Jason Fuhrman: I am still in shock from the 2022 Wisconsin Film Festival, which was truly everything I had hoped for and more. The eight-day film marathon felt like stepping into a collective dream and tapping into a rich source of creativity, knowledge, emotion and beauty. As always, the festival broadened my mind, nourished my soul, and tested the limits of my body. But this year’s program was particularly multifaceted, immersive and transcendent. In other words, I had the time of my life! Of the 22 selections I saw during the festival (for the year ’22), I liked every one of them.
The festivities began with a delicious opening reception, which included cocktails and all manner of edibles, such as grilled Portobello mushrooms with whipped feta butter and tomato relish, crudités, nachos and potstickers. lemongrass with a sweet chili sauce. After the reception, everyone moved to the Wisconsin Union Theater (aka Shannon Hall) for the presentation of the Golden Badger Awards. I participated in the ceremony as a member of the jury for this year’s golden badger, which was a great honor. Director of Operations Ben Reiser asked me to read my statement on Kate Balsley’s short Ad meliora (2021) when I presented him with the Golden Badger Award on stage. Frankly, the prospect of speaking in front of about 500 people was nerve-wracking, but it felt good to play a role in formal activities this year. The function was cordial and lively, and I was thrilled that the festival in person was happening again.
Festival director Kelley Conway then gave a moving speech on the origins of cinema and said that when the Lumière brothers created the cinematograph, their invention was still incomplete as they first showed it only to the other inventors. Cinema wasn’t really born until the Enlightenment held a public screening in Paris in 1895 and people gathered to see a film for the first time. Since then, the word “cinema” has referred not only to films as a collective art, but also to the spaces where human beings gather to watch them. Finally the lights went out and we started to see the first selection of the festival, Anais in love (2021), an elegant, sexy and lighthearted romantic comedy from French filmmaker Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet. While it was the only option that night, it felt like a fitting opening – a cinematic appetizer. All in all, it was an extremely enjoyable evening and a wonderful start to the epic journey ahead.
The next day, Friday, I dove headfirst into the festival with a triple feature. Il Buco (2021), a last minute addition to my itinerary, contained some of the most stunning and sublime imagery I have ever seen. I barely had time to catch my breath before heading straight for 107 mothers (2021), a singular hybrid of documentary and fiction set in a women’s prison in Odessa, Ukraine. I found food in a passable flatbread pizza from the AMC concession stand and ate during Vortex (2021), my last screening of the day. Argentinian provocateur Gaspar Noé’s formally inventive and harrowing psychological drama about the final days of a decaying elderly couple was certainly far from the most entertaining film of the festival, but I can’t help but go for it. to think.
On Saturday, I watched two works of contemporary African cinema, which complement each other perfectly. Chadian author Mahamat-Saleh Haroun Lingui, The Sacred Bonds (2021) painted a vibrant and uplifting portrait of female resistance to patriarchal violence and oppression.
My favorite festival selection by far was Neptune Frost (2021), Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman’s breathtaking Afrofuturist musical about a group of exploited coltan miners in Burundi who rise up against a ruthlessly repressive regime. The movie literally knocked my eyes out of their sockets and it will probably take me years to fully process. I left the screening in a daze and went to Lucile for the Afterglow Festival, where moviegoers were invited to chat about their experiences while enjoying free food and drink. It was a perfect way to decompress.
Sunday was my first full day at the festival with a strong lineup consisting of The mole (2020), Take the road (2021), Immersion (2021), and crazy god (2021). Other highlights of my cinematic odyssey included Hassan Commitment (2021), Klondike (2021), Not identified (2020), and Petrov flu (2021). My view of that last dreamy, wacky movie on Tuesday night was further bewildered by the obviously inexperienced AMC crew member who basically poured me a glass full of premium Polish vodka beforehand. Wednesday morning, I started my day with Jacques Deray Symphony for a Massacre (1963), an elegant and complex crime thriller that critic and guest author Keith Phipps dubbed “a perfect Swiss watch from a movie”.
Of course, I always enjoy the awkward, intermittent interactions with other wide-eyed Wisconsin Film Festival fanatics rushing to their next screening. Nothing quite compares to the fast pace, positive energy and camaraderie that develops at the top of a superbly curated film festival. After three years without a real celebration of cinema, the enthusiasm was particularly intense.
I capped off my festival week with works by two of my all-time favorite filmmakers. I first saw Firea.k.a Both sides of the blade (2022), a caustic psychosexual melodrama from the inimitable French author Claire Denis. While it was an admittedly difficult watch, I’m glad I saw it. Naturally, the fearless performances of Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon were phenomenal.
And I really can’t imagine a more perfect festival finale than a new restoration of David Lynch’s experimental magnum opus from 2006. Inner Empire closing night. The screening was sold out and an air of excitement and anticipation gripped the theater as the show approached. At first, the director’s particular brand of American surrealism brought hearty laughter from the audience. After about an hour, however, the laughter died down as the film delved deeper into the fractured and nightmarish inner world of the “woman in trouble,” played by Laura Dern. Although it can be a hard movie to watch, I like it more every time I see it. Sharing the experience with so many other people was like a spiritual revelation that I won’t soon forget.