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The Act of ExplorationMaking Movies in Riverwest

Brady

by Jason Hartt

The day I talked to Xavier Leplae, he was getting ready for another trip to India. Leplae, the owner of Riverwest Film and Video, was diving into the unknown – he was going to India to shoot a film, but didn’t know exactly who would be on camera. A Bombay talent agency was lining up a varied group of performers whose acts he would film for five days. What the end result would be, he didn’t exactly know. For Leplae, the act of exploration is just as essential as the final product.

“If there’s one thing I like, it’s being experimental and creative. I can be experimental making a movie or running a business. I feel that nowadays artists don’t need to name their thing, but I have also chosen film.” Leplae is also a performance artist and musician. As a performance artist, he co-founded the Tingle showcase, a group of Milwaukee artists that has toured nationally.

On a previous trip to India in 2001, Leplae shot “I’m Bobby,” a 32-minute long remake of the 1973 Baliwood musical film “Bobby.” The film’s actors were street children and child laborers who lip-synch in wigs and sunglasses to the songs of the original. The film has been shown at Sundance and in the Vienna film festival.

On this trip to Bombay, Leplae was planning to have a film he already shot processed. The currently untitled project, shot on the streets of Milwaukee, is an experimental narrative film composed of shot-by-shot remakes of scenes from foreign films made in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. Leplae chose a Milwaukee neighborhood that corresponds to the mood of each scene: for an Italian film about the working class, he shot in West Milwaukee, for a French street festival, he shot footage during Locust Street Days.

Leplae has been an adjunct faculty member at UWM off and on since 1985, and he puts his students to work as his film crew, giving them practical experience and the chance to work on films that will be seen nationally. He and his students have done forty days of shooting, with an estimate of forty days remaining. The final product will be a feature length experimental narrative bound for the festival circuit.

Replication and a focus on the process of film-making are central themes for Leplae, which is not to say that he doesn’t want the audience to have a good time. “It’s an exploration into cinema for us. We learn in the process, but the idea is to make people think about the structure. It’s an experiment into how films are made, but it’s also meant to be entertaining.”

Leplae opened Riverwest Film and Video to fill a newly created need in the filmmaking community. A co-op once filled the nationally prominent UWM film department’s need for film supplies, but in 1997 it was closed down due to theft and mismanagement. Leplae was running a video production business at the time, doing videography work for weddings and other events, and he saw the opportunity to move into something more fulfilling. He runs the store as a video rental business, a vendor of film supplies, and as an equipment rental facility. It is now the main source of film stock and other supplies for UWM film students.

The selection of films available at Riverwest includes many independent and foreign films that are next to impossible to find at other video rental stores in Milwaukee. Present also are the latest new releases from Hollywood and a growing stock of television series on DVD. Not far from the Andy Warhol section sits season one of Lost. “Good is good,” Leplae says of his stock. “I always like to see new stuff. I’m interested in what I haven’t seen or don’t know about.” And if he doesn’t have it in the store, he will order it for you. Any movie ever released. Really. Just ask him.

Riverwest Currents online edition – March, 2006