The first movie I remember seeing at the Wisconsin Film Festival was back in 2000, when the gothic docudrama Wisconsin Death Trip premiered at the Majestic Theatre. The old moviehouse on King Street was one of the primary venues for the fest, then in its sophomore year, complete with decrepit seats and an angled screen. The Majestic was out of the festival lineup for the last few years, though, as it transformed into a dance club and then shut down for a spell. But now it's back in time for the festival's tenth anniversary.
"For me personally, it's great having it back again," says Wisconsin Film Fest director Meg Hamel. "I know that a lot of other festival-goers in Madison also have strong affections for the space."
When co-owners Matt Gerding and Scott Leslie reopened the Majestic Theatre as a live music venue last fall, their plans included preserving its capacity to screen movies. "I got to know them well before they closed the deal," says Hamel, "they were really committed to preserving the film projection facility at the theater and rejoining the festival as a venue."
So, once the Majestic got a few months under its belt, and even started regularly showing classic flicks on a video projector, the fest looked into bringing it back on board this year provided it was still able to screen actual film. "We got our tech team coming in to give that projector some TLC, and get it in smart working condition," says Hamel. It will be ready to go by the time the festival starts at the beginning of April.
"We're really, really excited to be a part of the festival," says Gerding. "It's a great opportunity for us to showcase the venue. Obviously it was previously a movie theater, and to bring that back is something we've always wanted to do. Many people who haven't come back yet will now get a chance to see it."
That's not the only new or returning venue at this year's Wisconsin Film Festival. Also added to the mix are two auditoriums at the Chazen Museum of Art, clustered with a handful of other venues on the UW campus at the west end of State Street. Both are sizeable, on par with other medium-sized venues in the fest.
"The folks at the Chazen were really helpful, and when I came to them, they were really fast at making the decision and helping us get access to those theater spaces," notes Hamel. "It's also really fun to be able to bring so many festival patrons into the Chazen. I hope they'll take advantage of the fact that they're in an art museum.
Here is the full list of venues for this year's festival, along with notations of whether they will feature the mediums of film, video, or both:
- Wisconsin Union Theater at the Memorial Union (film)
- Frederic March Play Circle at the Memorial Union (film and video)
- Ed Philips Auditorium at the Chazen Museum of Art (video)
- Classes of 1914, 1915, and 1916 Auditorium at the Chazen Museum of Art (video)
- Cinematheque at the Vilas Hall. (film and video)
- Orpheum Main Theatre (film)
- Orpheum Stage Door (film)
- Lecture Hall at MMoCA (film and video)
- The Drury Theatre at the Bartell Theatre (video)
- The Majestic Theatre (film)
- Lecture Hall at Monona Terrace (video)
The locations of both festival parties are also set, meanwhile, with the Friday night fete scheduled for Café Montmartre and the Saturday party set for the Majestic.
These additions also bode will for the future. The Chazen is about to see a massive expansion, with an entirely new building to be built adjacent to its current home. A new theater with the capacity to project 35 mm film is a part of these plans. Hamel also notes that plans for a new student union to replace Union South includes plans for a larger space for screening movies.
"When it comes to the long term health of the festival," concludes Hamel, "our potential for downtown theaters just keeps getting better."