As the Milwaukee Film Festival comes to a close Thursday, it is clear it is one of the best-loved events of the year. Supported by institutions, businesses and people from all reaches of Milwaukee, the prestige and size of the festival is remarkable for its fifth year. Members of the Trib staf picked our favorite films this year’s impressive lineup of more than 140 films.
THE CRASH REEL
Boiled down to the very basics, “The Crash Reel” is about an olympic snowboarding favorite, Kevin Pearce. Once riding neck and neck with Shaun White, Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury in training just before the Taranto Olympics. As his hopes are dashed scenes of snowboard bros and champaign popping parties end and a heartwrenching and physiologically complex story begins.
This film swerves away from your typical sports recovery tale into unexpectedly deep and complex territory.
It becomes a story about family exploring the tension between an individual’s needs and the effect on those who love him. The film touches on the invisible, yet deeply rooted effects of brain injury, the perverse side of extreme sports and coming to accept and find purpose in a life with physical limitations.
Filled with moments of humor and heartbreak, “The Crash Reel” gets unparalleled access and footage of the best snowboarders in the world, as well as intimate shots around the family dinner table.
Add a gorgeous soundtrack and vivid aesthetic and this film is easily the best documentary I’ve seen this year. Luckily, “The Crash Reel” is still available online for wider audiences through HBOGO. And if there’s any justice in the world, this film should be get will be up for some big nods come awards time. (Erin Heffernan)
THIS AIN’T CALIFORNIA
Skateboarding has always been about liberation mixed with a punky, anti-authority ethos.“This Ain’t California” shows riding a board in a Soviet-controlled 1980s East Germany was no different.
The film revolves around the death of “Panik” an old skate buddy central to a group of friends, a rebellious friend and informal leader who died as a soldier in Afghanistan.
While the old friends reminisce about their lives in the German Democratic Republic of East Berlin, they recall their escapades in the concrete landscape of Alexanderplatz, an austere sector unwittingly built to be a skateboarder’s paradise.
The film sweeps viewers along with footage of depicting the old parties and pranks. Meetings of skaters from East and West Berlin anticipated the city’s impending reunification, leaving the rebels wanting more. Panik stages a confrontation ending up in prison during the fall of the Berlin Wall, causing him to miss the iconic end of the totalitarian state.
Or does he?
As the film evolves, you question everything revealed about “Panik,” through a twist resembling Banksy’s “Exit through the Gift Shop” it blurs the lines between fact and fiction.
Still, the central theme of the film, which it captures wonderfully, is nostalgia for a time when the good guys were the punks on boards, “the man” was easily identifiable and all you needed to fight the system with was a skateboard. (Brian Keogh)
Some people are enthusiastic about wine; some are utterly obsessed. Director Jason Wise’s intoxicating documentary, “Somm,” follows a group utrerly obsessed with wine knowledge.
Wise spotlights four wine experts, known as sommeliers, preparing to take the Master Sommelier exam, the gateway to the highest title in the industry. The test is one of the hardest in the world – fewer than 100 have passed in the last 40 years – but the odds only sharpen the dedication to passing. The men sacrifice time with their families, wives and social lives all in the name of studying for the test.
Their knowledge about vintages and vineyards is near incomprehensible. By simply smelling a glass, they can tell you the location, date and quality of each product. A tasting opens the door to wild descriptions, ranging from bruised peach to freshly cut garden hose.
But “Somm” is about more than a rigorous exam. It educates viewers on the history of wine, recounts the journeys of current Master Sommeliers and examines the exam’s effect on the candidates. Using creative transitions and camera angles throughout, the film’s style is as interesting as its content. Like a full-bodied Chardonnay, “Somm” leaves viewers satisfied and ready for more. (Claire Nowak)
STORIES WE TELL
“Stories We Tell” is an intensely personal story for director Sarah Polley. Constructed through interviews with her family and friends, Polley recreates a sort of portrait of a mother who died when Polley was still very young. But both the story and the film are less straightforward than their surfaces appear.
Through truly engaging storytelling and filmmaking, Polley documents the facets of her own family’s story, while also exploring the nature of memory, family and the way stories impact the way we percieve our past. The results are an unconventional film and story that weaves and decieves, keeping you far from knowing what is about to come. In the end, the film is dotted with the affection and familiarity that comes only with family members telling a mysterious story central to them all.
With such an unpredictable plot told by groups of sincere and engaging raconteurs, it’s not surprising “Stories We Tell” has become one of the most discussed documentaries of the year. (Erin Heffernan)