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Infomercials sell silly at the September screening for Wis-Kino

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It's the high season at Wis-Kino, as the Madison-based independent filmmaking collaborative picks up steam with the UW back in session and amidst the building preparations for its annual fall Kabaret.

The audience for its latest monthly screening, on Sunday, September 23 at Escape Java Joint, was significantly larger than that during its summer sessions, with the large back room at the Willy Street coffeehouse packed wall to wall.

The theme for September was "infomercial," an optional element that was picked up by about half of the movies submitted for screening. Also featured was a special reel from a recent film festival in Trouville, a seaside town in the heart of Normandy, that included a trio of shorts created by Wis-Kino contributors.

A list and brief descriptions of films from the September 23 screening follows, many of which are available online for viewing:

  • Rainbows Save Lives by Kristina Motwani
    Set to music by the bird and the bee, this short animated video illustrates the saving of a black and white planet by a full-spectrum shield.

  • H.T.R.S. by John Wiedenhoeft and Mark Whitcomb
    "You guys are sick," quipped Wis-Kino co-director Josh Klessig after this entry was screened. Presented by W Squared Productions (i.e., Wiedenhoeft and Whitcomb), this five-minute video was a spot-on spoof and homage of your typical late-night/early-morning infomercial. In this case, the product for sale is the "Home Taint Removal System," or H.T.R.S. "Taint-free living is no longer just for the young and fashionable, it's an indispensible tool for the business person," pitches the paid programming's narrator, this clip is complete with customer testimonials, animated demonstrations, and hyperbolic promises about this anatomical miracle.

  • Believe It by Jacalyn Schultz
    This minute-long infomercial warns viewers about the Big Lie technique of propaganda.

  • Become an Artist by Roger Bindl
    "Do you struggle? Do you have a hard time? Have you always wanted to be an artist but you couldn't be an artist because you couldn't draw?" These questions kick-off this informercial pitching personal improvement. There are eight steps in this product, offered by Bindl in a hard sell with a reasonable price.

  • Box Office Poison by Luke Arthur and The Witty Twisters
    Starting out like an old-school black-and-white TV serial, this entry was similarly an infomercial, its pitch a comparatively soft sell for a product titled "Box Office Poison." This invention would, quite literally, poison a film production with the effects expressing themselves only after the finished product hits the screens. Act now!

  • The Unburner by E. Tozzi
    Do you have a problem with burnt toast? A new product titled the "Unburner" is available now! An infomercial -- complete with a small print, a phone number, slow-mo demonstrations, and free extras -- pitched this remarkable and indispensable kitchen appliance.

  • Phone Pranks by Aaron Yonda
    This very brief video features Yonda receiving a series of strange and disturbing phone calls, one that ends with the revealing title card, "PWNED!!!"

  • Morning Radio Mysteries by Blame Society Productions
    Shot at a Madison radio studio many months ago, this entry is one episode of a new series by Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda. (Disclosure: I helped out at the shoot.) Telling the story of a haunting encountered by a pair of shock-jocks, this production has a background that illustrates the entertainment industry issues faced even by the most successful of online video creators like Blame Society Productions. Morning Radio Mysteries was originally submitted to Acceptable.TV, a spring 2007 series on VH1.

    The first episode series was not aired on the program, though, after the cable network objected to the story. "I have no doubt that genius will slip through the filter at some point," wrote supporter Dan Harmon, a Milwaukeean who co-founded Channel101, a user-generated video network that inspired the VH1 series. "But let's face it, joyless crap will make it through more often, and will be heavily rewarded. We haven't even started, and joy is already being punished. Sorry Matt, sorry Aaron. Welcome to TV, internet."

    Sloan and Yonda report that Morning Radio Mysteries is alive and kicking. Three episodes of the series are slated to be shown on Super Deluxe, the TBS online video network.

The rest of the screening featured a series of shorts created at a Kino Kabaret that was a part of the Off-Courts film festival in Trouville, France over the first week of September. Three of these entries were created by Matt Sloan and Tona Williams, and assisted by Madison expatriate Justin Sprecher. This trio of shorts follows:

  • A Wicked Deception by Matt Sloan
    "In the spirit of international brotherhood, the dialogue for the following film has been translated from English to French... ...then into German... ...then back into French... ...then back into English using a popular translation website. The original dialogue will be subtitled for your convenience." What followed was nearly three minutes of hilarious repartee between the head-butting principals in a love triangle. "I engage with you in an impact of heart!"

  • I Am by Tona Williams
    Qui suis-je? This short features a wandering man encountering a series of four fellow travelers in a Trouville alley, all with an answer to his titular question.

  • Mayor! by Matt Sloan
    In this monologue-cum-campaign pitch, Matt Sloan presents a Colbert-esque case regarding his impending assumption of municipal power in Trouville. Dogs, smoking, the beaches -- everything French, including the language -- is addressed in this short, with culminates with a ceremonial transfer of power.

This October marks the fifth anniversary of Wis-Kino, an occasion that will be marked by the group's annual Kabaret festival. On Thursday, October 11, the group will hold its regular monthly screening, this round featuring the perennially buzzing Halloween/Scary theme for entries. Immediately after the movies stop, the Kabaret begins, with the announcing of a secret ingredient kicking off a subsequent 48 (or so) hour sprint of frenzied filmmaking. All participants will submit their completed works -- less than five minutes in length and incorporating the required ingredient -- for screening at the Kabaret's culmination on Saturday, October 13.

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