Caught Up in the Wisconsin Film Festival

Gypsy music, a rush line for polka, and a Hurricane Katrina party gone awry. What more could you ask for? Yesterday was a great day to jump into the Wisconsin Film Festival for the first time.

A crew of us kicked things off in the afternoon when a regular LIB reader procured free tickets for Gypsy Caravan at the MMOCA. I ended up next to the Isthmus reviewer who wrote the linked review and thoroughly enjoyed the exposure to the story of the Roma people. The movie traced the migration of the people commonly known as gypsies from India to western Europe, doing so by following an American concert tour of four muscial ensembles from India, Romania, Macedonia, and Spain.

The musical performances were astounding and the film peeked adeptly into the lives and hometowns of the performers, creating deeply emotional connections. Nicolay, an ancient chain-smoking character, drew the audience in. The crowd gave a collective gasp when one Romanian violinist announced casually that his 19 year-old son was marrying a 13 year-old girl. And the hoarse Spanish flamenco-singer Juana brought the past alive as she vividly described her 260-pound mother flamenco dancing: "She was a cathedral..."

After supper, we attempted to see "It's Happiness," a documentary about polka's revival in Wisconsin. Who knew people were so in love with polka? Besides being sold out, the film had an incredibly long rush line. We even talked to what I took to be the director himself to no avail. As an aspiring accordionist, I was crushed. I was hurt. I contemplated a protest on Library Mall.

Not to be deterred, we hit up "Tim's Island" a little bit later at the Play Circle in Memorial Union. We barely made it in on the rush line, and I'm very glad we did - it was a great film. A documentary about a group of people and animals surviving Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans, it kept all five of us discussing and debating for almost an hour after its conclusion: Were they courageous or stupid? Stop thinking about the pets and save yourselves! Why did they refuse to leave when the helicopter came (I thought it was a great portrait in self-reliance)? Was Tim paranoid or the exact leader they needed? Did they actually see Bush fly overhead as the waters rose?

Chock full of firsthand footage of New Orleans during and after the flood, some shot from a boat cruising the drowned streets, the picture presented me with a much better sense of Katrina. It was comical, eerie, very human. Definitely worth seeing.

Steve S may have his own take on the films as well - Gypsy Caravan was a good call on his part.

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