The first day of the Wisconsin Film Festival fell on April Fools' Day, so it was appropriate to kick off with a film about two master pranksters who make fools out of the World Trade Organization.
"The Yes Men" won't reach theaters until August, but Milwaukee filmmakers Chris Smith and Sarah Price and co-director Dan Ollman gave a sold-out Orpheum Theatre audience a preview of their devastatingly funny new documentary. Price and Smith have been frequent visitors to the festival over the years, having brought films such as "American Movie" and "Home Movie" to town.
"The Yes Men" follows two anti-globalization activists whose weapons of choice aren't bullhorns and placards, but three-piece suits and PowerPoint presentations. Posing as WTO representatives, they get invited to speak at business conferences around the world, where they offer up proposals so outrageous and ridiculous that they assume they'll be found out.
The Yes Men, a movie, follows a couple of anti-corporate activist-pranksters as they impersonate the World Trade Organization at business conferences around the world.
Instead, global trade's best and brightest nod and applaud as they propose a "management leisure suit" that allows a boss to remotely monitor his Third World sweatshops, or a mechanism to recycle First World human waste into Third World fast food.
Smith says the WTO has unsuccessfully tried to shut down "The Yes Men's" Web site, but have since dropped its combative approach, knowing it only generates more media coverage. "If there's no conflict, there's no news story," he says.
But that laissez-faire approach might not suffice in the face of "The Yes Men," which deftly mixes comedy with some uncomfortable truths about the impact of unfettered trade. The film should get a big push in theaters, too; MGM/United Artists bought the film at the Toronto Film Festival, and the film rights in many other countries have been snapped up as well.
Earlier in the evening, the Orpheum Theatre had pop culture icons featured on both its screens rock 'n' roll icons in the Main Theatre, and a film icon at the Stage Door.
The Main Theatre was hosting a sold-out screening of "Festival Express," a documentary that follows a 1970 cross-Canada concert tour featuring The Band, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and others. Instead of traveling by bus or plane, the musicians went from city to city on a private train that quickly became a 40 mph round-the-clock party and jam session.
The entertaining film mixes backstage footage with some truly breathtaking performance footage. Even though they were separated from the musicians by a movie screen and 34 years, the Orpheum audience applauded and cheered the best performances, especially by the fearless, vulnerable Joplin.
Meanwhile, the Stage Door was showing "Charlie," the new biopic on Charlie Chaplin by Time magazine movie critic Richard Schickel. The film looks evenly at both Chaplin's on-screen brilliance and off-screen personal turmoil, culminating when American audiences essentially turned their backs on him after a paternity scandal.
Schickel said that while his film tried to capture all sides of Chaplin's complex nature, the essential Chaplin remains the one seen on screen in "City Lights," "The Kid" and others. Schickel's film featured numerous clips from those classic comedies, which clearly still had the power to make modern audiences laugh.
"There was an unpleasant side to Chaplin, as there always is to people with gigantic egos," Schickel said. "But it doesn't make any difference if he was a nice guy or not. The point is, whatever's up there is what it's all about."
The four-day festival continues today through Sunday, with some standby tickets available at the door for all screenings. For more information, visit www.wifilmfest.org.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times