after all is said and done, the (welcome) stress of making good picks still reigns. Scrolling through the 116 films framed in the guide might make it all feel a bit overwhelming. In the absence of proper public sneak peeks the festival would hold at various public library branches in a normal year, we’ve compiled a short list of 10 notable features accompanied by a few words as well as their trailers, posters, or our favorite stills to enhance the browsing experience.
Ephraim Asili’s short films made a 2019 appearance at Madison’s own Mills Folly Microcinema cinema. His feature-length debut here is a bold socialist proclamation about an activist collective of Black artists in West Philly that pulls from Godard’s late-60s Maoist period (see: La Chinoise) to craft a film in the literary tradition of Angela Davis: “It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.” —Grant Phipps
Nick Lyell’s short feature documentary investigates the 2018 false evacuation threat that Hawai’i residents received via the state’s Emergency Alert System. What would you do if your phone apocalyptically read, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND?” —Hanna Kohn
Evgeny Ruman’s warm, bittersweet comedy Golden Voices presents a nuanced portrait of an elderly Jewish couple seeking refuge in Israel in the wake of the USSR’s collapse. After leaving an ubiquitous career of vocal-dubbing, the pair are forced to navigate a new language and low-paying gigs in order to return to a personal crusade of recording tracks for Fellini’s final film, Voice Of The Moon (1990). —Steven Spoerl
The Sound Of Metal put Riz Ahmed in the spotlight late last year and this year for his portrayal of heavy psych/doom drummer Ruben Stone, who loses his sense of hearing after repeated exposure to the noise of his own shows. Bassam Tariq’s new film is just as personal, and looks to be its spiritual cousin, featuring Ahmed as a British-Pakistani rapper suffering a medical trauma before a hyped European tour. —GP
This debut documentary from director Tali Yankelevich showcases grocery store employees in São Paulo, Brazil. Shot pre-pandemic, the film provides insight into how these “essential workers” feel about their existence in their workplace and beyond. —HK
Joe Brown’s tense documentary is centered around the opposition surrounding the Wisconsin wolf hunt and the work of environmental activist Rod Coronado. What does Wisconsin ecological justice look like to you? —HK
A delightful slice-of-life meet-cute, Lim Jung-eon’s film is a Linklater-esque tribute as much as it is one to the soulfulness of the city of Seoul, illuminated and romanticized in gorgeous black-and-white cinematography that recalls Carax’s Boys Meets Girl (1984). —GP
Most overtly, this recent premiere from indie darlings Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney visually riffs on Hal Ashby’s Being There (1979). But the narrative itself seems to stretch that film’s whimsical energy even further, plunging into a surrealist cornucopia of dream-taxed futures—all complemented by neo-psych sounds of Dan Deacon. —GP
Anyone who may have connected with famous YouTube critic Chris Stuckmann’s recent revelations about being an ex-Jehovah’s Witness will likely find solace in the heartening chronicle from documentarian Scott Homan. He explores the role of art and punk rock in shaping identity and community beyond the confines of religious dogma. —GP
This intersectional documentary from Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas not only concerns the ever-changing world of journalism, but class and gender roles in Uttar Pradesh, India, as a women-led newspaper (Khabar Lahariya) takes on a male-dominated industry and pressures to adopt to more video-centric “content.” —GP
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