A documentary on Clarence Garrett, who returned to UWM after 50 years

Clarence Garrett, a WWII veteran, raised his family before returning to UWM after 50 years to re-start his studies. He is the subject of a new documentary by UWM graduate Kristin Catalano.

“Clarence,” a documentary about Clarence Garrett, thought to be the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s oldest graduate at 87, will have its world premier Wednesday and Thursday in Madison at the Wisconsin Film Festival.

UWM graduate Kristin Catalano directed the film.

“Clarence” will be shown at 7 p.m., Wednesday, and 1 p.m., Thursday, at the Sundance Cinemas, Hilldale Shopping Center, 430 North Midvale Blvd., Madison.

The film, which took 10 years to make, received a Golden Badger Award for Wisconsin filmmakers at the festival.

“I was in shock when I found out,” said Catalano from her home in Milwaukee. “I was so humbled. Getting into the festival was enough. I don’t think it could have a better place to premiere.” [Continued below]

Garrett being filmed on campus by Catalano.

View the trailer.

Other films with UWM connections at the festival include 2014’s “The 414s: The Original Teenage Hackers.” The festival ends Thursday. It was founded in 1999, and is presented by UW-Madison. For movies and times, visit wifilmfest.org/.

For ticket information, call the box office, 608-265-2787, or email boxoffice@wifilmfest.org.

Garrett died Sept. 2, 2012, at the age of 91. He worked toward a general bachelor of arts degree in 2007 from UWM. Former chancellor Carlos Santiago said at the time, “We are not sure if Clarence Garrett is the oldest to ever graduate from UWM, but we do know that there had not been a graduate for some time who was born when the president was Woodrow Wilson.”

The filmmaker knew Garrett from childhood, and was drawn to his “gregarious” and “likeable” personality.

The documentary follows 85-year old WWII veteran and retired Army mechanic Garrett as he works to finish his undergraduate degree in two years at UWM, after a 50-year break from his studies to raise his family.

Catalano first met Garrett when she was 8 years old and working in her family’s grocery store. According to Catalano, his “gregarious” and “likeable” personality was a source of encouragement during her youth.

Catalano graduated from UWM in 1997 with a degree in criminal justice and later studied English. During a semester in London she discovered her passion for theater and screenwriting. She earned a master’s degree in screenwriting from UCLA, and became interested in documentary films. She wanted Garrett to be her first subject.

“I can honestly say the only person who entered my mind was Clarence,” she said.

When Garrett, who had always emphasized the importance of education to Catalano, told her that he wished to return to school to finish his degree, she knew she had her story.

Garrett celebrates a birthday with friends and family.

Catalano found the experience “truly rewarding.” Garrett taught her a great deal about “life and the importance of living,” she said. He constantly reminded her that a person has only one shot at life, and that you are never to old to do anything.

In making her film, Catalano said, “All I did was follow around this great man.”

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