The Naughty & Nice Sides of the 2015 Wildwood Film Festival in Appleton

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The Wildwood Film Festival in Appleton will mark its 14th year this month. If the festival were a human being – it would be smack-dab in the middle of puberty.

Just like the mood swings of a budding adolescent – you can never be sure what to expect when you attend a screening of short films at Wildwood. But in this case – surprises are a good thing.

Whether you attend the entire festival or stop in for just one of the four showings, you’ll likely see everything from horror and comedy, to dramas and documentaries. There are student projects and slick professional films. The one thing that ties them all together is that every film must have a direct connection to Wisconsin, and Wildwood is the only film festival in the state to have such a requirement.

This is the third year, WhooNEW has covered Wildwood. This time, we decided to take a look at two official selections that couldn’t be more different.

The Naughty: Santa Claus Heads South

There are two kinds of “mall Santas.” Some have a twinkle in their eye and a warm smile that almost makes you believe again. Others look like they’re just barely hanging in there as they wait for the next smoke break to roll around. You probably don’t want even want to know what he’s up to when he’s finally off the clock.

The dark comedy The South Pole is about the second kind of Santa Claus.

Filmmakers David Jackson, Trevor Nackers and Adam Kopke of the Appleton-based photography/production house Jackson & Co. are back with a new twisted short film after winning the Founder’s Choice Award at Wildwood in 2014 with their film House No. 613.

Kopke tells us he and Jackson wanted to take on a more challenging project, and they found it with the idea for The South Pole.

“If we’re not diving head first into client work, we’re constantly working at pushing ourselves to get better at our craft, Kopke says. “The South Pole was the perfect means for us to do that. House No. 613 was by no means easy to pull off, but The South Pole put a lot of new obstacles in front of us. From finding the perfect actors to fit the parts to securing certain locations, we really had our work cut out for us on this project.”

South-Pole-PosterActors the filmmakers needed to find included someone to play a not-so jolly Saint Nick. Locations included a seedy motel and a strip club. You’re probably getting the picture of where this film might lead.

Jackson, the film’s director, and Kopke the director of photography, were inspired by the so-called grindhouse genre of movies – known for exploitation films full of adult situations and gratuitous, campy violence.

Kopke recalls coming up with an idea for putting Santa Claus in an unlikely situation while have drinks during the holiday season with Jackson and  Nackers – the film’s producer.

“I just remember us chatting about it and thinking, ‘How can we make a Christmas film without making your typical Christmas film?’ After sitting down with a few beers, Dave, Trevor, and I landed on the idea of catching a mall Santa on his last leg of the holiday season and seeing how he really is when you’re not waiting in line to tell him what you want.”

Let’s just say The South Pole makes Billy Bob Thornton’s character in Bad Santa look like a super-swell guy. It kind of goes without saying, but don’t show The South Pole to your kids, especially if they still believe in Santa. This movie is even preceded by a warning not to watch it on your computer at work. The filmmakers obviously don’t expect the audience to react with warm cuddly feelings.

“Also, being able to show the darker side of society was something we really wanted to do. Dave often shows a darker side in his photos so it was simple for us to choose this style of film since it fits so easily with his style of work,” Kopke says.

“We know that there will be mixed reactions involved but we’re really hoping to get a shock. Even after being involved in this project, the end still gets me.”

The filmmakers are happy with how the short film ended up, and they don’t envision expanding it into a full-length feature. However, a Directors Cut of The South Pole may be in the works, as well as other bonuses.

“There are so many great shots that in the end, just didn’t have a place in the film,” Kopke says. “We’ll definitely be putting out a behind the scenes look into The South Pole soon.”

You can see The South Pole in the 8pm screening at Wildwood – the last session of the festival.

The Nice: So Fresh and So Clean in West Africa

Burkina_Wells

Courtesy: Image Studios

Wildwood began as a festival that focused on the genres of horror and comedy. But the founders quickly opened things up to many other types of styles including art films, music videos and short documentaries.

Documentaries often shine the spotlight on a specific problem, support a worthy cause and help people better-understand the world. When photographer and videographer Michael Leschisin of Appleton’s Image Studios went on a missions trip to Burkina Faso in West Africa with his church – he found a story worth documenting.

