The Lumberjack, one of the oldest films shot in Wisconsin that still exists in its original, complete form, once again lit up the big screen on October 25th in Wausau, Wisconsin, the city where it was conceived, shot, edited, and premiered 100 years ago. Produced by an itinerant film company out of Omaha, Nebraska and cast with Wausau locals, the short silent two-reeler tells a romantic story set against the backdrop of the city’s lumber mills. Over 200 enthusiastic Wausau residents filled the auditorium of the University of Wisconsin Center for Civic Engagement to watch the sixteen minute film, along with the charming 1983 documentary about the making of film, When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose. The screening was organized jointly by the Marathon County Public Library, the Marathon County Historical Society, and the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.
After a successful screening of the same program at the 2014 Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison, Allison Neely, film cataloger at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, reached out to the library and historical societies in Wausau to organize October’s event in honor of the 100th anniversary of the film. Thought to be the oldest extant film made in the state of Wisconsin, she had a feeling it would be well received, and she was right. Neely, now working for the Minnesota State Historical Society, made the trip from St. Paul to explain the restoration and many re-discoveries of The Lumberjack to the audience before the screening. Chad Dally of the Marathon County Public Library, also instrumental in organizing the screening, was on on hand to introduce the screening and welcome visitors, and Amy Sloper of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research came up from Madison to give a brief history of the itinerant filmmaking movement prior to the screening.
The audience was lively and talkative during The Lumberjack, pointing out the local landmarks and whispering amongst themselves when they recognized a face or place on the screen. When You Wore A Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose, Stephen Schaller’s documentary, screened next and provided answers to many questions surrounding the original production of The Lumberjack: why was it made, who saw it, and what happened to the filmmakers and stars and the movie itself in the 100 years since? The making of the film is fascinating in its own right, with some history of the movie industry mixed in with a bit of local melodrama. While the documentary captured the history of the original Lumberjack, the audience members that Saturday in Wausau provided another level of context to the story. Many folks approached the organizers after the screening telling of their own personal connection to both films – one man’s father had owned the quarry pictured in The Lumberjack, while another man had been the original cameraman in 1983 for When You Wore a Tulip…. On the heels of this successful community event, the Marathon County Public Library is planning a Holiday Home Movie Day event on December 13th, partnering with the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. The WCFTR is thrilled to be participating in state-wide film events. Watch out for more details on that soon!