Convention Memories: The Bill Rebane Film Festival 2005

Rebane fest posterBack on our old site, there is probably close to a hundred different convention reports, or film fests, and whatnot. I used to post on those religiously, but after doing so many, it started to become tiresome because a lot of them started to sound the same. As well as some of the shows becoming more and more overpriced autograph shows, it was getting even hard to not be negative all the time. There are a ton of photos posted of many different celebrities that we’ve seen over the years. I thought about bringing them over to the new site, but haven’t completely decided on that just yet. But there are a few that I will be bringing over, such as this one, mainly because this is quite different than most of the conventions and film fests that I’ve been do over the last 20 years. Hope you enjoy!

I don’t remember the exact date, but it was early in 2005, but I remember calling my good friend Eric Ott with some exciting news. I had known Eric for maybe 10 years, and had never known anybody that was a bigger fan of the work on Wisconsin filmmaker Bill Rebane than him. Most notably for making The Giant Spider Invasion (1975), but Rebane had directed about 10 films throughout his career. Eric was always on the lookout for VHS tapes of his movies, as well as posters, and any other material from his work, even scoring some 16mm prints over the years. So when I read online that in Madison, Wisconsin, there was going to be an actual Bill Rebane Film Festival, and that Mr. Rebane himself was going to be there, I quickly called Eric to tell him that no matter what he had planned on May 7th, he was going to have to cancel it. Because we were going to make a road trip up to Madison for this.


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So the early morning on May 7th, I headed north to Antioch to pick up Eric. Then we headed to Franklin, WI, to pick up another friend, Dave Kosanke, esteemed editor of Liquid Cheese magazine, who was also as excited about the event as we were about this unbelievable event. Now it wasn’t that we didn’t think that Rebane deserved a film fest all to his own. We just didn’t there was enough people besides us that would come out to celebrate this cult director. And unfortunately, we were right. But more on that in a bit.

The 2-day festival was being held at the Orpheum Theatre, which was simple incredible. This is one of those old school theaters that is just beautiful and one that you don’t see that often anymore. It would hold up to 1800 people and even had 2 balconies! There was even a small restaurant right inside the lobby! It’s a real shame that these types of theaters are a dying breed.

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The event was hosted by Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy from Mystery Science Theater, and the reception was supposed to start at 4pm. We got there sometime around 3pm or so, thinking that we wanted to make sure we beat any kind of line. No worries there. I’m terrible with counting crowds, but I don’t think there were more than 20 people milling about waiting for the doors to open. And I think most of them were there to see the MST guys. Once the doors opened, we started to file inside. They had tables set up down by the stage, where Nelson, Murphy, and Rebane were sitting, willing to sign whatever the fans brought up to them. As I thought, most of the people here were getting MST stuff signed. So we went right up to Rebane to get our posters and stuff signed by him. He was very friendly and seemed happy that he was getting to sign some items! After that, we sat down for the start of the first film.

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By this time the first feature started, I’d say the people count had raised to maybe 70 or so. First up was Wisconsin Movie Scrapbook, which was a new documentary about Rebane and his films. Most of the footage was just clips from his movies, but there were a few interviews and behind-the-scenes clips, which really did give you a feel of what this filmmaker was going through during his long career. It also included a clip from the hilarious pilot he did for British TV that never got picked up for some reason. It was called Grin and Bear It, that has to be seen to believe. It’s a ’40s style detective show with a Charles Bronson lookalike playing detective Fritz Schlitz. His partner Bud, is a bear. And by bear, I mean a guy in a bear costume, the kind you’d see at an amusement park, but playing it like he’s a real bear. When him and Schlitz show up at a bar, both wearing suits, well… take a look at this clip to see what I’m talking about.

While the documentary did run two hours long and felt a wee bit long, it was pretty entertaining and got to see a lot of fun clips.

There was a short break after the documentary before the next feature, which was going to be The Giant Spider Invasion. At this time, Murphy & Nelson brought out Rebane to do a little Q&A with the audience. Joining him were some cast members from some of his movies: Paul Bentzen from The Giant Spider Invasion (1975), Jim Iaquinta from Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1981), and Lori Minnetti from Blood Harvest (1987), which was being called Nightmare, which was a re-edited version being screened at this festival.  They also answered a few questions about working with Rebane and on low budgets. This part was a lot of fun, getting to hear from not only Rebane, but also the cast, hearing some great stories.

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Once the next feature started, my excitement dwindle a bit. Giant Spider is probably my favorite of Rebane’s films and I find it entertaining each and every time. But this screening was from a DVD projection and the quality wasn’t the greatest. Just not that sharp of a picture. But it was still cool to see it on the big screen at this old theater. After the movie, there was another Q&A with Rebane and his actors.

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By the time the final feature of the night started, I think the crowd had whittled back down to about 20 people. Kind of sad, really. The movie was Blood Harvest (1987), now being called Nightmare, which was a newly edited version which was missing some footage from the original version. I’m guessing there might have been an issue with ownership of the original film, so this “new” version was created. If you’re not familiar with this movie, if it wasn’t for one of the main cast, it would be your standard ’80s slasher film. Not bad, but nothing special. But what sets it apart is that the one and only Tiny Tim is playing the Marvelous Mervo, who used to be a clown but let’s just say some of his balloons are fully blown up. And he’s in this clown makeup pretty much the whole movie. Not really sure if Tiny Tim was really acting, reading the script or just going off on his own, but he definitely is one strange character here, which just fits perfectly in this film. So for his performance alone, it is worth seeking it out. But even more disturbing than the movie were some of the stories that actress Lori Minnetti (pictured below) told the audience of what it was like working with Tiny Tim. Yikes.

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After this film ended, it was time to call it a night. We had already been there 9 hours, were more than a little tired and still had a 2 hour drive back. They were screening another 5 or 6 films on Sunday, which we actually debated coming back for. But we didn’t want to have a Rebane-overdose! Kind of regret it because Rana was one of the films they were screening, but I could only assume it would be another DVD projection.

So all in all, we did have a great time. While it was a little depressing to see the small turnout, it was still worth the trip. I had the rare opportunity to meet a legendary cult director, so that really made it more than worthwhile. Plus, we discovered that we’d been miss-pronouncing his name all these years. It’s pronounced re-BANE, not RE-bane. Learn something new every day!

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