Friday, July 31, 2009

Major reform needed in funding for public education

It came as a breath of fresh air when the Legislature managed to pass a state budget before the July 1 start of a new fiscal year. After the painfully drawn out process of '08, it was a welcome change.

Unfortunately, that timeliness came at a cost. Namely, a 15% cut in funding to nearly 100 school districts, including Madison. That's $9.8 million dollars lost, and combined with the $2.8 million in other state cuts, we're talking a $12 million reduction for the Madison School District.

According to Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton), this worst case scenario is the result of lawmakers using outdated data to make their funding predictions. They'd originally thought that cuts would be limited to no more than 10%, but just a few days after passing the budget, the Department of Public Instruction "worked up preliminary general school aids figures for the 2009-2010 school year a few days later, about 100 districts wound up with a 15 percent cut."

Not good. Not in the least.

And the news only got more glum after Pope-Roberts added, "I don't think it can be fixed...I think we're going to have to live with it."

As Forward Our Motto pointed out, Pope-Roberts is one of the good ones, working hard for meaningful education funding reform, so hearing the dire news from her may be especially poignant.

Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira has also chimed in to voice her displeasure with the way things were/are decided:
This grim situation is a result of a poor economy, outdated information used by the Legislature, and a Department of Public Instruction policy that penalizes the district for receiving one-time income (TIF closing). Federal stimulus funds will, at best, delay cuts for one year. We are left with a gaping budget deficit when many fiscal decisions for the upcoming school year cannot be reversed.
There are several different theories about what needs to happen for the situation to be improved. Pope-Roberts backs the School Finance Network (SFN), which advocates, among other things:
...increasing categorical aid for children with disabilities and special needs, for small, rural school districts, and for low income students — making the system more equitable while ensuring that all children have the opportunity to learn. The proposal also reconfigures how annual per pupil increases are calculated, moving them from $264 to $350 in year one, and then tying future increases to overall statewide economic growth...The plan increases state aid and expands homestead property tax relief, generating lower property taxes and providing tax relief for homeowners.

The state Legislature has the responsibility to fully fund public education, as mandated by the state’s Constitution. There are many funding options for state leaders to improve our school funding system, including closing corporate tax loopholes, eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for companies that do not keep jobs in Wisconsin, changing the sales tax system, eliminating sales tax exemptions, and adopting strategies to increase federal support for the state.
Holding the Legislature accountable for fixing the system appears to be the most common theme, and indeed, their past insistence on placing caps on revenue for school funding and general disregard for the public system has certainly contributed to the current crisis.

Frankly, I've never understood arguments for less education funding. Most districts do a good job of cutting out waste and programs that don't work--they've had to, as law makers continue to strip resources from them--so we can't readily place all blame on their shoulders.

Unfortunately, then, it is too often our elected representatives who set out to slash costs, seemingly ignoring the short and long term benefits of an educated populace.

And now we may just have a perfect storm on our hands. Years and years of imposed revenue caps now combine with those "accidental" 15% cuts, and all smack dab in the middle of a recession, and it's the children who'll suffer the worst. They're about to lose essential programs (art and music are usually the first to go - but we're talking assistance for those with learning disabilities and after school programs that are often life savers for kids from lower income neighborhoods or troubled home lives).

How do we, as a state, find the money to keep all of these things, to keep up with meal programs and up-to-date textbooks, fixing leaky school buildings, paying good teachers what they're actually worth, etc.?

That's the question, isn't it. Traditionally, school funding is tied to a particular district's property taxes - but what about those areas that are less affluent? Why shouldn't kids from lower income families/neighborhoods get the same quality of education experience as those lucky enough to be born into greater wealth? They should, no question.

And that's where state money is (supposed) to come in. The problems arise when your lawmakers aren't willing to throw down the cold hard cash to keep things equitable. That should be unacceptable, but we in Wisconsin have allowed them to withhold and place limits on what can be raised for going on 15 years now. It's caused a steady and pernicious backslide in our state's national standings in things like per-pupil spending, decreasing our ability to properly meet the needs of all children.

