They are experts in performing a music that rings with an American sound but is largely forgotten today.
A team of former Chippewa Falls residents, many who shot a film in the city in 2008, banded together to chronicle the songs of ragtime, and the performers who love to play it.
“These people are performers through and through. They love to be in the spotlight and being on stage,” said Nick Holle, a co-director and co-producer of the 90-minute documentary, “The Entertainers.”
The film, which has won six film festival awards, will play at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17 at the Micon Cinemas in Chippewa Falls and again at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18.
With its distinctive beats, ragtime soared in popularity in the U.S. from 1895-1918 thanks to the works of composer Scott Joplin and others. One of Joplin’s masterworks is the song, “The Entertainer.”
Ragtime was eventually supplanted in popularity by jazz, but has gone through revivals, including one in the 1970s when Joplin’s works were featured in the Oscar-winning picture from 1973, “The Sting.”
Holle, a 1997 graduate of Chippewa Falls Senior High School, co-directed the documentary with friend Michael Zimmer, who is also a producer.
The film’s other producers include Paul Hogseth, a 1997 Chi-Hi grad, and two members of Chi-Hi’s Class of 1998, Seth Hedrington and Derek Keyeski. Keyeski was also the film’s cinematographer.
Holle said in the Chippewa Falls screening of the film, the filmmakers will introduce and talk about the making of the movie. He hopes the film will give people a taste of the ragtime festival held every January in Eau Claire.
After their first movie, the scripted “The Illegal Use of Joe Zopp,” the documentary is quite a departure for the Wut Wut Alma team.
Holle said a friend of Zimmer's, Ethan Uslan, plays in a national ragtime competition each year in Peoria, Ill. So Holle, Zimmer and others from the “Zopp” production took in the festival in 2008.
It was an intense competition, Holle said, but was also full of humor.
“We realized how funny everybody was,” he said. “They put so much time and effort into winning this contest.”
So the filmmakers decided to shoot the 2009 contest, picking contestants with varying backgrounds.
“We ended up choosing seven people that we wanted to follow around,” Holle said. The idea was to show their everyday lives and then show them in the competition.
Uslan plays ragtime for a living in North Carolina, playing at nursing homes and at an airport for tips. Another contestant was a high school student, and a third is a computer programmer at the University of Illinois.
One of the people they selected ended up not playing in Peoria, so the film concentrated on six people.
Holle said the filmmakers wanted to show why people they were following were passionate about their music.
“It was that passion we wanted to capture,” he said.
Filming “Zopp” and “The Entertainers” were very different experiences. The first film was shot over 35 days.
“We had a lot of intense work and preparation leading up to that movie,” he said.
“The Entertainers,” on the other hand, forced the Wut Wut Alma team to shoot the film footage first and figure what to do afterwards. The 300 hours of footage had to be paired down to 90 minutes.
“It was really tough and so challenging, just figuring what was important,” Holle said. “It took us a couple of years to do it.”
Then the group ran into issues with securing and paying for music rights. Holle said the filmmakers had to get creative and figure out what music they could afford to show in the film.
“The Entertainers” opened in the Wisconsin Film Festival and the Minneapolis Film Festival in April 2012, and won the “Audience Choice” honors at each festival.
With the screening of the film in Chippewa Falls, the Wut Wut Alma crew is returning home. But they have yet to determine what their next step will be. They currently are leaning toward another scripted film.
“Right now we don’t have an exact direction what we are going to do next,” Holle said.
Whatever that direction turns out to be, plenty of residents from their hometown — and a much wider area than that — figure to be watching.