An Old Fashioned Night at the Movies

WAA opens Film Fest with a look at supper club culture.

There was no velvet rope or red carpet, no searchlights or paparazzi, but for the evening of April 8, Union South did its best impression of Hollywood. Madison’s movie mavens turned out for a sneak preview of the Wisconsin Film Festival, as the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) hosted the world premiere of one of the entries, Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club.

Nearly 200 people attended the free event, which included a reception before the film played in Union South’s Marquee Theater. Director Holly De Ruyter answered questions from movie buffs, as did the film fest’s program director, Jim Healy.

“I’m excited and a little nervous,” De Ruyter said before her film showed, noting that this was the first time anyone but the film’s crew had seen the picture.

Though De Ruyter currently lives in Illinois, she was born in Oneida, Wisconsin, and has always been fascinated with the culture of her native state. She first conceived of the idea to make a documentary about Wisconsin supper clubs while she was a college student in Chicago and discovered that the language and customs of the city were very different from her home.

“Initially I just wanted to make a short,” she says. “But over time, it grew. Supper clubs are such visual things. They have a lot of neon, a lot of individuality. A lot of them are mom-and-pop operations. They’re very true to small towns.”

Ultimately, the film grew to a running time of 50 minutes. De Ruyter and her then-fiancée, Brian Rissalada, spent six years shooting footage, and they even held their wedding at a supper club — the Lake House Inn in Edgerton, Wisconsin.

Now in its 17th year, the Wisconsin Film Festival is presented by UW-Madison’s Arts Institute and Department of Communication Arts. With 150 films shown over the course of a week, the festival packs theaters throughout downtown Madison.

Old Fashioned was chosen as part of the festival’s Wisconsin’s Own selection, a set of films with connections to the Badger State, and it’s proven to be a surprise attraction. According to Healy, the film had been scheduled for two showings in addition to the preview, but both sold within two days of when the schedule was announced. The festival added a third showing, and it sold out as well.

The Wisconsin Film Festival officially opened April 9 and ends April 16.