So what do we do?

We hold the Legislature accountable by only electing those representatives who actually see through campaign promises to increase support for public education, work hard on funding reform, and place greater emphasis on the importance of public education.

We then make sure that they have as accurate and up-to-date numbers as possible with which to work when they're crafting the state budget.

We remove and/or ease overly restrictive school funding revenue caps, allowing individual districts to make decisions about how to raise money based on the needs of their areas.

We may even look into refining how property taxes are determined and used (Christian Schneider recently penned a column for WPRI that I thought offered up an intriguing plan regarding taxes, though I don't know enough of the details to say whether or not it might actually work).

Most importantly, we get back to placing a premium on the importance of quality public education in this state (and country, for that matter). Private institutions have their place, but it is crucial that we maintain access to truly great instruction for every child, no matter their financial background, location, or any other factor. Period.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Good groundwater management means saying no to bottled water plant

Crystal Geyser Roxane, a springwater bottling company headquartered in California, wants to build a bottling plant in Marquette County.

Last week, the company met with area environmental groups to lay out their proposal...
...which calls for a 100,000-square-foot bottling plant in the town of Oxford just west of Highway 51 in Marquette County. The company intends to eventually pump as much as 300,000 gallons of water per day or about 240 gallons per minute.

The proposed site is adjacent to a stream called Allen Creek and is surrounded by wetlands. But current groundwater laws would offer little protection to such nearby surface waters, which could be lowered by high-capacity wells.

It's a terrible idea, but then, I think bottled water in general is, with only a few exceptions, a terrible idea. We should be working collectively to protect what is the most precious resource on Earth, making sure that it's available in clean, cheap form to everyone. Instead, the tendency is too often to simply throw up our hands and leave it to the for-profit water companies.

It's the great rip-off. And bottled water isn't even necessarily any better than what comes out of our taps. Since bottled water is regulated by the FDA (and not the EPA, as our municipal taps are), the laws governing its quality are quite different. From a National Resources Defense Council report on the matter:
  • City tap water can have no confirmed E. coli or fecal coliform bacteria. FDA bottled water rules include no such prohibition (a certain amount of any type of coliform bacteria is allowed in bottled water).
  • City tap water, from surface water, must be filtered and disinfected. In contrast, there are no federal filtration or disinfection requirements for bottled water.
  • Most cities using surface water have had to test for Cryptosporidium or Giardia, two common water pathogens that can cause diarrhea and other intestinal problems, yet bottled water companies do not have to do this.
  • City tap water must meet standards for certain important toxic or cancer-causing chemicals, such as phthalate (a chemical that can leach from plastic, including plastic bottles); some in the industry persuaded the FDA to exempt bottled water from the regulations regarding these chemicals.
  • City water systems must issue annual "right to know" reports, telling consumers what is in their water. Bottlers successfully killed a "right to know" requirement for bottled water
In addition, bottled water operations suck groundwater out of communities that could otherwise be managing and using the resources on their own terms.

Which is why I was heartened to read that state legislators are going to be reviewing our groundwater laws, hopefully with an eye toward tightening regulations on high-capacity wells--like what CGR wants to build. These super suckers draw at least 100,000 gallons a day, and no doubt have a detrimental impact on surrounding wetlands, streams, and aquifers.
Water experts, such as George Kraft, who heads the groundwater center at UW-Stevens Point, have estimated that 90 percent or more of the state’s surface waters, including springs, are unprotected from excessive pumping as a result of the weaknesses in the state’s laws.
This is important, because in Wisconsin "70% of residents and 97% of communities rely on groundwater as their drinking water source." I don't think anyone can emphasize enough just how important our access to clean water is, and just how dire the situation is becoming.

