The low-budget series resumes September 18 with Zach Weintraub’s film “Slackjaw.”
It’s still astonishing to me that so many folks have no idea about how many incredible films screen for free around Madison week in and week out. UW Cinematheque and WUD Film both do solid work covering older movies and edgier newer fare respectively, but even those elder statesmen of local cinema exist below the radar for more people than you would expect. With that in mind, it’s especially important to highlight the relative upstart Micro-Wave Cinema Series. Filmmaker and UW-Madison film scholar Brandon Colvin has launched it in the spring of 2014 to highlight the super-low-budget and experimental reaches of the indie-film spectrum.
Micro-Wave’s fall 2016 season—its sixth—is fairly dream-centric. A couple of films clearly play with a sort of surreal dream-logic, one or two others could be seen as fairly nightmarish, there’s a compilation film of directors adapting each other’s dreams, and one of the films in the October 30 program of Halloween shorts is outright titled Talk About Your Dreams. Even though it might be a bit more of a pointedly challenging set of films than you’ll find screening elsewhere around town, the slate of films here is guaranteed to reward those who make the mental trek up movie-brain mountain. If you have questions, each screening will be followed by Q&A sessions with the film’s director, usually via Skype and sometimes in person. All films are free and screen at Vilas Hall at 7 p.m. I spent the past week watching selections from the series. Here’s what to expect.
September 18: Slackjaw (dir. Zach Weintraub)
This film marks the third appearance of a work by Zach Weintraub in a Micro-Wave Cinema Series lineup, after The International Sign For Choking and You Make Me Feel So Young. His latest narrative feature, Slackjaw, uses medical testing as a springboard into a conversation about the micro and macro role of big pharma, as well as the root causes of perceived post-recession millennial malaise. Maybe I’m biting off more than I can chew with that assessment, but I push comes to shove and I’ll stand by it. Also: I wrote in my notes that the film features a scene of “some of the whitest white boy dance moves since a can of eggshell got shook up at a Home Depot,” so just know you have that to look forward to.
October 9: collective: unconscious (dirs. Lily Baldwin, Frances Bodomo, Daniel Carbone, Josephine Decker, Lauren Wolkstein)
It’s pretty much universally agreed upon that no one wants to hear about your dreams, unless they include something along the lines of “…and you were in it too!” But even then it’s far from a slam dunk to get me interested. What does sound appealing, though, is using dreams to inspire collaboration. In collective: unconscious, five filmmakers each tackling one another’s dreams in a well-executed collection of pleasantly diverse shorts. Topics and styles range from Lauren Wolkstein flipping high school nightmares into “mainstream” comedy gold in Beemus, It’ll End in Tears, Frances Bodomo’s afterschool public access show beaming straight from hell, Everybody Dies!, and Lily Baldwin’s Swallowed, which manages to seamlessly blend the body horror of Rosemary’s Baby with the balletic grace of Black Swan.
October 30: Halloween Shorts
This is Halloween how it oughta be, if you ask me—shorts that are as funny and subtle as they are creepy and downright chilling at times. Expect to see some kind of a dick-looking thing growing out of someone’s forehead, a closeup of a farting asshole (sorry everyone!), and a film seemingly shot entirely on a Nintendo Virtual Boy, among a great many other spine-tingly sights to get your goosebmps going. The lineup includes The Bulb and The Procedure, both from from Calvin Reeder, Matthew Wade’s Plena Stellarum, Spencer Parsons’ Bite Radius, and the *World Premiere* of Robert Hillyer Barnett’s Talk About Your Dreams.
November 13: Driftwood (dir. Paul Taylor)
Eagle-eyed Micro-Wave Cinema fans might recognize actor Joslyn Jensen from Funny Bunny, which closed out the series’ schedule last December. In the mostly silent film Driftwood, Jensen plays a woman who mysteriously washes ashore on a beach and is taken in (kidnapped?) by a man who locks her up in his cabin with him. Ostensibly playing with the “Women in prison” grindhouse subgenre, Driftwood ends up presenting a complex set of metaphors that go past mere criticisms of the possessiveness of the male gaze and eventually ask metaphysical and existential questions about how reality itself is shaped. Clocking in at a lean 75 minutes, the directorial debut of Paul Taylor (which won the Slamdance Jury Award for Narrative Feature this year) is the sort of subdued yet confident filmmaking that genuinely excites me.
December 4: The Arbalest (dir. Adam Pinney)
It’s impossible to watch the trailer for The Arbalest, which tells the story of a toy inventor’s seemingly less-than-whimsical obsession with a specific woman, and not pick up on some intense Wes Anderson vibes. That said, even though there’s some hero worship going on here, Adam Pinney is managing to troll some weirder waters than Anderson would ever take on, adding a dash of drive-in griminess to the stylistic zippiness.