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Riverwest Film and Video

by Kevin Flaherty / photograph by Peter DiAntoni

Xavier (“Xav”) Leplae opened his film and equipment rental store on Locust Street in the fall of 1998 after the film co-op associated with UWM’s Film Department folded. Listening to Leplae explain his motives, it’s clear his decision to open the store was less entrepreneurial than a desire to keep alive a creative, collaborative environment for film and video in Milwaukee. Leplae, 36, a serious man with glasses and a GI Joe beard, has been making movies for years. His labor-of-love effort, I’m Bobby, an abridged adaptation of an Indian Bollywood classic from the early 1970s, is scheduled to show at the first Milwaukee Film Festival to be held this November. The filmmaker made three trips to India to complete the film. Leplae’s film, re-enacted by kids he enlisted off the streets of Bombay and Goa, tells a sort of Romeo & Juliet story that portrays the generation gap between young people and their parents. Leplae also helped put out a book of his father’s comic artistry called Wartime & Playtime. A short animation adaptation by Leplae of this work was recently featured at Woodland Pattern Book Center. As visitors to Locust Street Days this year may have noticed, Riverwest Film & Video now offers videos and some DVDs for rent. Just as the film business opened around the time a similar business failed, so too did the video-rental business’s opening coincide with the demise of a local store, Video Visions in the Prospect Mall. Frankie Latina, 24, an energetic, solicitous young filmmaker with slacker good looks, has split the video business responsibilities with Leplae. Though 12 years apart in age, the business partners appear to have an easy-going relationship. Latina met Leplae four years ago, when he was looking for Super 8 film for a camera. The one-price-fits-all ($3.50 for three nights of video rental) and storefront location may remind some people of the early days of video stores, before Blockbuster and Hollywood Video changed the landscape with their massive stores and endless displays of wares drenched in fluorescent light. The pair have more modest goals, hoping to rent at least 30 videos a day, which — at $3.50 a pop — seems a modest goal of less than $40,000 a year in gross video rental income. They already have 2,000 videos in stock (only a fraction of which are displayed in the customer area) and aspire to grow the inventory to 10,000 videos. The pair say customers are primarily from the area, and are most typically couples looking for something to do on an off-weather weekend night. A video renter just needs a Visa or MasterCard credit or debit card to open an account at the store. Super 8 and 16mm film and video are available for sale, as are film reels and cores, splicing tapes, tripods, and many movie-making essentials. Behind the video displays and counter is a high-ceilinged room with walls adorned with Leplae’s mask collection. A large kitchen table with a mix of vinyl chairs is in the middle of the room for friends of Leplae or Latina to hang out in. Leplae was cooking spinach and watching an old Sophia Loren movie when I entered the store and, during the hour I was there, numerous visitors came and went through the pseudo community room. Downstairs from the store and “hangout” room, is the film and video editing equipment and a low-key recording and band practice area. Four or five bands currently rehearse in the space. Leplae says that the video editing equipment can be rented for “probably the best price you could find in Milwaukee…the highest we would charge is about $50 an hour.” Leplae is happy to help newcomers unfamiliar with the equipment. Jeremy Bessoss, a video maker who lives on the 2600 block of Pierce, has visited the store both to buy film and rent videos. Asked why he gets his film there, Bessoss answered simply, “It’s the only place you can, aside from ordering on the Internet.” He likes the video portion of the store not only because he can walk there, but because, as he says, “They’ve got a selection of videos you can’t get anywhere else; [they carry] sort of obscure stuff, individual amateur films.” Leplae wants the neighborhood to know that if they do not carry a particular film, they can order virtually any film in the world. Unprompted, Bessoss concurs: “What’s great is, if you can’t find it, he can probably figure out how to get it.” Ultimately, both Latina and Leplae see their embryonic business as a chance to fund their independent movie efforts. Even if the business never produces the cash to outright pay for production costs, some of the necessary equipment for filmmaking is always within easy reach and the store enmeshes them in a creative community of artists and musicians with whom to potentially collaborate. Riverwest Film & Video is located at 820 E. Locust Street. The store is open seven days a week from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Mondays are a “two-for-one” video rental special. Xav and Frankie may be reached at the store at (414) 265-8433. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 8 – August 2003