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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Notbohm: Film a ‘capitol’ idea

When Brent Notbohm wrote the script for the movie
“Madison,” a good part of it wasn’t at a computer. After scribbling
ideas or dialogue in his notebook, he admits his best work happened without
trying. Little did he know his random bursts of inspiration would earn the
Juror’s Choice Award in this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival.

“When I’m making a film, it often starts with me being
pissed off at something,” said Notbohm, a University of Wisconsin-Superior
communications professor. “I was really upset about the war in Iraq and
felt helpless. Like I couldn’t make a difference. I was frustrated by my
ineptitude — that I could stand by and watch and do nothing about it. In my
own way, the only thing I could do is tell a story expressing that feeling, and
that’s where the film comes from.”

The film premiered Saturday night to a sold-out crowd in the
Chazen Museum of Art. Produced entirely in Madison, the film follows Michael, a
middle-aged journalist, in his return after four years of covering the war in
Iraq. While the horrors of war still haunt him, he attempts to recapture the
idealism he felt as a University of Wisconsin student.

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According to Notbohm, 38, Madison was an obvious place to
film. Although he attended Syracuse University, he actually grew up in the
Madison area and spent most high school weekends on State Street. After
countless billiards games in the Plaza Tavern and his introduction to punk
music, Madison became the birthplace of Notbohm’s own political awakening, he
said.

“I always associated Madison with political activism
and awareness, which is idealistic and powerful to me,” Notbohm said.
“That’s the heart of the film. The central dichotomy is between cynicism
and idealism. You could think that there are bad things in the world with
nothing to do to change them, or a difference can be made if we fight, protest
and organize.”

According to Jim DeVita, an American Player’s Theatre actor
who plays Michael, the film questions how people act on their own idealism. As
his character struggles to balance his experience in war with everyday life, he
is unable to remain objective as a journalist, he said.

“We’re all confronted with cynicism, but what happens
when your faith in ideals come face to face with horror and reality?”
DeVita said. “Do you stay committed to your perception or change it?
Changing doesn’t always mean giving up your ideals. Sometimes you have to see
what’s really before you.”

According to Notbohm, the film’s signature scene is a wintry
shot of the Memorial Union Terrace. As Michael gazes at the desolate Lake
Mendota, he remembers a hopeful conversation about changing the world. While
the winter landscape reflects the character’s emotional state, it also
represents a cold version of the desert surrounding Baghdad.

“The whole film was basically shot in under two
weeks,” Notbohm said. “We thought we were in trouble because, until
the second week of January, there was no snow at all. … When we finally shot
[the Terrace scene], there were a couple of ice fishermen out there, so we
bought them a 12-pack of beer, and they moved about 100 feet down the
shoreline,” he said.

Other scenes around Madison include the Plaza Tavern, where
DeVita recalls countless late nights eating plaza burgers or shooting pool
until bar time, as well as the University Inn and the Triangle Market. The tie
to the downtown area promised a positive turnout among longtime Madison
residents and UW students, as both crowds appreciated the familiar scenery.

“It’s interesting. [Notbohm] picked the locations that
I would pick for a film,” said Jennifer Hawkins, a student at Madison Area
Technical College who grew up in Madison. “There are people I want to show
this movie to. This is my city.”

Some viewers, like UW graduate student Beth Zinsli,
considered the location less relevant to the film’s message.

“[‘Madison’] offers a different perspective than what
you would normally get from mainstream media,” she said. “It’s a more
personal perspective on what’s happening in the Middle East and the people
there. It’s a really beautiful personal story. Painful, but very
personal.”

Despite the script’s political message, Notbohm hopes his
viewers will gain a more emotional approach to the war in Iraq — a connection
he believes is numbed by corporate news coverage. It’s easy to get caught in
victory and death counts, but there are people there who face the daily pain of
living and dying, he said.

“[‘Madison’] is completely individual,” DeVita
said. “Each person that comes to the show will bring their own worldview,
experience and age — certainly their own ideas about the war.”

According to Notbohm, the production team plans to hire a
distribution representative and possibly enter more film festivals. Locally,
“Madison” will play at Sundance Cinemas beginning April 24.

“Hopefully, the people of Wisconsin will get a
chance to see the film,” Notbohm said. “We’ll have to see where it
goes from here. This is underground cinema. I just want to be able to make
films. We’ll play it as long as people come and see it.”

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