Those of us lucky enough to live in the relative affluence of these United States have, for the most part, not yet felt the really negative effects of water strain, but it has already started to creep into the lives of people in places like California or Georgia. And in less developed countries, things are already pretty dire. There are simply too many people using too much water.

We're not in trouble because there's not enough water - we're in trouble because the water has been polluted and wasted by us. Through a combination of smart conservation and higher efficiency standards, plus better regulation of how our water resources are utilized, we can come out on top. I do believe that. But I also believe it's going to take some serious elbow grease and a major shift in perspective to make happen.

One good place to start? Change attitudes about bottled water. It has its place - providing a temporary reprieve for people without access to clean drinking water until such time as the public stuff can be cleaned up. Emergency preparedness and response. As a casual beverage for those with access to good tap water, though? That's just needless--not to mention destructive--decadence. Americans throw away something like 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, so we're talking massive amounts of waste here, too. We can do better.

(photo by AdamCohn on Flickr)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Police acting stupidly? NEVER!*

*Except when they do.

Jon Stewart recently (rightly) pointed out how ridiculous it is that the mainstream media has been focusing so heavily on President Obama's response to one of the final questions he received after his recent press conference pushing health care reform. After all, the purpose of the meeting was supposed to be to put heavier focus on the state of heath care in our country, an incredibly important--and often dire--issue for most, if not all, Americans.

The latest U.S. census placed the number of uninsured Americans at 45 million. 9 million of those uninsured are children. Half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical bills. Three-quarters of those filings are people with health insurance (you can include my own family in that statistic). It goes on and on.

Yet despite all of that, we're bickering about Obama's comments regarding the recent arrest of Harvard history professor Henry Louis Gates at his own home, even after he had presented proper ID to police.

Asked what he thought about the situation, Obama made the perhaps impolitic but no less honest remark that the Cambridge police responsible for the arrest "acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."

Unsurprisingly, a chorus of righteous indignation (mostly by white, conservative voices) has risen to condemn the statement and accuse both Obama and Gates of racism and anti-police sentiment.

The Village Voice has put together an excellent rundown of the frothy-mouthed antics of the rightwing blogosphere here, and I highly suggest taking a look. It does a nice job of highlighting just how outrageous and ridiculous many of the pro-police/anti-Obama arguments are (it even highlights one of the lowlights of the Wisconsin blogosphere, Freedom Eden). One choice example:
Actually, rejoined Debra Moore of Exposing Liberal Lies, that may have been Obama's plan: "Could it be a lingering resentment for white people that Obama has carried since his youth?" She asserts that his book Dreams of My Father proved that "Obama was obsessed with the issue of race. Add that to his twenty years as a student of Jeremiah Wright, and the result is one angry black man. Isn't it interesting that Obama is friends with a Harvard professor who is clearly a racist himself?" (This last bit proven, presumably, by Gates' arrest.)
But something deep down inside tells me that if police came to any of these bloggers' own homes, accused them of breaking into it, asked for their ID, and then insisted on arresting them even after they produced it for "disorderly behaviour", they wouldn't exactly shut up and take it.

And if they did--if they're so unquestioningly loyal to every police officer in the country no matter what--then where on earth do they get off calling themselves patriots? Apparently a police state is no problem so long as it's only used against their political and ideological opponents.

As imprudent as Obama's remarks may have been, I'm still inclined to agree with them. I am not a police hater, and I don't know Sgt. Crowley and therefor cannot pass judgment on his actual character. Still, based off all accounts of the incident, I can say that I think his actions were stupid. A trained police officer should better know how to deal with an instance like this. So Gates was supposedly talking back - he was being (falsely) accused of breaking into his own home and threatened with arrest even after proving he was who he claimed to be! It should be obvious, then, why he might be a little bit annoyed. Arresting him for said annoyance is ridiculous, not to mention illegal.

