On April 29, 1999, The Great Wisconsin Film Festival launched. The self-consciously boastful prefix sounded a bit like the pack of dreamers behind it were trying to rally themselves as much as the prospective audience—we’re really going to do this, right? Thousands of films later, we begin the 20th Wisconsin Film Festival in our founders’ debt, raising a glass of some high-toned microbrew that was nowhere to be found in the Madison of the 1990s. Against the odds, and thanks entirely to your support, the Festival has soldiered on, outlasting several former venues (pour some out for University Square, Westgate, and the Orpheum Stage Door) and even 35mm motion picture film itself as a commercial exhibition format. In 1999, some of this year’s volunteers weren’t even born yet.
As the film-viewing world has quaked and splintered around us, the Wisconsin Film Festival has humbly continued to offer more of the same—that is, more great works of cinematic art etched from all varieties of the human experience, and a theater full of fellow film lovers to share them with. It’s the audience that made that first Wisconsin Film Festival “Great,” and ever since, the Festival has been about community as much as cinema. Seeing a film at a festival creates a stream of inextricably associated memories that extend well beyond what’s onscreen—the anticipation, where you saw it, who you sat with, the audience’s collective laughter, tears, and gasps, the discussion afterwards—this overall experience is as much a part of what the Festival offers as the films. Let’s face it, nobody reminisces about the couch they fell asleep on while streaming something alone.
In tribute to the sway cinema continues to hold over us, part of this year’s lineup offers a range of movies that explore the medium itself, and all the ways we encounter it. Our Movies About Movies section includes portraits of Hal Ashby and Jean-Luc Godard, experimental journeys into the stars and San Francisco, and explorations of how cinema’s power has been abused by dictators and kept alive by a ragtag Wisconsin video store.
Whether it’s your first time joining us or your twentieth, take these eight days to sate your intrinsic curiosity about the world around and beyond you.