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Unmistakably Midwest

January 2, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

“Best of Chicago DIY Film” series. Originally appeared on the site 11/18/2010

Film Festival encourages Midwesterners to make films – even bad ones

Matthew Blake

Midwest Independent Film Festival

Chicago Magazine has praised as the Midwest Film Festival (self-described as “the nation’s only festival dedicated to the Midwest filmmaker”) as “the place to be and be seen for seasoned pros and up-and-comers.” An election night stop at the event, held each first Tuesday of the month at Lakeview’s Landmark Century Cinema, at least lived up to that billing.

Vendors hawking film equipment commiserated with aspiring actors and directors, and film P.R. people over complimentary macadamia nut cookies and $4 glasses of wine at Lakeview’s Landmark Century Cinema. Women in Film Chicago had a table with information on their surprisingly non-gender excusive workshops. The Screen Actors Guild distributed comprehensive packets about how to make union guidelines while shooting a low-budget film.

Unfortunately this month, the Festival was limited in its value as a networking event and an extended question-and-answer session between aspiring filmmakers and slightly more established aspiring filmmakers. The showcase film, “Feed the Fish,” was an inspiring example of a success in the DIY filmmaking process, but it wasn’t much of a movie.

Feed the Fish movie

Prior to the film, producer Nick Langholff explained that he and writer-director Michael Matzdorff resourcefully shot “Feed the Fish” for just $250,000 and now is distributing the movie to indie film houses across the country. The low budget was partly thanks to using HD film instead of 35mm. It was also due to the cooperation of residents in Door County, Wisconsin who let the filmmakers shoot their town in the dead of winter, complete with shots of serene woodlands. Langholff’s stories of bonding with local residents lead me to anticipate that his film would have something to say about Wisconsin, a pretty interesting and complicated state that has not exactly been deluged by filmmakers. After all, everyone involved in making the film were Wisconsin natives.

Cinematographer Steven Parker captures some of the state’s low-key appeal with clean shots of woodlands, deer and snow banks. The characters, though, who inhabit this winter scenery are stock figures from any romantic comedy who can’t stop complaining about how cold Wisconsin is. Children’s story-writer Joe Peterson, played by Ross Partridge, has a case of writer’s block in his Venice Beach Los Angeles home that he shares with his neurotic big-city girlfriend. So Joe flees to Door County and meets simply, hearty folk who love nothing more than fishing and deer hunting. Joe becomes entranced by these native folkways and falls in love with a pretty waitress at a diner, played by Katie Aselton – the inevitable foil for his tightly wound, big city romantic interest.

It was interesting to be let down by the film and yet actually drawn to stories of the filmmaking process. Hopefully Langholff empowered a filmmaker in the audience to move forward with his or her project. And hopefully after clearing some major budget and distribution hurdles this time around, he can focus more on his film’s substance next time.

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