I have a lot of respect for cops in general for doing a job that is, by all accounts, incredibly difficult and often dangerous. There are, I believe, more fine, upstanding police in this country than not. But I'm also not so naive as to believe that no bad apples, or just apples that sometimes make poor decisions, occasionally make it onto the force.

In fact, I've dealt with them personally over my lifetime. One instance was so abhorrent that it soured me on an entire city's police force for many years, and intensely strengthened my resolve to speak up and act out on improving how sexual assault is dealt with by authorities.

Point is, like any stereotype or generalization, labeling all police officers either perfect and infallible or piggish and fascist is a fool's errand, and one that's liable to lead us toward ruin as a society.

Further, I have no idea if race played a role in this particular incident - but to write off the very possibility is to do a great, ignorant disservice to the hard lessons of our country's history. The sad truth is that we still have a long way to go before anyone can claim that the mistakes of the past have no bearing on our present. It's not "white liberal guilt" to admit to that, either. It's just honesty.

(h/t illusory tenant)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The many untruths and bald lies of Wisconsin Family Action

Wisconsin recently became the first state with a standing constitutional ban on gay marriage to go ahead and enact same-sex domestic partnership rights. Gov. Doyle worked the provision into his 2009 budget, and after a memo from the Legislative Council Staff confirmed that the rights did not give "comprehensive, core aspects of the legal status of marriage to same-sex couples" (and thus did not violate the constitutional amendment), the legislature went ahead and voted it into law.

It's a big step in the right direction, and a most welcome advance after the depressing amendment vote in 2006.

Of course, not content to abide by their own promises or common decency, Wisconsin Family Action decided to file a lawsuit challenging the provision, arguing that it does, in fact, violate the ban by creating something "substantially similar to marriage."

This is funny (not "ha ha" so much as "oh c'MON!") in that several WFA spokespersons, including everyone's favorite closet case Julaine Appling, took great pains to assure the public that the amendment would not negatively affect domestic partnership benefits.

I quote:
Appling also said that the amendment would not jeopardize domestic partner benefits or other legal protections for gay couples and their children.

"That's a smokescreen," she said.
(OWN points out a few other gems of this nature here)

I do not think she knows what that word means. Either that or, gasp! she lied. It's almost as though she and the rest of the WFA cadre were desperate to hide from middle-of-the-road voters the fact that they were simply out to institutionalize discrimination against a particular group of people, rather than just "saving traditional marriage" and all that soundbite-y goodness.

Of course, I doubt very much they really understand much about "traditional marriage," or the great variety of traditions all over the world and throughout history that have governed what marriage is. Heck, Appling herself hasn't ever been married - what does she know about it?

There's all kinds of mind-warping nonsense in this current lawsuit, though. Think about it: Not only does it fly in the face of their repeated statements that the amendment wouldn't be used in exactly this way, but it also makes clear the fact that said amendment was illegal in the first place, in that it contained two separate clauses: one banning gay marriage, the other civil unions, etc. I can only hope that Bill McConkey's lawsuit addressing that very issue is successful.

And there's one other issue here--the WFA is arguing that, as signed into law by Doyle, these domestic partnerships are...
... prohibited by Art. XIII, sec. 13 of the Wisconsin Constitution by creating and requiring recognition of a legal status substantially similar to that of marriage....Such domestic partnerships are entered into by same-sex partners and are officially created and acknowledged in essentially the identical way that marriages are entered into by a man and woman and are officially created and acknowledged.
As far as I can tell, though, couples registering for these benefits will be given only 40 of the 200 main rights enjoyed by straight married couples in Wisconsin. And come federal tax time, the differences will become all the more stark. How in the heck are they identical, then?

They aren't, and gay marriage or domestic partnerships don't harm a soul, but that's not really what the WFA and folks like Appling are really up in arms over. They're ignorant and scared and flailing out against positive change in any way they can conjure up. It's discrimination and disdain at its most ridiculous. Plain and simple.

