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Part of SFFILM Festival

BBC Arena: Mel Novikoff Award + “Wisconsin Death Trip”

Onstage Conversation & Screening

Saturday, April 20, 4:00 pm · BAMPFA

Award Presentation

Join us for the presentation of the 2019 Mel Novikoff Award to BBC Arena, which will be accepted by Series Editor and Executive Producer Anthony Wall preceding an onstage conversation.


The conversation will be followed by a screening of the Arena film Wisconsin Death Trip, directed by James Marsh.


Under plangent chords written by Brian Eno, an empty bottle floats into view on dark blue water, coming closer, until we read the pink message–”Arena”–on the glass. No, it’s not a cola elixir or the best bottle of beer you ever threw away–but it’s the opening to one of the greatest television shows ever put together and sustained for 40 years. The show had its roots in theater and music, but it quickly reached out to literature and cinema. Over the years, Arena would deliver classic portraits of Luis Buñuel, Orson Welles, and Ingmar Bergman, all of which were notable for searching interviews that lasted several hours before being shaped and edited for the show. This year’s Novikoff award program will offer an onstage interview with Arena’s Series Editor and Executive Producer Anthony Wall followed by a screening of the 1999 Arena film Wisconsin Death Trip in 35mm. – David Thomson

Wisconsin Death Trip
James Marsh, UK/USA, 1999, 76 min
To label James Marsh’s Wisconsin Death Trip a documentary might risk prosecution from Black Falls River, Wisconsin, where its events occurred. Nor is this simply a filmed version of Michael Lesy’s innovative book, published in 1973 … [It] uses elements [of the book], but it adds two more: snow-bright black-and-white moving imagery, “melodramatized” as it were, of the suicides, the murders, the madness, the bereft gazes; and languid, yet eerie, color footage of that part of Wisconsin today … Marsh’s film is a litany of nearly exultant disasters that may embrace all of America. — David Thomson

Director James Marsh

James Marsh has established himself as a director of both documentary and narrative films. Among his films, in addition to Wisconsin Death Trip, are Man on Wire (2008), recipient of the Academy Award for Best Documentary; Red Riding: The Year of Our Lord 1980 (2009); Project Nim (2011), a BAFTA nominee for Best Documentary Film; and The Theory of Everything (2014), winner of the BAFTA Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film and a Best Picture Oscar nominee.

Film Details

Year 1999

Language English

Runtime 76

Country UK/USA

Director James Marsh

Producer James Marsh, Maureen A. Ryan

Writer James Marsh

Editor Jinx Godfrey

Cinematographer Eigil Bryld

Music John Cale, DJ Shadow