Smart Studios documentary to screen at Wisconsin Film Fest

Wendy Schneider’s film, six years in the making, finally hits the festival circuit this spring.


The Crucifucks. Photo by Murray Kappell.

The Crucifucks. Photo by Murray Kappell.

The Smart Studios Story, a long-in-the-works documentary about the Madison recording institution that closed in 2010, will get its hometown premiere on April 17 at the Barrymore Theatre as part of the 2016 Wisconsin Film Festival, the film’s director, Wendy Schneider, announced Tuesday.

Schneider, who in addition to making films has long been active in Madison as a musician, recording engineer (at Smart and at her own Coney Island Studios ), and more recently co-organizer of the monthly Evening at Maria’s show series, is also planning a pre-party on April 16 at Art In, 1444 E. Washington Ave., with bands including The Hussy, The Flavor That Kills, and Tarpaulin. Schneider is planning a screening at this year’s South By Southwest, and announcements for other festival screenings will be forthcoming.

Schneider began working on the film as Smart was closing up its longtime location at 1254 E. Washington Ave. The film’s been in the news off and on over the years, as Schneider launched a successful crowdfunding campaign and racked up interviews with subjects including Billy Corgan, L7’s Donita Sparks, and Sub Pop founder Jonathan Poneman.

But beyond the shorthand one always hears about Smart—founded by Butch Vig and Steve Marker, involved in records by Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana—Schneider aimed to explore the huge role Smart’s 28-year run played in less-heralded works of Midwestern punk, noise-rock, and even hip hop. For each of the big-name releases that were recorded or mixed at Smart, there were dozens capturing a vital underground, by bands like Michigan’s The Crucifucks, Madison’s Appliances-SFB, Milwaukee’s Die Kreuzen. From that standpoint, Schneider thinks it’s perhaps a good thing the fim took so long.

“Looking back to 2010, I don’t think it would have been the same film had I done it right away—because when I started I was really focused on the closing and what that meant to people, what it brought up with them and how or why it was pivotal,” Schneider says. “But as I interviewed more and more artists, I was learning aspects of Midwest indie music history from the people who’d lived in the culture and community that spawned it. The Smart Studios Story is an anecdotal tapestry of that DIY ethos in the Midwest with Smart at its center.”

Smart does live on in Madison in a few ways: A new studio, Clutch Sound, occupies the former Smart space, and a former Smart engineer, Mark Haines, recently co-founded the analog-only studio Williamson Magnetic Recording Company. Schneider, who got her first experience as a recording engineer at Smart in the early ’90s, says she likes that the studio’s formidable legacy emerged from “a shithole of a building one would never look twice at.”

Schneider is actually still in the throes of post-production, so I’ve yet to see what the finished product is like. For now, this supercut of interview subjects saying “Killdozer” will have to tide you over.

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