Wisconsin Film Festival Spotlight: “Actress”


Tickets for the 2014 Wisconsin Film Festival went on sale March 8, and each day between now and the start of the festival on April 3, I’ll be zooming in on one of the more than 140 films playing at the festival. If you have suggestions about films you’d like to know more about as you’re planning your festival experience, let me know in comments.

Actress” (Thursday, April 3, 6:30 p.m., UW Elvehjem, and 2:15 p.m. Friday, April 4, Sundance Cinemas)

Sunday’s New York Times Arts & Leisure section had a great story on the new wave of documentaries than eschew the notion that documentary filmmakers have to be cinematic Joe Fridays, sticking to “just the facts ma’am.” Such films find innovative ways to tell stories and to play along the border between fact and fiction, since deeper personal truths often reside in that gray area.

Mentioned were Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” in which Polley reveals at the end of the film that the Super 8 home movies we’ve seen throughout the film were actually staged by actors. Also mentioned was the Oscar-nominated “The Act of Killing,” in which Indonesian mass murderers re-enact their crimes for the camera as if starring in Hollywood movies, the camera becoming both enabler and judge.

Among the next crop of groundbreaking documentaries to come was Robert Greene’s “Actress,” which plays at the festival. The film is a portrait of Brandy Burre, an actress best known for playing a campaign fixer on Season 3 of “The Wire.” Burre quit acting to raise a family in upstate New York, and as the film opens, is starting to try and get back in the business.

What makes “Actress” different is that Burre is essentially acting for the camera, playing the part of herself as driven actress, herself as wife and mom, herself as the main character in a Douglas Sirk play. So the film (which Greene has described as a “nonfiction/melodrama hybrid“) deliberately and flagrantly uses artifice to explore artifice in everyday life, the roles we take on for ourselves and the roles we wish we could play.

Indiewire says “Actress” is a “story with universal appeal rendered in intimate flourishes.” Greene will be at the screening in Madison to talk about the film.

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