Tag Archives: Independent Film

What We Watch: Garry Denny

Bringing Wisconsin Public Television’s delightful mix of programming together takes a lot more work than most of us realize. Beyond PBS itself, WPT previews and purchases programs from American Public Television, the BBC, our own local production teams and multiple other independent sources.

Garry Denny

In our latest installment of What We Watch, we chat with Garry Denny, WPT’s director of programming. A member of our staff since 1986, he’s the one who brings it all together: acquisition, scheduling and delivery of programming services on WPT’s six-station network.

Read more to find out what Garry is most looking forward to in WPT’s fall schedule!
Continue reading What We Watch: Garry Denny

Isthmus of Misfits on Director's Cut

This week, Director’s Cut welcomes Andrew Butts to discuss his film Isthmus of Misfits. This documentary explores Madison’s stand-up comedy scene through the eyes of comics who have been performing for years and others who are just starting out. Despite the fact that the film’s subjects are a bit green, they are not camera shy and are very eager to discuss comedy stylings, theories and venues.

Pete Schwaba and director Andrew Butts on the Director's Cut set
Pete Schwaba and director Andrew Butts

Not only is the energy of the comics the most compelling part of the film, Isthmus of Misfits actually depends on the charisma of its ‘actors.’ That is the definition of a low budget film. Butts had all of the comics sit on the same couch in the same spot and started recording.

From struggling parents, to people working three jobs to recovering addicts, this film definitely captures what it’s like starting out in comedy and pursuing a dream. As a recovering stand-up myself, it was fun to revisit those days of uncertainty and the idea that the whole comedy world awaits you.

Misfits is not fancy or visually stunning by any means, yet Butts does a nice job of bringing out the artist behind the performer in the film. During the interview we welcome two of them to the set – Jackson Jones and Ian John. This is Butts’ first feature length documentary and with his connections to the burgeoning Madison comedy scene, the subject of his first film is a no-brainer. Be sure to check out my interview with Andrew Butts on Director’s Cut this Friday night at 9 on Wisconsin Public Television. Hope to see you then!

A Solid Indie Film Produced in Wisconsin

This week, Director’s Cut welcomes David Nordstrom: writer, producer, director, editor and lead actor for the film Sawdust City. Everyone who makes an independent movie wears multiple hats. But with all the hats Nordstrom donned for this project, he could open his own millinery.

Sawdust City is the story of two brothers; one on leave from the Navy, the other a hometown husband and soon-to-be father. They are searching for their estranged father in the dive bars of Eau Claire.

As the brothers immerse themselves in the Eau Claire tavern scene, they have trouble finding their dad. But they have no problem finding a cast of characters all too familiar in Wisconsin bar culture. My personal favorite is Gene. If you’ve seen that guy in the bar walking around with his empty glass looking for a fresh pitcher bought on someone else’s dime, then you know Gene. Sawdust City delivers solid writing and storytelling as the brothers reconnect, argue and bond amid the Eau Claire winter.

Nordstrom makes his home in L.A. now and is staying busy pursuing new projects. As a Wisconsin filmmaker myself, I have to tip my hat — yes, just the one — to David for getting his film done entirely in Wisconsin. I look forward to seeing his next effort.

Nordstrom gives a great interview, and Sawdust City is a solid indie film definitely worth checking out this Friday night starting at 9 p.m. on Director’s Cut. Hope to see you then on Wisconsin Public Television!

Official Sawdust City Trailer from Small Form Films on Vimeo.

An 'Unforgettable' New Season of Director's Cut

Director’s Cut kicks off its eighth season with the documentary “Unforgettable.” Director Eric Williams and his brother Brad — the subject of the film — join us to discuss the film, as well as Brad’s condition known as hyperthymesia. People afflicted with hyperthymesia have an unbelievable ability to not only remember specific events throughout their lives, but the actual dates on which they occurred. When given a random date, Brad can recite the day’s happenings — from the newsworthy to the mundane. Absolutely remarkable!

Brad Williams in a still from "Unforgettable"
Brad Williams in a still from “Unforgettable”

As a newscaster in La Crosse, Brad has read and reported on tons of stories throughout his career, further filling his brain with even more information. I think it’s a safe bet he’s using more than ten percent of his brain. The rest of us are such slackers!

Director Eric Williams has been a writer for years. His most notable writing credit at the studio level is the screenplay for the John Travolta-Dustin Hoffman film “Mad City.” Despite writing other narratives, Williams’ primary focus is documentaries, and “Unforgettable” is a story that has been with him his whole life. The brothers are soft spoken but enthusiastic and complement each other well while navigating an interview.

