If you’re in an indie rock band, you can probably find a place to play in Madison. It may be somebody’s living room or a hole in the wall, but enough people will show up to see a band they’ve never heard of to make it worthwhile.
That’s not necessarily the case for an indie movie. People seem less likely to take in a film they’ve never heard of, which has been an ongoing challenge to independent filmmakers and arthouse theaters.
One leading light in getting small movies to the big screen in Madison has been the Micro-Wave Cinema Series. Series programmer Brandon Colvin, himself a filmmaker (“Sabbatical”), brings low-budget films (and often, their filmmakers) to Madison for free screenings Sunday nights at the UW-Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall.
“Where’s the punk rock circuit for American independent films?” Colvin said. “I wished there were a place to see the kinds of movies I wanted to see, and felt like I was uniquely positioned, in terms of having relationships with filmmakers, to do it. It felt like a responsibility, if it was something I believed in.”
But this Micro-Wave series will be the last. Colvin, a UW-Madison graduate student who just completed his dissertation, has accepted a position this fall as assistant professor in the School of Mass Communication at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Colvin said he hopes to resurrect the Micro-Wave series in some form there, but has planned something special for its final bow in Madison. The series kicks off at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, with “As Far as the Eye Can See,” a drama about a former piano prodigy (Jason London) who retreats to the North Texas town where he grew up. Writer-director David Franklin will be at the screening for a post-show Q&A.
The series also includes the films “A Feast of Man” (March 4) and “Tormenting the Hen” (March 18), and then a collection of short films on April 15 made by filmmakers who have been featured in Micro-Wave Cinema over the years. The series will conclude on April 29 with what will be the final public screening of Colvin’s own film, “Sabbatical.” All the screenings are free.
Colvin said he focused the programming on American independent films (although a few Canadians snuck in here and there), often ones that didn’t have distributors or have never played at major film festivals like Sundance or the Toronto film festivals. Often experimental in nature, the films would never have played in a theater in Madison otherwise.
“It’s really a bummer nowadays when you spend so much time on a movie and there’s no guarantee that people will see it big,” he said. “Being able to do that for filmmakers who are taking risks and doing good work makes me happy.”
Without advertising or marketing, and films that few, if any, local film fans have heard of, it could be a struggle to attract an audience to Micro-Wave, Colvin said. One screening might draw 50 people, another might draw five.
But he said filmmakers and audiences almost invariably forge a passionate connection over the films.
“It felt very much like a cine-club,” Colvin said. “We came together and talked about the movies.”
Colvin looked around to see if there was anyone in the UW Communication Arts department who wanted to take over Micro-Wave, but noted that it’s a lot of work to program the series, especially for graduate students juggling other duties.
But he hopes that Madison cultivates something else like it to support smaller films.
“The more splinters and interesting nooks of culture there are in Madison, the better,” Colvin said.