The Wisconsin Historical Museum has scheduled a screening of Wisconsin film, “Cheeseheads: The Documentary,” followed by a Q&A session with the director, John Mitchell for Wednesday, Nov. 1.
Mitchell debuted the documentary in 2015, and has scheduled screenings of the movie across the state in the years since its release.
The film explores the Wisconsin identity through an assortment of interviews, customs and anecdotes. Through dissecting the state’s culture, the documentary attempts to both define what a “cheesehead” is, and explore the different ideas and connotations that word holds.
From sports fans to Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppelar to Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, Mitchell generated a diverse definition of the Wisconsin identity through his interview subjects’ voices.
Mitchell grew up in northern Wisconsin in a town called Cameron. While he was a particularly shy kid, he found his voice in writing early on.
“I was always the little kid in the back of the class telling my buddy a joke, and he’d say it out to the class and they’d all laugh. So I was like, ‘oh, I guess I’m not meant to be a standup comedian, I’m meant to be a writer.’ You know, the guy behind the scenes,” Mitchell said.
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In sixth grade, Mitchell wrote his first play, a short science fiction story based on the “Buck Rogers” television series.
After performing it for the class, Mitchell realized how much he enjoyed making others laugh through his jokes.
“And for me, that was like a moment where I said ‘I made somebody laugh. I want to write,'” Mitchell said.
Mitchell soon realized his natural affinity for writing in high school, as he excelled in all English studies and literature courses and set his sights on a career of entertaining others.
While Mitchell has spent a great deal of time away from the state since his childhood, he always carried hometown pride and identity with him.
“When I would move to another city, whether it was in Oklahoma or California or anywhere else, I still always identified as a Wisconsinite, just proudly from the Midwest. The dairy state, the ‘cheesehead’ state,” Mitchell said. “And it’s something I never got rid of, never could.”
At 22, Mitchell sought out to chase his dream of being a filmmaker by moving to the west coast. In California, a majority of the people he met were not native Californians, but instead were people who moved there like him. However, many didn’t express the same pride or unified identity with their home state as Mitchell felt he did for Wisconsin.
Guided by his experiences living in other states, one purpose guiding the film, according to Mitchell, was to correct misconceptions on what it means to be a “cheesehead.”
Mitchell recalled wearing his “cheesehead” hat around L.A. and being ridiculed by friends. Mitchell noticed that from an outside perspective, many people didn’t understand that the identity was much deeper than just being a fan of a sports team.
“They didn’t really understand the deeper aspects to it, the cultural aspects to it,” Mitchell said.
While the film revolves heavily on the support of Wisconsin’s beloved team, the Packers, it is not a film solely about football.
After about two to three months of researching, Mitchell created a loose outline of what he envisioned the film would be. Mitchell based this both on parts of the state that he personally loved, and things he wanted to learn more about.
“Yes, I’m a loyal Packers fan, I do own stock, but the film isn’t about the Packers,” Mitchell said. “That’s just the impetus: What inspired the film was tailgating.”
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However, this vision was altered over time, as his interview subjects guided the project.
Mitchell expressed excitement in returning to Madison, a city that is heavily featured throughout scenes of the film.
“To consider locally what Madison’s all about, I was so enamored by Madison when I first arrived that there’s a lot of it in the film,” Mitchell said. “To me, it feels like if I had to pick to live in one place, it would be Madison. I just love that town.”
The film screening at the Wisconsin Historical Museum will begin with a pre-show meet and greet at 5:30 p.m. Tickets cost $5.