Further reading: A remarkably thorough run-down of the whole debacle via an AP writer.
Further further reading: A lovely, insightful post about the issue from someone whom it effects directly.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Doyle beats both Republican candidates in magazine poll

I'm not exactly a huge Doyle cheerleader (I cringe every time the man speaks in public, for instance), but I do recognize that, of the current field of candidates for governor, he's still the best choice.

So it's interesting to see that he came out ahead in a recent poll conducted by The Business Journal of Milwaukee, besting both Republican candidates (current Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and Mark Neumann).

It wasn't a huge win in terms of numbers (Doyle took 48% of the votes, Walker 41%, Neumann a blistering 4%), but considering the electorate for this tally was, presumably, made up of mostly business owners and related interested parties, it is a notable result.

According to a memo released by the DPW regarding the poll:
The Republican Party of Wisconsin was out in full force, beginning with a push via Twitter at 9:20 AM on Wednesday - - and then a statewide email action alert (attached) Wednesday afternoon when Gov. Doyle was the clear leader. Their statewide communication prompted a response from the DPW, independent groups and those in the business community wanting their voices heard.
I'm not going to read a whole lot into this lone poll, but neither do I think it should be written off entirely. One of the most frequent accusations leveled against Democrats in general and Doyle in particular by Republicans is that they are not business friendly. Time and time again, charges that Wisconsin has become a hellish pit of high taxes and no rewards for companies come flying fast and furious from some folks on the right.

And yet, survey after survey has shown that taxes almost never rank near the top of a list of concerns for business owners in the state. Companies move here on a regular basis. It isn't to say that everything's hunky dory and there's no room for improvement, but the doom and gloom scenario so often painted by partisans doesn't quite pan out, either.

And can you blame the voters here? Neumann's still pretty unknown, and Walker, where he is known, is most notable for accomplishments like getting the state to strip the county of its role in providing public assistance because of gross negligence and incompetence. That'd be the county he's supposed to be running, by the way.

My only concern here is that Walker showed as well as he did. I attribute some of that to the fact that Doyle has never made for the most exciting candidate, but still. At least he's on track with the high-speed rail project. And frankly, I'd rather Wisconsin be goverened by a herd of spitting llamas than Scott Walker. At least the llamas would get things done. Namely spitting.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Edgewater plans in hot water

I'm a little late to the game here, but I've been in the wild throes of moving to a new homestead in the last week, so I have an excuse.

Anyway, the game I'm a little late to is the debate over the planning process for the proposed Edgewater Hotel expansion and development. It has been fascinating, if somewhat confusing, to watch the slings and arrows being launched back and forth across the ol' interwebs between some of Madison's heaviest hitters.

Isthmus. Brenda Konkel. Paul Soglin. Mayor Dave. All of them have weighed in via the binary to express their concerns and dismissals of others' protestations. It's been a bit like watching a political game of pong.

The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation is gravely concerned about a proposed $107 million expansion of the Edgewater Hotel. And not just about preservation....There may be reasons that the project developer, Hammes Company of Brookfield, is being secretive. It's engaged in what appears to be unreported lobbying. It's created a lobby group to back the project and what seems to be a dummy-front neighborhood organization. It's built questionable alliances with the mayor and Downtown Madison Inc.
So, let's recap. A developer has an idea that will reinvigorate a landmark hotel, add needed rooms to help our tourism and convention industry and bring more resources into the community, add value to bolster city tax rolls, dramatically increase public access to the lake and create lots of jobs. And he had the gall to ask to meet with the mayor to talk about it… several times. Isthmus portrays this as the crime of the century. I guess I was supposed to tell him to take a hike.
Is that a joke? Do people believe that is 225 public meetings about the project? Or is that what they are supposed to believe? Is that how that is going to be spun? I mean, who took the time to count those meetings and for what purpose? I'd be interested in finding out how many of those 225 meetings were with Capital Neighborhoods or the Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association or public meetings.
Opponents to projects are not required to post every meeting and invite the developer. The opponents are not required to open up the discussion every time they meet or place a phone call to an alder.