“Appleton Alliance sponsored two wells in Africa and five men from the church volunteered to pay their own way, go over, and help put in the wells,” Leschisin says. “I wanted to film the experience to highlight not only the need for water and the change they would make in the village, but also the change that would occur in them as they experienced remote West Africa.”

Appleton Alliance has a sister church in that region of Africa, and they teamed up with two other organizations – Engage Burkina and Friends in Action. The latter of the two organizations provided drilling equipment and training to the mission workers.

“Being Christian organizations, they try to place wells on church property as a demonstration of christian love,” Leschisin explains. “Some of these churches are nothing more than mud huts, but the idea is to care for the needs of people, rather than preaching to them. The hope is that the actions will do the speaking.”

Micheal’s film is narrated from the perspective of a young girl in the village. While watching, we learn how just how important clean water is to these people. Burkina Faso is considered the third poorest country in the world. One out of every five children dies of a water-related illness before they reach the age of five.

“At one point during filming, I set my water bottle down and left it in a remote area. When I later realized it, we turned around and drove seven miles back to get it. In this country without water you don’t last a day,” says Leschisin.

Appleton Aliance Church in Africa

Courtesy: Image Studios

When the mission workers finally hit water, people in the village looked on in amazement. This was something that would dramatically change all of their lives and they were extremely grateful.

“As the wells were being drilled, local villagers showed their gratitude each day by giving us chickens and even a goat on the day that water was finally struck. In a country where the rural population mostly survives on grains like millet, gifting us a couple of chickens was for them, presenting us with a feast.”

As is often the case with eye-opening experiences like this, the people who went on the missions trip came back having a new perspective on life.

“Most people in Burkina literally have nothing. The majority of the population lives on less than two dollars a day but they are some of the happiest and lighthearted people I’ve seen. I think that’s because they have their priorities in life right. ”

Michael Leschisin

Michael Leschisin in Africa

Leschisin says while American’s live in a consumer-based culture that always leaves us wanting more and feeling unfulfilled, the people he met in Burkina are not at all concerned with those things.

“As a result they focus on relationships. Their friends and their family are truly their most prized possessions. They live with the joy of simply spending time with the people they love and enjoying life for what it is. I think seeing lives lived this way hugely impacted the men on this trip and caused them to re-prioritize their own lives.”

In addition to raising awareness about the need for clean water in third world countries, Leschisin says he hopes his short documentary also sends another message.

“The intent of the film and the wells is really the same; that is to communicate the true essence of Christianity. Its never about doing good deeds or gaining points with a God that keeps score.”

You can see the Burkina Faso Wells documentary during the 1pm screening at Wildwood – the first session of the day.

More About the Wildwood Film Festival

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Both of the films in this article showcase some beautiful cinematography from the amazing talent that can be found in the Fox Valley and all over Wisconsin. While it’s easy to point out the differences between the two movies – there are also things that make them similar.

For one, both of these projects will get you talking. And that’s one of the best things about attending an event like Appleton’s Wildwood Film Festival. The short films always give you something to discuss over dinner and drinks when it’s all over.

As Wildwood co-founder Jason Buss puts it “It is like going to a feature film except in that 90 minutes you will see 7 or 8 movies instead of just one.”

In recent years, organizers have added a morning master class to the one-day film fest. This year there will be an acting workshop with festival co-founder, filmmaker and veteran improv actor Craig Knitt.

See more details below.  And if you are an aspiring filmmaker – the guys behind the festival say they want to hear from you next year when Wildwood celebrates its 15th anniversary.

“If you are proud enough to admit that you lived in Wisconsin and have made a movie, we want to see it, after all Wisconsin has been and is still home to some very talented people and we shine a light on that,” says Buss.

Details on the 2015 Wildwood Film Festival

  • When: Saturday, March 21st
  • Where: Fox Cities PAC, Kimberly Clark Theater
  • Screenings: at 1pm, 3pm, 6pm and 8pm
  • Online: Visit WildwoodFilmFest.com to get tickets ahead of time

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