“Unforgettable” has many memorable (see what I did there?) moments, including Brad’s many appearances on national news shows, as well as his appearance on “Jeopardy”. In the film, there is a great scene where he and all-time “Jeopardy” champ Ken Jennings square off in a game of trivia. Wondering who wins? To be honest, I forgot (Bing! Did it again!). Sure I could tell you, but instead do yourself a favor and tune in Friday night at 9:35 p.m. to see for yourself. The full film airs right after my interview with Brad and Eric.

Get a head start on your viewing and watch the interview right here now.

Where'd That Come From

Often, we take everyday stuff for granted only to occasionally ponder a thing’s origin. If you’ve ever wondered how timber is harvested, I’ve got a 22 minute film that you should enjoy.

“Wood” from PBS Indies starts with a single tree in a forest, then goes on to illustrate how it is harvested, shipped and processed into the lumber we consume. The film offers a brief explorative journey that will hopefully enlighten your day.

There’s more video streaming at video.wpt.org. If you find something interesting while browsing the video archive, share it with me in the comments.

 

A Journey Into Adulthood

POV “Only the Young” — with sun-drenched visuals and a soul-music soundtrack — airs Monday night at 9 on Wisconsin Public Television.

Only the Young on Wisconsin Public TelevisionOn the surface, “Only the Young” seems like a fairly obvious title. Yes the film’s three subjects are young, but the title could also be a cheeky reference to the age of the filmmakers, who are barely older than the film’s teen-aged subjects.

While watching an interview with directors Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims, I got the sense that the CalArts graduates’ first feature tells dual coming-of-age stories.

Nevertheless, the focus of the film is on three teens from SoCal, not five. But one sure advantage of the close proximity in age between the filmmakers and the subjects is that “Only the Young” captures true teenage emotions, far from the dream-crushing grasp of adult supervision.

The film follows unconventional Christian friends Garrison and Kevin, and Garrison’s on-and-off girlfriend, Skye in their small Southern California town and the surrounding desert.

 
In a statement, Tippet says he and Mims purposely focused filming on weekends and afternoons outside of school — “the hours when they had time to explore, to try out love and to hope and wonder about the intimidating ‘real world.'”

“We just focused on the lives of the kids as they were…
We tried just to listen.”

With that focus, the film becomes less an issue film and more an accurate picture of how kids spend their time goofing around and dealing with the pressure of maintaining friendships and finding true love.

Originally,the filmmakers thought they were going to record a short film on Garrison and Kevin, a more complex story developed when Skye showed up during filming. In one scene, following an incident in which Kevin kissed Garrison’s girlfriend, rather than witnessing a childish feud we see maturity displayed as Kevin apologies to Garrison. It’s an honest moment when Garrison asks “So is Skye a good kisser?” and Kevin off-the-cuff admits she is. But compassion follows as Kevin tries to minimize the damage (and save face) when he corrects himself saying, “Uh, actually she was very sloppy.”

The scene rolls out in a sort of unpredictable, genuine fashion that mirrors the lives of Kevin, Garrison and Skye — or any teen for that matter. What will ultimately happen to these endearing kids and their friendship? The trailer, and a few additional scenes I’ve seen foreshadow heartbreak at the film’s end. But let’s hope for the best for the film’s subjects, and also for the budding director’s on the other side of lens.

Looking Toward Directors Cut's All-New Season

With The Oscars – one of the world’s biggest celebrations of film – this weekend, it is a great time to start looking toward the new season of Directors Cut. So, show producer Mary Pokorney-Donelan is checking in to offer us a sneak preview of the forthcoming season.

Spring is almost here, which also means the premiere of Director’s Cut and Director’s Cut Presents’ fifth season is coming too. We have been working all year to put together an enjoyable and enticing lineup for viewers. The films for this year include a comedy starring Lauren Holly and Tony Goldwyn, The Godfather of Green Bay (click here to watch the trailer), a powerful and moving documentary by Frank G. Caruso, This Is My Sister (watch a preview here: http://vimeo.com/15112187), and a quirky and disturbing drama, Lovely By Surprise.

Our host Charles Monroe-Kane gets the behind the scenes stories from filmmakers about their work. Some of our guests include comedian/director Pete Schwaba, actor Lance Barber, Driftless Film Festival co-founders Nicholas Langholff and Darren Burrows, documentary filmmakers Trevor Velin and burro racer Roger Pedretti, and the organizers of the 48 Hour Film Project.

We are even going on location this year, with an entertaining documentary about the “heavy metal meets bowling” music video, Striker. We recorded our interview on location at the Sett Recreation Center on the UW-Madison campus.

Our season kicks off again this year with an hour-long preview of the Wisconsin Film Festival April 13. We will sit down with festival organizers Jim Healy and John Powers, as well as a collection of directors whose work will be shown at the festival.

I can’t wait! Stay tuned for our upcoming schedule and remember, check the gate.