Hammes spent months quietly seeking support from political and business leaders in the neighborhood, adjusting and refining plans along the way.

But the approach has disturbed some, who say Hammes selectively shared information and hasn’t resolved concerns about the height of the proposed tower, the effect on the nearby Mansion Hill Historic District, the view of Lake Mendota — protected by city ordinance — and traffic, noise and parking concerns.

I'm certainly of the opinion that a lot of transparency is needed when discussing major developments such as this - especially when we're talking about lakeside property. Issues such as erosion and run-off need to be taken into greater consideration when construction is being done right along the water. And I'd hate to see yet another tall building put up along the shore, further obstructing public views and access to the lake that are already severely limited.

Just as troubling, however, are those 225 meetings Konkel mentioned in her post and further scrutinized by Isthmus. Mayor Dave did little to directly address the concerns that were raised about alleged unregistered lobbying time, opting instead to simply brush off all concerns with a casual dismissal.

I honestly couldn't tell you what the truth is or whether or not anything truly nefarious is going on behind closed doors. What I can say is that the various parties involved in the process are handling things pretty poorly. Urban infill projects like the Edgewater have a great deal of potential in helping to cut down on sprawl, provide mixed-use space, and bring in more jobs and revenue. I'm all for that. But you can't just throw those words out into the aether and hope they'll stick without doing due diligence.

That is, make the process open to public input from the start. No quiet deals. Adhere to well-established and beneficial statutes that regulate the height of downtown buildings, greener building techniques, and public access to the lake shore. Madison has a pretty decent history of doing just that, and it's made this the city that I fell in love with after just 5 minutes of my first visit back in '99. I'd hate to see that ethic chipped away at.

And for heaven's sake, regardless of how you feel about people's opinions on the matter, don't simply toss their concerns aside without adequately explaining yourself. I suspect that most of the involved players want what's best for the neighborhood and the city. We can only get that by being more honest with one another.

(photo by readerwalker on Flickr)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Malt House, neighborhood, loses out to big developer

Want a great, if infuriating, example of why we're in our current economic mess? Look no further than the current trials and tribulations of Madison's own Malt House, a craft beer bar located at the corner of E. Washington and Milwaukee St.

The establishment's owner, Bill Rogers, very much wanted to add a little bit of outdoor seating for his patrons--three picnic tables and two chairs. Seems straight-forward enough, right? But unfortunately for Rogers, in order to get permission from the city for said seating, the adjacent parking lot, which is in considerable disrepair, would need to be re-paved. The cost of such work is estimated at about $5,000, a prohibitively large sum for a small business owner.

The City Plan Commission has been wrestling with this question, certain members trying to find a work-around so the Malt House could go ahead with the seating without having to re-pave, for a little while now. On Monday night, however, the final decision came down: they "OK’d a conditional use permit for outdoor seating at the Malt House but failed to lift a requirement that an adjacent gravel parking lot be repaved."

No dice.

It'd be easy enough to get angry at the Plan Commission for jerking around a small business owner on an issue that seems, at a glance, to be fairly cut-and-dry. It's just a few picnic tables placed on a cement slab, after all. No trees would be uprooted, no sight-lines interrupted. In fact, the Malt House is one of the few establishments along that corridor doing its level best to bring economic development and stability--especially since the vaunted Union Corners project that had been planned for the area was stalled when the economy took its turn for the terrible.

And that's where attention really ought to be focused. The Union Corners development was and is run by McGrath Associates, the Madison-based company that's also in charge of things like the Nolan Shore condos. Malt House owner Rogers has offered to buy the empty lot in question from them, but McGrath is apparently still holding out hope that Union Corners will rise from the dead and apparently isn't willing to sell.

