Madison Reels out Film Frenzy

young woman stands in front of an ocean of first graders and explains to them how they will create a masterpiece out of junk. The sound of clanking metal resonates amidst joyous giggles. The voice of a teacher chimes in to tell students that they will be working with wire in art class.

This a snapshot of Growing in Knowing, one of the films in this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival, which follows artist Erika Koivunen and the first graders at Midvale elementary in their creation of an artistic metal gate at Midvale Community Gardens. Kicking off Wednesday, April 14, the festival will span five days for the first time in its twelve-year history. Festival coordinator Meg Hamel says she hopes attendance increases based on the idea that there’s something for everyone.

“You don’t need to have any knowledge of the film industry to enjoy the festival,” says Hamel. “You just go and let your hair down and discover how interesting some of these films are.”

While a large portion of films are selected by Hamel because of their success at other film festivals, many are part of the Wisconsin Made category, which includes any film with a tie to the state.

“I can tell that the quality overall is improving. There is a continued strengthening of filmmakers in the state,” Hamel adds, “the people who get the big budgets in Hollywood had to start somewhere.”

In addition to Growing in Knowing, films in the Wisconsin Made category will appeal to viewers due to their familiar regional settings.

Imagine being a fly on the wall in a Madison West High School classroom, where the documentary Multico was filmed. Twenty-six students are engulfed in a heated discussion about race and negative language. An African-American girl chimes in and questions how something is defined as “ghetto.” “How is dancing ghetto and how are clothes ghetto? Is it that they’re on a black person or is it a black move?”

In Multico, filmmaker and UW alumnus Jeremy Holiday follows a multicultural theater course that brings together a cross section of black, white, Latino and Asian students to confront social issues in the classroom. The group produces and performs skits that revolve around these tough issues at elementary and middle schools around the city.

“I’ve seen many ways of addressing these issues but none of them were really as effective as Multico,” says Holiday of Multico. The film, he says, is a snapshot of the growth the students achieve in the class and how close-knit they are by the end of it.

“There are all kinds of competing notions of ‘cool’ going on and by the end, they are all really close and that’s very cool to watch.” he said.

And while viewers will enjoy watching the stories and scenes that have unfolded around Madison, there are plenty of other options.

One of this year’s popular films, Feed the Fish, comes from Green Bay native and filmmaker Michael Matzdorff. Set in Door County where Matzdorff spent time as a child, the film follows a washed-up children’s book writer from California who’s looking to get back on track. The writer half-heartedly commits to a trip with his girlfriend’s brother to Sturgeon Bay where he hopes he’ll find inspiration for his next book. Along the way, he meets a woman (and her over-protective father) who throws him for a loop in a charming romantic comedy embracing small-town life in Wisconsin.

Matzdorff says the film’s message is something along the lines of, “pursue your dreams at all costs.”

And one could say Matzdorff fulfilled one of his dreams in Feed the Fish. The Green Bay native has been in the film production business for about twenty years, but he had an itch. That itch was to act. After so many years behind the camera, he was looking for an opportunity to be on screen.

“I thought, ‘who’s going to cast a forty-two year-old slightly overweight guy in a film?'” Matzdorff says, explaining his small role in Feed the Fish.

The production crew cast several locals to play smaller roles and Matzdorff’s cousin Tony took on the lead. After three months of filming and almost a year in post-production, Feed the Fish was released.

The film is already sold out at the festival, but Matzdorff says there will be several showings scheduled in Madison in the coming weeks.

If you can’t make up your mind on a film fest experience, the event offers at least one session of short films each day, where viewers can get a little taste of everything.

In the animated short Floatin’, the choppy movement of a clay figurine is set against a cardboard sea. The sound of seagulls is interrupted with a chomping noise as the clay man appears to eat something he pulled from the sky. This is the sound of the realization of a life goal for recent UW graduate Bobby Breitenbach.

“In college, I wanted to do film right away, but both logic and my dad told me that … there’s no money in that film stuff; get a real job,” Breitenbach says, explaining that he decided to major in genetics but is now pursuing film with the skills he learned in several film courses he took as electives.

Even though Floatin’ is only a minute long, the labor that went into it was not an easy task for Breitenbach who works two part-time jobs.

“That sixty seconds of animation probably took me around sixteen hours,” he said. “Stop motion’s a real process, but at the same time you really get into it and start cooking and things just fall into place.”

Although this is not his first ever stop motion animation, Breitenbach says he’s elated that his first entry to the festival made it in.

“Right now it looks like I’m putting all of my effort into filmmaking,” he added. “The Wisconsin Film Festival is a pretty big deal and will definitely help me network.”

The Wisconsin Film Festival runs Wednesday, April 14 to Sunday, April 18. For this year’s schedule, information on this year’s films and to purchase tickets, go to

Becky Vevea is an editorial intern with Madison Magazine.