December 13, 2018

Discuss: What Did You See and Like at the 2016 Wisconsin Film Festival?

Sparrows Guide
SPARROWS: A “perfect storm” of couple compatibility?

Discuss: Wisconsin Film Festival

What Did You See and Like at the 2016 Wisconsin Film Festival?

James Kreul compiles lists from Larry and Dee Dee, box office interviews, and social media to get a sense of the range of audience interests.

I’m still working on my Top Ten and Bottom Five lists for 2016. The order is set, I’m just figuring out how much to say, which is easy at the top and bottom, but harder in the middle. Also, part of me wants to save my last 2016 Festival post for after the ticket sales numbers are released.

Working on my list has made me even more curious about what other people saw and liked this year. I’ve been asking people this question throughout the week, but only had a chance to document some of the answers.

Power Couple: Larry and Dee Dee

I contacted my usual go-tos for all things cinematic, Larry and Dee Dee. As I have explained before, when you see Larry and Dee Dee in the audience at a screening (or any event) in Madison, you know you’ve made an interesting decision.

“Dee Dee and I saw 24 films this festival, about the same as last year,” Larry wrote back, “We did our Top 10 individually, and then we put together a mutual Top 10.”

Here is Larry and Dee Dee’s composite list of favorites for 2016:

1. Louder Than Bombs
2. In Transit
3. California Split
4. Sparrows
5. Remember My Name
6. Love and Friendship
7. Europe ‘51
8. The Well
9. Under the Sun
10. Mountain

“As usual, there were a few films that we were so far apart on (she liked, i hated; i liked, she hated) that they dropped off this list completely,” Larry explained, “So in fairness I want to make note of them: Dee Dee had Lo and Behold in her Top 10, and I had I Promise You Anarchy and Ugly, Dirty, and Bad in mine.”

Larry concluded with the bottom of their list. “Our mutual lowest 5 were pretty consistent as well,” he explained.

20. Lolo
21. Nahid
22. Chevalier
23. Little Men
24. Cosmos

Larry and Dee Dee covered a lot of the same ground as our Jake Smith, and had similar reactions (read his reports here and here). I liked Chevalier more than they did (Edwanike Harbour posted a mixed repsonse, but didn’t seem to put it at the bottom of her list). I liked Cosmos more than they did, but I have to admit that I heard pretty consistently poor responses from others throughout the Festival week. I think I was actually at an advantage not being familiar with the original novel.

Flashback to March 19: The Front Lines

Larry and Dee Dee’s response inspired me to return to a project that I had abandoned after the Festival box office opened in March. I went to the Union South box office an hour before tickets went on sale and interviewed the people at the front of the lines.

Returning to the recordings now doesn’t give us a sense of how people responded to the films, but despite the small sample size they provide some interesting insights on how die-hard festival patrons approached selecting films.

Before making any specific observations, it’s worth noting that this sample was not only small, but also made up of people who specifically did not want to purchase tickets online. The first person in line arrived around 9:30 that morning. (I did talk to him, but to avoid overlap in the audio I only included comments from his wife, Marsha, who waited later in line with her friend.) These patrons wanted to do it old school: they got up, drove to Union South, and waited in line.

Observation #1: Like Larry and Dee Dee, many couples work together to decide what to see. Perhaps that is stating the obvious, and not that much different from box office trends at commercial theaters. But the number of couples represented at the front of the line relates to my earlier points about the older festival audience: not only do older people plan ahead, they plan ahead together. I suggested that the Film Guide was more important than local critical response that first weekend, but perhaps a spouse’s interest is even more important than the Film Guide description.

Observation #2: Wow, it took a while to hear the title of an American independent feature film. Little Men, which has some star power with Greg Kinnear, does come up a few times. Eventually we hear Morris in America, the Wisconsin’s Own June Falling Down and Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship, which again has some star power with Kate Beckinsdale and Chloë Sevigny.

It now makes a bit more sense why the Film Guide lists all narratives as “New International Cinema.” Regardless of the actual motivation for the label, American independent narratives might have a better chance if the target Festival audience first looks for international films.

(Note: Observation #2 was revised slightly on 4/27/16 to correct some oversights)

my love
What was not to like about MY LOVE, DON’T CROSS THAT RIVER?

Observation #3: What was deal with My Love, Don’t Cross That River and Sparrows? They dominated the discussion at the front of the box office line.

Neither of them appeared in the “hot ticket” lists in the Capital Times or Isthmus that were published before the Film Guide. Neither of them had a particularly pronounced presence in the film guide, like programs contained in boxes such as Nothing Lasts Forever or Sunset Song.

I sort of understand the interest in My Love: documentary, about an old couple (older audience of couples), in Korea (international/culture angle mentioned in the interviews). It also had local word of mouth to a degree because of its inclusion in the Milwaukee International Film Festival.

But Sparrows? I had a lukewarm response to it, but Larry and Dee Dee ranked it as their number four film of the Festival. That doesn’t really matter here, however. I’m less curious about how much the interviewees liked it and more interested in knowing why they wanted to see it in the first place.

Was Sparrows a “perfect storm” of factors hinted at in the interviews, as well as factors like screening time in terms of couple compatibility? Does that help explain why The Fits, just one screening earlier on Friday, was almost empty?

Perhaps more importantly, is anyone else asking these questions, and do they have the data to try to answer it?

Thanks to all the participants in the interviews, who identify themselves in the recordings. You might recognize the voice of one of the participants: Alan Ginsberg, who appears in the Festival trailer. I ran into him again mid-festival (like Larry and Dee Dee, he did not like Cosmos) and on closing night (he met his film goals this year).

Social Media Lists and Responses

I’ll end this post with an embedded list of posts from social media. I asked for lists on Twitter at the end of the Festival, but this list will also include some responses to individual films. More responses on Twitter can still be found at #wifilmfest.


3 Comments on Discuss: What Did You See and Like at the 2016 Wisconsin Film Festival?

  1. The Fear of 13 was ridiculously awesome storytelling both on the part of the subject of the film and the filmmaker. It was my favorite documentary.

    Tickled was that documentary that you kind of wanted to end, because it dug just a bit too deep. I won’t say any more…

    Starving the Beast showed us a lot more of what we’ve already seen under Scott Walker, but hearing the “reasoning” behind the decisions only served to anger me more.

    Smart Studios Story is hard to judge objectively, the home town energy made it an awesome experience but you were half as focused on the crowd response as on the film.

    Love and Behold should be watched by everyone who either rejects or embraces new technology, and probably everyone in between

  2. Each film I saw was worth seeing. That said, my favorites were as follows.
    Sing Street: great sound track, very likeable characters, uplifting
    Sonita: lead character succeeds against all odds, shows indomitable spirit
    Men and Chicken: love Mads Mickleson and will not forget this funny, dark fable with a moral
    Road to La Paz: road picture with a Muslim twist
    Age of Cannibals: interesting critique of global capitalism featuring three actors in a hotel room where dialogue is everything

  3. I never get to see as many as I want to. Too busy running around working. But this year I managed to see one film twice, completely by choice: THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER. Scared the crap out of me. I love horror movies, but the possession sub-genre not so much. This was an exception.

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