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Monday, Nov. 5, 2012

Milwaukee Short Film Festival Gains Worldwide Appreciation

white wind
White Wind
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When Ross Bigley is asked how many years the Milwaukee Short Film Festival has been running, he answers that 2012 is the 14th annual festival. “But actually it’s our 18th,” he adds.

The Milwaukee Short Film Festival (MSFF) has morphed considerably since its 1994 debut as a virtual festival with a half-dozen films aired on Milwaukee cable access. But according to Bigley, “The mission hasn’t changed. We’re all about supporting local filmmakers. We have added to the mission, hosting workshops and seminars throughout the year to make it a more full-scale service to the community.”

Perhaps it’s ironic, then, that the majority of submissions to MSFF come not from Milwaukee but from around the world. After being named by MovieMaker magazine as the “Best Local Film Festival” a few years back, barriers lifted and boundaries dissolved. Among the foreign movies on the 2012 program is a film by Iranian director Navid Nikkhah Azad, who apparently discovered the festival while searching the Internet.

“The emphasis remains on Milwaukee,” Bigley insists. “Our opening night is a salute to Milwaukee filmmakers. But we’re more well known outside Wisconsin than inside.”

Bigley needed several years of successful trials and a few errors before finding the format that has worked so well for the past several years: two nights at the Milwaukee Art Museum. For a while, the festival was screened at the now-defunct Bean Head coffeehouse. After outgrowing the hipster hangout, it shifted to the Times Cinema and even tried multiple venues for one year. “We were at the Oriental one year against a Packers-Bears game,” Bigley says. “We learned not to schedule on a Packer Sunday.

“We are always trying new things,” he continues. “If you do the same thing every year, people will expect the same thing and attendance will start to suffer. We’re consistently trying to shake things up.”

Regardless of its name, the Milwaukee Short Film Festival has expanded to embrace feature-length movies, including this year’s world premiere of Dan Wilson and Brooke Maroldi’s White Wind. As ambiguous as its title, White Wind’s plot can be summarized simply: A man named Sam roams a marshland on a late fall day with his camera, photographing nature. His ramble through the countryside is occasionally disturbed by a couple of intrusive men who address him with inane, slightly unsettling questions. As for the film’s title, it could refer to the gleaming blades of the wind turbines whoosh-whooshing in the backdrop of many scenes.

Wilson and Maroldi decided to make White Wind in a 48-hour time frame. Of course, it took a little longer, but as Maroldi recalls, “We did over half of it in one weekend.” Because of the hurry, Maroldi returned to the marsh to re-record the prominent ambient sounds of bugs, birds and the wind through the tall grass and bare branches. And because it was filmed in the peculiar golden light of early November, the filmmakers had to return to the project one year later to fill in a few blank spots.

A beautiful exercise in sound and cinematography, White Wind was shot in languid takes for $6,000, according to Wilson and Maroldi. The elements were simple: one camera on a tripod, one star in the laconic Sam (Brian James McGuire) and recurring cameos by the mysterious men who seem to pursue him (Rick Fresca, Jay Hoard). “There was a time when you took a picture and waited for it to be processed. I wanted to explore that time of uncertainty,” Wilson explains, drawing comparisons to that classic of photographic mystery, Blow-Up. “It’s a good film for sparking discussion. People who’ve seen it aren’t sure what it means, but they’re extremely moved by it, even if they can’t put their finger on why.”

White Wind will screen 9:15 p.m. Nov. 9. The Milwaukee Short Film Festival runs Nov. 9-10 at the Lubar Auditorium in the Milwaukee Art Museum. For the full lineup, go to festival.milwaukeeindependentfilmsociety.org.

 

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