Some of the world’s finest filmmakers, films and documentaries have come together at the University of Wisconsin this week to celebrate the 14th annual Wisconsin Film Festival.
Presented by UW’s Arts Institute and the Department of Communication Arts, the Wisconsin Film Festival gathers together the latest efforts in cinematography, writing and restoration to showcase these works for the public to see and enjoy. More than 150 films are presented in just a five-day period, including several rare restorations — such as Milos Forman’s first American film, “Taking Off” — as well as special celebrity events.
One of the films in the running, celebrating its world premiere, is a documentary travelogue by Sabine Gruffat, a former UW Communication Arts faculty member who took some time to talk to The Badger Herald. The film, titled “I Have Always Been a Dreamer,” compares two urban areas — Detroit and Dubai— and seeks to “question the collective ideologies that shape the physical landscape and impact local communities,” according to the official festival page.
Gruffat’s travelogue is the latest in a long series of films and documentaries that bear her name. Throughout her career, she estimates that she’s created at least 15 short films, the majority of which have been screened at festivals.
Gruffat’s latest work was created to satisfy her curiosity with the outside world, she said. As a resident of Detroit, the world outside the United States fascinated her.
“There was this notion of the United States being a first world country,” she explained. “Meanwhile, the global money is completely shored up in small independent states in the Middle East.”
The world economy was in the middle of an all-time high in 2007 — when Gruffat started planning her documentary — but she had yet to see the effects in her hometown of Detroit, which provided an inspiration.
“I was reading the New York Times and seeing how it was affecting the other parts of the world,” she recounted. “Especially in Dubai — this new place where everything was being built and highly developed. Some of the things they were building seemed to be just fantasies.”
Although the film started out as an idea to compare and contrast the two economies, global circumstances forced her to change the theme several times, she said.
“The film actually changed a lot while shooting it,” she said. “It was kind of unusual.”
One of the biggest changes she was forced to make had to do with the popping of the economic bubble late last decade.
“In 2009, [the world economy] went bust,” Gruffat said. “Because of all that, the film takes a different shape as changes occur.”
“I went into [the project] thinking that Dubai was the flip side of the same coin,” she confessed of her idea of Detroit and Dubai. “Somehow they’re very similar in that they’re both boom and bust economies. They’re not diversified — they have one thing that makes it run, and if that moves away they don’t have other things they can fall back on.”
Now “I Have Always Been a Dreamer” focuses on the theme of economic monocultures, with Dubai’s tourism industry and Detroit’s industrial economy compared to each other.
Although she was forced to change the meaning of the documentary several times during production, she maintained that in the end, it was a benefit: “It’s interesting to me now, to take a look at a period I was shooting and track the entire economic recession,” Gruffat explained. “It’s not what I intended when I first started making that movie.”
“I Have Always Been a Dreamer” is just one of several dozen films to be presented during the course of the Wisconsin Film Festival, which runs until Sunday, April 22. Tickets can be purchased at the main festival box office in the Memorial Union for $8 ($5 with a valid student ID). Sabine Gruffat’s “I Have Always Been a Dreamer” will be screened April 21.