In the meantime, a gaping hole in the city's landscape remains, and the one business that's actually working through the recession is getting slapped around for trying to do the right thing--not by the Plan Commission, which is simply doing its job by following the letter of the law, frustrating as it is--but rather by McGrath Associates.

The story has become all-too common. Individuals and developers got carried away in the building boom, working fast and hard to throw up as many buildings and make as much money as possible without much regard for solid, sustainable planning or realistic pricing. Somewhat predictably, everything eventually crumbled down around them, but instead of facing the facts, many of them are holding out hope that they can still make the money they promised themselves back in the halcyon days--instead of accepting their losses and moving on. And by not moving on, they often screw over those business people who are actually interested in doing something productive with the land.

It was and is that kind of hubris and poor planning that got us into this mess, and now it's helping to keep us down in it. Banks that won't let short-sales go through so that homes just end up going to rot, developers that stubbornly hold onto property even as it sits idle and molders. What good is that doing anyone? Instead of desperately clinging to the notion that everything will just go back to how it was Before, we need to take action to actually improve upon how these things are done--so that responsible businesses can go on being responsible, and so that we can avoid situations like this in the future.

Friday, July 3, 2009

72 hours of Wis-Kino

(cross-posted from

I've been participating in Wis-Kino's 48-hour "Kabarets" for quite a few years now, always enjoying the sense of urgency and rampant creativity involved in making a short film in just two days. I've liked it so much, in fact, that last year I volunteered to become one of the group's co-directors (along with Josh Klessig), taking over after founding directors Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda decided to spend more time focused on their other filmmaking activities.

We've since streamlined things so that, instead of monthly screenings and Kabarets, Wis-Kino is just focusing on the big events. We're throwing three Kabarets each year (the one in May went spectacularly well), with the next one coming up this month. Only, we've got a little something special in store for this particular Kabaret. Instead of giving people the usual 48 hours in which to kill themselves making a movie, we've expanded it (one time only!) to run for three whole days.

The idea is that the added time will give filmmakers 1) time to make more than one film, or 2) more time to make just the one. It also means actors and other interested parties can potentially work on more than one person's film. Super cool! Or at least, we think so. And this is me, formally extending the invitation to come check things out if you haven't already.

Kabarets are great opportunities for both amaetuer and more experienced film lovers to test their mettle, get the creative juices flowing, and just have fun. Want to direct something but are lacking actors or technical help? Want to act in something or offer your sound/lighting/etc. expertise but lack a camera and a particular vision?

Whatever the case, show up to the Kabaret kick-off screening on Thursday, July 16th and we'll do our level best to get you connected with the people who can get you involved in a project. We'll provide a sign-up sheet where you can leave your name, contact info, and area of interest - and then others can look things over to see if you've got what they're looking for. We'll also use the kick-off screening to, well, screen some movies! We invite anyone who has a 5-minute or shorter film to bring it along to show, regardless of its theme (no porn, obviously--see submission guidelines here).

At the end of the screening, we'll have interested filmmakers pick their "secret ingredient" (a word, theme, or prop that must be incorporated into their movie in some way) and then set them all loose for the weekend! On Sunday, July 19th, we'll meet back up to view the fruits of everyone's labors.

What's even cooler? This all happens at the fabulously shiny Sundance Cinemas out at Hilldale Mall. The kick-off screening will be held in their North Lounge, and the final Kabaret showing will be in one of the big theatres. See your work on the silver screen! Both events start at 7:00p.m. - the first won't cost you a dime (we take donations, though), and the final screening just costs $5 (for both filmmakers and casual fans--no extra fee to make a movie!).

We're working on some very fine incentives for making films, as well as providing free, rental camera equipment and editing help for those who need it, so expect announcements about that soon.

In the meantime, I'd like to share a handful of past Kabaret films to whet your appetite. These were all made in just 48 hours! One for now, more to follow in the coming days....

(Film made by Craig Knitt and Tony Mayer for the Fall 2009 Kabaret)
The Lost Albatross