The Wildwood Film Festival – The Next Generation

Halfway picBy Joshua Grover and David Patterson

  Part 1: The Art of Sharing Art

Although it’s possible to create art in a vacuum, most artistic creations, whether it’s a painting, a song, or a movie, are designed to be shared.

“Shared” is the key word in that sentence.  We teach little kids to share their toys.  We share a meal.

And pretty much every social media outlet available today has some sort of a “Share” button – a way to take the thing in front of you and pass it around to your friends via Facebook, Twitter, or whatever outlet is most popular at the time you’re reading this.

With the creation of YouTube in 2005 and the creation of the iPhone in 2007, at least one form of art has gone from being incredibly difficult and expensive to create and share, to being the kind of art you can create using an object commonly found in your pocket: The motion picture.

Film, edit, and upload a short film using your phone, and you can start sharing it immediately with family, friends, or even total strangers.  Catch the zeitgeist, and you can go viral and become the next big thing on the internet, at least for a day or two.

But, of course, there’s another kind of sharing: The Shared Experience.

While there’s definitely something to be said for being able to “Share” something with people all over the world with a few taps on your phone, there’s nothing quite like sitting in a darkened theater with a packed house, riding the emotional peaks and valleys of what’s onscreen with your fellow moviegoers.

The Wildwood Film Festival has been providing that experience now for sixteen years.  It was founded in 2001 by Craig Knitt, Jason Buss and Tom Thorne.

“Tom [Thorne] and Craig [Knitt] have been friends since childhood and I came into the picture when I acted in a film Craig wrote and directed, called ‘The Hunt,’” Buss said.  “In short, the fest came into being because Craig couldn’t find a fest to play the film.  The fact that [we knew] everyone would like the movie if they could see it, combined with the fact that we lived in the fastest growing area of the state, made us think the fest [was] an idea whose time had come.”

The first Wildwood Film Festival took place at The Historic West Theater in Green Bay.  In addition to “The Hunt,” the first festival featured eight other films, including an entry from Rob Schrab, who wrote the Steven Spielberg-produced “Monster House,” and more recently directed multiple episodes of the cult TV show “Community.”

It would not be the last time a Hollywood name graced the credits of Wildwood.  Over the years, famous faces that have appeared on the screen at Wildwood include Richard Riehle (the very definition of a That Guy, he’s been in everything from “Office Space” to “Modern Family” to “Bridesmaids”), David H. Lawrence XVII (“Heroes,” “Good Luck Charlie”), William Mapother (“Lost,” “The Mentalist”), and Kim Rhodes (“Supernatural,” “Colony”).

And this year, Quinton Aaron of “The Blind Side” appears in the Friday night feature film “Halfway.”

Despite these familiar names, it must be noted that the Wildwood Film Festival focuses exclusively on Wisconsin filmmakers.  According to the fest’s entry form, “The Wildwood Film Festival is a non-profit event designed to showcase emerging independent films/filmmakers from Wisconsin.  The primary creative personnel, such as director, producer, [or] screenwriter, should have Wisconsin ties.”

Because of this rule, most of the films being shown every year were made in Wisconsin.  But many have been created in such far-flung locales as California, Tennessee, New York, and Sydney, Australia.

 Part 2: Fun for the Whole Family!

Wildwood’s sixteenth year brings with it a special emphasis on young filmmakers – including both a Young Filmmaker’s Workshop on Saturday morning (9-11 AM in the Redwood Room at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel) and a festival first – the 1 PM collection of films will be a Youth and Family Friendly session.

When asked how the workshop and festival session came to be, Buss said, “The Young Filmmaker Workshop kind of gave birth to the Youth and Family Friendly programming.  If we were going to educate that age group on film making, why not offer a session where they might see something created by other young filmmakers?  Hopefully this inspires our young filmmakers in the audience for future creativity. Part of our mission is to foster Wisconsin film talent, and this is definitely doing that.”

The workshop will be run by Craig Knitt, a Wildwood co-founder, along with Wyatt and Carolyn Kuether of The Production Farm. ( – a nonprofit organization that empowers foster youth with programming that teaches the art of independent film-making paired with gardening and farm work, all while providing housing both long and short term.

