Wisconsin Film Festival’s last picture show at Hilldale

The WFF teams up with the Hilldale Mall to host one final fest at the former AMC Madison 6 space from April 14-20.
Hilldale General Manager Nanci Horn (left), Wisconsin Film Festival Director Of Operations Ben Reiser (center), and District 11 Alder Bill Tishler (right) speak at a Tuesday morning press conference at the former AMC Madison 6. A "Wisconsin Film Festival 25 years" banner adorns the table with red balloons and "WFF Hilldale" logo backdrop.
Hilldale General Manager Nanci Horn (left), Wisconsin Film Festival Director Of Operations Ben Reiser (center), and District 11 Alder Bill Tishler (right) speak at a Tuesday morning press conference in the lobby of the former AMC Madison 6. Photo by Grant Phipps.

The WFF teams up with the Hilldale Mall to host one final fest at the former AMC Madison 6 space from April 14-20.

After months of speculation that followed the closing of AMC Madison 6 at the Hilldale Mall, Wisconsin Film Festival (WFF) addressed the question on every movie lover’s mind at a Tuesday morning press conference—where is the festival’s weekday programming going to relocate? The answer is…it’s not (yet). For one final year, the Wisconsin Film Festival will occupy the still-standing but vacant movie house from April 14 through 20 (accompanying their April 13 through 16 UW-Madison campus screenings).

In addition, Wisconsin Film Festival Director Of Operations Ben Reiser, alongside Hilldale General Manager Nanci Horn and Common Council District 11 Alder Bill Tishler, jointly announced that the venue’s existing projection equipment will be donated to the festival for future use, at least once the 2023 festival wraps and new construction begins where the theater currently stands.

The festival, which began its residency at the former Sundance Cinemas in 2012, took over three of their six screens for one week in April, a tradition that continued under AMC’s management from 2016 to 2022. Without any restrictions in place in a shuttered theater, Tone Madison inquired about the possibility of utilizing all six screens for this last hurrah. However, Reiser was quick to note that the festival will stick to the same three screens as they have for the past decade (theater number 1 at the front, as well as theaters 5 and 6 at the back). He raised the possibility of using the other three empty theaters (numbers 2, 3, and 4) to continue Q&A sessions that may exceed the typically allotted 25-minute time frame.

The additional room inside is a boon for longtime festival-goers: since the WFF will solely be occupying the theater and not sharing it with Sundance or AMC, ticket holders can finally enter through the front doors. No one will be forced to queue up for movies outside and can therefore avoid being exposed to the rain or potentially inclement weather.

Logically, WFF is further extending their partnerships with Hilldale businesses like The Great Dane Pub And Brewing Co. and Café Hollander. The Great Dane will once again host its “First Look” event on Wednesday, March 8, between 7 and 10 p.m., before the full film guide is released to the public online and in copies of Isthmus the following morning (March 9). Tickets for “First Look” are already on sale (as of February 14). And, in celebration of this week’s announcement, the price of an all-access festival pass has been reduced for one week only through February 21.

Without a functioning concession stand, Reiser raised the possibility of Hilldale restaurants providing a rotating selection of food there, so patrons can remain at the venue if they’d like to snack in between the marathon viewing. More information will be announced closer to the festival dates. (At the very least, he promised to brush up on his popcorn prep skills.) The former AMC Madison 6 space will also serve as home to the festival’s main box office, where tickets can be purchased in person (as well as online for the same cost) starting March 11, the first day of sales. Due to staffing restraints, Reiser indicated that there won’t be a box office on campus in the Memorial Union or Union South.

Tishler, who grew up in and now represents the district that includes the Hilldale area, candidly said that he got the ball rolling in re-connecting the partnership between the mall and the festival (Horn and Reiser, respectively) for this final year. Tishler also hopes that the donated projection equipment can be used to potentially restore a larger theatrical experience to the greater downtown area at a few venues (like Orpheum, Majestic, and The Barrymore) that moved away from regular screenings at the advent of the digital industry standard many years ago. This would complement the already-strong programming at UW Cinematheque (4070 Vilas Hall), Chazen Museum Of Art, The Marquee Cinema at Union South, Madison Museum Of Contemporary Art, and Arts + Literature Laboratory.

In terms of what movies to expect in their lineup, Reiser dropped one thematically appropriate bit of news: the festival’s closing night selections on April 20 will include Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971). All this has the makings of a proper send-off for a theater that opened as the first Sundance Cinemas in the country in 2007, before it changed hands in 2016, and then unceremoniously closed at the end of last November—an entire month before AMC’s previously announced December 31.

By reviving the venue at 430 North Midvale Boulevard for one week in April this year, the Wisconsin Film Festival aims to reconnect with true-blue devotees and more casual moviegoers alike who populate the downtown and near-west side. It’s a welcome respite from the whims of a penny-pinching multinational corporation that’s now charging an extra $2 to reserve a good seat.

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