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If you missed the three, day three screen extravaganza that was the 2015 Green Bay Film Festival, we’d like to apologize. It was a heck of a show, and it’s not always easy to track down these indie films if you aren’t around for their comet-like first pass. For those who missed out, or simply didn’t have the time to sample everything the festival had to offer, we’d like to share our thoughts on a couple notable films.

The Emissary
Opening night, second run after a documentary on the nature of film, this goofball scifi flick from Door County gave theatergoers a taste of what they could expect from their weekend. The Emissary runs fast and loose with a tale about three friends and the alien that needs their help.
The fellow behind it, Tim Erskine, is an engineer. Honestly, engineers are great. Their enthusiasm and laser focus tend to make them highly interesting people to be around. But that focus can get to be a bit narrow. It shows when plot of the movie puts the extra-terrestrial “emissary” in a race against time to stop a lethal explosion but along the way he decides to take time for ice cream and pictures on novelty-sized chairs. It’s not that it doesn’t work. The film is intentionally surreal. But in light of this one wonders if the two years Erskine dedicated to the meticulously planned space colony and computer graphics in the opening and closing of the film were necessary, especially when they get about five minutes of screen time. Stylized animations might have saved a lot of time without hurting the quality of the final product.

The film is full of little moments like these. An actor take a pratfall but catches himself before he hits the ground. Comic timing is a bit mushy. And occasionally jokes aren’t measured quite right, landing somewhere in the space between the sufficiently absurd and pedestrian. The relationship between the lead (played by Erskin himself) and his romantic interest seems driven more by fate than the events of the film. It’s clearly marked from a meta-perspective, but a little sparse on the details of how we got from point A to point B.

This isn’t to say it’s a bad experience. In it’s best moments the emmisiary takes a cue from oddball backwoods humor a la The Redgreen Show or Moonlight in Escanaba. The sidekick Andy, played by Tim’s brother Paul, may not always have perfect comedic timing, but his antics drew genuine laughter from the crowd. And every time Mark, played by Pat Palmer opened his mouth it seemed like we were treated to a wry back and forth that drew the best out of all the characters on stage. Heck, when he left the main quest behind, the texts sent back and forth to keep him in the loop were some of the best lines in the movie.

And running through it all was one of the best things about engineers. There was a complete lack of the self-aware cynicism that could have ruined the piece. The Emissary was aware of itself. In fact that was where some of it’s best humor came from. But a passion for the project and good natured enthusiasm runs through, smoothing over the rough spots, the occasionally campy special effects and letting the offbeat humor work. It made good natured fun of a place we’re all familiar with, while doing beach yoga and chasing after cheese isotopes. Heck, you can take the kids to this one.

In short, the Emissary was fun. It’s a little like what would happen if someone took an old Mystery Science Horror Theater 3000 tapes and combined the film with the commentary, breathless, scapegrace, and perhaps a little wet behind the ears. Dream on Tim Erskine.

Special
Mikeal Burgin and the team at Okapi Pictures presented Special, a self billed paranatural horror title. Special is a short work, eight minutes and change and at first it seems to be following the standard thriller/cold case template. There’s the archetypal distraught family, the pedophile kidnapper, and even a middle aged woman who seems to be acting as a buyer. Then it takes a turn. It would be a disservice to the team behind the piece to spoil the rest, so you’ll have to see it yourself for the full experience.

What we can tell you is that the settings and production values felt spot on. Mikeal mentions on his Indiegogo page that he was determined to employ practical effects, physical set pieces and tricks instead of the computer generated material more common to the current blockbuster.

Special can feel a bit sparse at times, perhaps as an artifact of the shoestring budget. Maybe the effects have a little less pop and crunch. But they feel real, largely because they are.

Props go to Kaylynn Burgin in her first time acting. Mikeal told us his daughter was a bit skittish at some of the messier special effects, but the twelve year old held her own in the starring role. On that note, this might just be a film aimed at kiddies a little bit older.

I Need my Monster
If you are looking for something for the younger crowd, I Need my Monster should fit the bill pretty well. The story is about a little boy who needs the right sort of companion under his bed to keep him in line, or he won’t get any sleep. The premise is a bit of a head-scratcher. We’re not sure how many of us remember childhood monsters being a pleasant thing, but it’s carried off well enough.

As an adaptation of a children’s picture book, I Need My Monster is short enough to be a faithful run through without becoming a bloated feature-length extravaganza (cough*Polar Express*cough). We’d definitely recommend this one to any young fans of the book.

What we Missed
With three theatres running simultaneously there were unfortunately a number of quality films that we just couldn’t cover. The largest disappointment among these looks to be The Road to Tophet, a previous award winner at the Toronto Independent Film Festival and winner for Best Cinematography at this very film festival. The trailer indicated a slick crime thriller. Honestly we’re not sure we’ve ever seen such sexy snowmobiling.

Green Bay Film Festival Announces Award Winning Films

(GREEN BAY, WI) – The Green Bay Film Festival had a successful 5th year with great attendance, over 20 films represented by over 40 filmmakers, producers and actors. They came from all over Wisconsin, the United States and Twain.

The Festival has 3 juried awards and 6 audience choice awards.

The 3 Juried Award Winners are:

Best Screenplay
Winner – “Mahjong & the West”
2nd runner up – “Wildlike”
3rd runner up – “God Forgive Us”

Best Director
Winner – “The Grand Dis-illusion”
2nd runner up – “Somewhere Between Freedom and Protection, Kansas”
3rd runner up – “Mahjong & the West”

Best Cinematography
Winner – “Road to Tophet”
2nd runner up – “Wildlike”
3rd runner up – “Blame”

Our Audience Choice Award Winners in our Film Categories are:

Children & Family Films
Winner – “I Need My Monster”
2nd runner up – “I’ve just had a dream”
3rd runner up – “The Incredible Adventures of JoJo (and his annoying Little sister Avila)”

Documentary Films
Winner – “Champion: The Legacy of Jackie Nitschke”
2nd runner up – “If a Bully Watches This”
3rd runner up – “Out of the Fire”

Feature Films
Winner – “When the Ocean Met the Sky”
2nd runner up – “Wildlike”
3rd runner up – “Mahjong & the West”

Native American Films
Winner – “Four Winds”
2nd runner up – “K’ina Kil: The Slaver’s Son”
3rd runner up – “Hamac Cazíim”

“Wisconsin’s Own” Films
Winner – “King High Remembers”
2nd runner up – “A Normal Life”
3rd runner up – “Wisconsin Mining Standoff”

Short Films
Winner – “Revive”
2nd runner up – “Blame”
3rd runner up – “The Walk”

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