While the workshop is geared for middle and high school students, Buss notes that, “All ages are absolutely welcome.”

Part 3: Keep Out of Reach of Children

After the first session, Wildwood will feature two sessions of films that, while unrated, would probably fall somewhere between PG and PG-13.  And, as in past years, the 8 PM session is a little more R-rated.  (Or, as the web site titles it: NOT Youth and Family Friendly Session.)

Before the Saturday sessions, however, comes the Friday night feature film, “Halfway.”

“Halfway” stars Quinton Aaron (co-star “The Blind Side”), alongside Amy Pietz, a Wisconsin native, and Jeffrey DeMunn (“The Walking Dead”). We follow Aaron’s African American character on his journey from prison to normal life and the bumps along the way, especially when you are in a small Wisconsin farm town.

“Inspired by this film, we are hosting a special free event from 3-5 PM on Friday called ‘A Fresh Take Town Hall: Exploring Race and Recidivism.’” Buss said.  “This event will be moderated by Josh Dukelow from WHBY and will feature a combination of interviews, panels, and presentations during the two-hour program.”

Buss also spoke about some other short films he was eager to share with Wildwood’s audiences.

“As for our traditional short pieces, there are more than a few I am excited about,” Buss said. “If you want drama, one of the best is a piece from Brenda Lau.  The Wisconsin native, UW Oshkosh alum and industry executive returns to the Wildwood Film Festival with an award winning film called ‘Framed – The Adventures of Zion Man.’  It is inspired by true events and combines live action with elements of animation set in Nazi Germany.  The film features the voice talents of Emmy award winning actor/legend Ed Asner.  And from our largest segment this year, horror, there are really solid selections.  Our audience will have an opportunity to see what all the clown-in-the-streets news was about when they see the film ‘Gags.’”

Also in this year’s program is “Ten Spotting,” a film by Eric Goska.

Goska describes it as follows: “Four high school friends leave 10 dollar bills in a dozen Little Free Libraries. The girls include a short note asking the finders of the money to please write them and let them know how they used the money.”

Goska’s beginnings as a filmmaker go back to his youth.

“I was 11 when I attended a filmmaking class at St. Norbert College in 1974,” he said. “Our final project – starring two of my brothers – was a 3-minute, 20-second silent film shot on Super 8 called ‘The Gunfight,’ that was shown at the college.  Music from ‘The Sting’ accompanied the showing.”

Goska’s filmmaking endeavors after “The Gunfight” have the perfect Wildwood touch – which is to say, they have some very Wisconsin-based origins.

“My wife and I bought a camcorder in 1998,” Gorska said “and one day my daughter, Nicole, who was not yet a year old, started playing with a microphone I had left out. She was wearing a Brett Favre jersey which prompted me to ask her questions about the Packers with the camera rolling.  She couldn’t talk – her squeals served as answers – and thus was born our first Packers prediction video.  We continued to make those yearly – adding her sister, Rebecca, to the lineup in 2000 – until Jason Wright of St. Norbert College suggested we do a film in the summer of 2012.  Jason had helped produce a few of the prediction videos.  His suggestion led to the 7.5 minute ‘Three Servings of Mystery’ which was followed by ‘Frigital Copies’ in 2013 and ‘Ten Spotting’ in 2015.”

Of course, when sharing a film experience, as fun as it is to sit in a room of strangers, it’s even better when shared with friends and family.

“My wife and I plan to attend [the screening],” said Goska.  “My two daughters, both in the film, are hoping to be there as well.  I enjoy seeing the work of other filmmakers, but I have to admit, I am looking forward to watching our film at the PAC, a venue I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting.”

Part 4:  Join the Fun

The magic of the movies, of course, is the communal experience – seeing something for the first time and feeling the reactions of the folks around you.  What makes a film festival like Wildwood especially unique is that the majority of the sessions are short films, which audiences rarely get a chance to see on the big screen.

So instead of going to see one movie, you can literally see dozens in one day.

Which usually leads to another kind of sharing – the conversations generated by the films as you exit the theater.

The Wildwood Film Festival runs Friday, March 10 and Saturday, March 11.

The schedule of events, films and ticket prices are posted at

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