WUD Film screens wonderful films from Marquee film festival

"Only Yesterday" by Isao Takashata was featured at the film festival. 

The Marquee International Film Festival arrived this past weekend, hosted by the WUD Film Committee. Each day was packed with spectacular films from more than 25 countries that spanned an array of genres and storylines to give viewers a taste of what these diverse perspectives have to offer. This was also the first time WUD Film has hosted this type of film festival, and in my eyes, it was a successful event that I hope to see more of in the future.

The screenings kicked off Thursday night with the Colombian drama “Embrace of the Serpent.” The film weaves together two stories, one centered on explorer Theodor Koch-Grunberg in 1909 and the other on biologist Richard Evans Schultes 30 years later, as they both search the Amazon for an elusive, sacred plant called “yakruna.” The thread connecting these arcs is the character Karamakate, a native shaman who guides each man on his path. There are parts of this quasi-biopic that feel stagnant, and while the respective storylines are meant to resonate with one another, there are points when those arcs overlap a little too much. However, the film itself is visually stunning. It is shot entirely in black and white, which I thought was an interesting choice given that the Amazonian setting could offer a rich color-palette. But, this artistic decision actually worked very well by emphasizing the historical setting. The black-and-white contrasts also thematically mirror the discrete nature of each storyline. These visuals and well-acted performances are enough to make up for the less engaging plotline.

Following this was the screening of “Only Yesterday,” a Japanese animated film from Studio Ghibli. After hearing that Daisy Ridley of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had done the English dub of protagonist Taeko, I was already on board before the movie even began. This was also my first experience with Studio Ghibli—having heard excellent things about the studio in the past—and “Only Yesterday” did not disappoint. It centers around Taeko, a woman working in Tokyo who takes a trip to the rural countryside. During her journey, the film toggles back and forth between present day and Taeko as a young girl. In doing so, the story embraces themes of childhood, nostalgia and love. Daisy Ridley is joined by Dev Patel, who voices Toshio. Toshio is a friend and eventual love interest to Taeko, and together they contribute to a thoughtful and humorous film that had me and the enthusiastic audience completely engaged from start to finish.

Another film that premiered in Madison was “A Syrian Love Story,” a documentary by Sean McAllister that captures the journey of a family plagued by the devastations of the Syrian civil war, and their efforts to reach freedom. Parents Raghda and Amer are two freedom fighters who met in prison, and McAllister dives into their story and the effects of war on their entire family. It is one thing to hear about statistics or distant stories of the wreckage on the news, but to connect with these Syrian refugees on a personal level outlines the brutal reality of their situation. The civil war quite literally tears this family apart as Raghda wishes to stay and help defend her people, while Amer wants to move to safety. While the film ends on a more hopeful note, it is undeniable that these scars may never fully heal. McAllister does a heartbreakingly emotional job in documenting the story, making for a solemn but necessary watch.

Screenings like these serve as a reminder of the expansive amount of stories open to us when we expose ourselves to a wider blend of filmmaking and genres. Every person from every culture has his or her own story to tell, and the fact that it can come in so many different forms is a fascinating and refreshing sight. The selections of screenings by the WUD Film Committee highlighted these ideas well, and the festival is something I hope can continue.

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