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WisFilmFest2007: Schabow on "Chalk"

Post by Adam Schabow on 4/13/2007 4:32pm

chalk041307.jpgMy Dad used to tell me as a kid not to "bite off more than you can chew." Of course, I took that advice as an excuse to ignore my studies when growing up.

Now that I am older and slightly wiser, I find myself striving against that concept my father warned me of. I love being busy and I love when my hands are in too many different cookie jars. I was reminded of that simple thought about myself last night when juggling watching movies from the film festival, playing a show with my band The Shabelles at the Dane101 birthday party (cheap plug) and rushing home to get this article completed on time for the editor before heading to my day job.

Clearly I enjoy rushing around, which makes my love for movies truly odd. After all, movies are designed for you to sit down, relax and escape. So when I'm not running around or at work, I am watching movies ... period.

I love all kinds of movies, from bloody horror to historical documentaries, from crazy bombastic action to su bdued, quiet dramas, from Roger Corman '70s trash to Russ Meyer '70s trash - it's all good. Of course, I know I'm not alone and this notion is nothing special or new, because to some extent everyone loves diversity in their movies. I think that is the reason why the Wisconsin Film Festival has become such an event in Madison: it's the eclectic range of well-made films.

Of course, Meg Hamel (the only full time employee) does an excellent job planning the festival and making sure everything runs smoothly, with the assistance of the part-time workers and volunteers who also do a superb job. But let's be honest, it comes down to the movies. And last night, I saw two of them.

The first was a comedy called Chalk, a mockumentary that follows the lives of teachers throughout one school year. Of course, it is reminiscent of the Christopher Guest movies ( Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, etc.) and British television shows like "The Office" or "Extra," but without relying on setups or a big third act . Chalk instead relies on taming things down a bit and making the jokes about the moment rather than the story line. I later learned that many of the filmmakers and writers were teachers that used their real experiences and students in the film . It's noticeable and truly adds to the realism and "uncomfortable pleasure" moments throughout.

While watching Chalk and enjoying the performances by the two female leads, I thought to myself how this new trend of mockumentary formats is great for women. After all, since the style is primarily improvisational, the performance and dialogue are based more on them doing what they want to do rather than being chained down to some Hollywood script, subjected to playing "the love interest" or "the fat friend of the love interest." To me there is nothing sexier than a funny woman, which explains my love affair with Catherine O'Hara, Diane Keaton and Sarah Vowell.

The film does drag at times, usually when the movie veers away from what it is. How can you have a dream sequence if it's supposed to be a documentary? And do we really need two different musical montages? But those are minor flaws towards a genuinely funny movie that had me reliving a year of high school without having to, thankfully, relive a year of high school.

Also, I was extremely happy with the filmmakers' decision to end the film without answering all the questions posed. What happened to all the teachers? Not sure ... but I do know that it is not the filmmakers' responsibility or right to tell me. I want to decide that for myself.

As of right now, the filmmakers are in negotiations to make Chalk into a 30-minute television show.

Adam Schabow

Business Committee Member, Contributing Writer

Besides being on the Dane101 Business Committee and writing for Dane101, Adam Schabow is also a musician and frontman for two local pop groups, The Shabelles ( and The Kites. Currently, he the co-creator and co-host of the local Madison internet talk show "DrunkDial101" ( with fellow Dane101 contributor Joshua James.

Adam is also working on a musical called "Eat the Truth" and a documentary about dumpster diving called "Trashed". He was previously the local film critic for The Wisconsinite.

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