'The Bear & The Owl': Rock County based documentary on 'must see - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

'The Bear & The Owl': Rock County based documentary on 'must see' list at Wisconsin Film Festival

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Filmmakers from the Big Apple, with ties to Beloit, are hoping to take home top honors this weekend at the Wisconsin Film Festival.

The film, 'The Bear & the Owl,' tells the true story of Beloit resident, Joni Lillard.  Lillard, to this day, deals with illness due to birth defects.  When she was a little girl, she had multiple surgeries at Boston Children's Hospital.  

But as Lillard faced a mountain of heath issues, a stranger fortuitously read a blurb in the Beloit Daily News.  It asked people to send a birthday card to Joni during her time of need.

Clinton resident Bob Jensen didn't just send her a card, he sent her countless hand-made, often over-sized creations, all to clearly dazzle Lillard and brighten her mood.

"Just felt good to see these brightly colorful cards and it would just make me happy," Lillard said.

Happy at an age when Joni needed some cheering up.

"Between the ages of 7 and 9,10," Daughter Jan Jensen said.  The film's producer says her dad and Lillard remained friends and stayed close through the years, until he died recently.  

"I think if my dad were here today, I think we would have never done the film because he is very humble, he never wanted any attention, but I think he'd be very proud," Jensen said about her film.  She says her father's death played a big role in the decision to honor his memory and share the random act of kindness story.

It's a story Lillard hopes is played one day across the country.

"The more people it reaches, the more people will be inspired to do something good," Lillard said with a smile.

Lillard says the film is a bright spot to her because she continues to battle health woes.  If you'd like to her, a Go Fund Me page is set up here.

'The Bear & The Owl' plays Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at Union South.  A card creation workshop for children staying at American Family Children's Hospital will follow shortly after.

Learn more about the film, here.

For a complete list of films playing in the Wisconsin Film Festival, click here.

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