SXSW 2014: WICKER KITTENS Review

7

Film Pulse Score

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Release Date: TBD
Director:
MPAA Rating: NR
Film Pulse Score: 7/10

Minnesota.  The Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Home of the Vikings, the Wild, the Timberwolves and the Twins.   A state once governed by Jesse “The Body” Ventura.  Minnesota, a state known for its hot summers and bitterly, cold winters.  In the cold, harshness of January an annual tradition is held that draws people from all over the area.  People are drawn there to participate in something special.  While people are out in the cold admiring the countless ice sculptures on display for the St. Paul Winter Carnival there are people indoors salivating over sculptures themselves; sculptures that are broken up into five-hundred pieces or more.  These people are participating in the annual Puzzle Competition and they mean business.

Amy C. Elliott’s entertaining documentary Wicker Kittens looks at the annual puzzle competition that is held during the St. Paul Winter Carnival in Minnesota.  She focuses upon a number of teams that are entering this year and they prove to be a true melting-pot of puzzle enthusiasts.  Almost everyone on the planet has made a puzzle of some sort in their lives be it a large piece one for children or an epic 5000 piece behemoth to challenge one’s patience and perseverance.   Elliott examines why people want to build puzzles and in this case why they would want to compete to be the fastest.   This is not as important as who these people are.  We are introduced to a diverse bunch of people who share the same level of enthusiasm for puzzling.  Yes, puzzling is the act of making puzzles.  I suppose that would me those doing it are puzzlers.  Elderly women, thirty-something moms, families, even a team with a member of the Iowa State Legislature.  It was pretty amusing to hear an elderly woman put down a team of teenagers that her group competed against.

Elliott follows these people as they prepare for the next event.  It’s kind of funny to hear about puzzling in such a competitive way.  These people discuss strategies from how to start sorting pieces, what clothes to wear, which table to sit at and whether to eat or not during the event.  In fact, in one instance the husband of one of the ladies mentions she was reluctant to do the film because she was afraid someone may see her team’s strategy and steal it.  However, participants are only half of a competition.  You also need organizers.  Well, in this case there is only one and she receives assistance from Girl Scouts volunteers.  Elliott also follows Monica as she prepares for this year’s event.  The largest it’s ever been with 73 registered teams.   You learn a lot about the business of puzzling competitions.  For example, not all puzzles are created a like.  Yes they will have the same picture and piece count but they may have different cuts.  Monica would have to make sure all puzzles are from the same lot.  She discusses how efforts in the past may have inadvertently cost teams because of missing pieces.  She also discusses the weight of the competition since she’s the only one running it.

The film concludes with the final competition and it has a tinge of suspense since you are wondering if any of the four teams documented will finish on top.   You also see the obstacles Monica faces and frustration she feels on the day of the event.  She literally has to turn teams away because they can’t register on the day of.  However, for those registered this is a big day.  On the surface it’s all fun and games but in actuality this is war.  You even hear a contestant politely ask someone to shut up so they can focus.   This is serious!

Wicker Kittens is an entertaining and surprisingly informative documentary that takes a look at a game that could be easily taken for granted.   Her examination of puzzle enthusiasts sheds some light on why we want to solve these puzzles in the first place.  It’s a nice slice of Americana that nearly everyone can relate to.  In the end you may even find yourself wanting to look for your local puzzle competition and experience the fun for yourself.