There’s nothing quite as gratifying as walking out of a movie knowing that what you just saw was a work of art. Now imagine that feeling lasting for fifteen straight days.
In an attempt to entertain and enliven the community, Milwaukee Film is hosting its annual film festival to showcase some of the year’s finest examples of cinematic excellence. To do so, staff members from the organization traveled the world, looking for films of all genres with exemplary credentials and strong followings. Beginning in April, volunteers screened these films on a weekly basis to narrow down the selection to nearly 260 features, shorts and documentaries that will be shown at three different theaters – the Oriental Theater, the Downer Theater and the Fox Bay Cinema during the festival’s two-week run from Sept. 27 to Oct. 11.
Even though this is only its fourth year, the festival has gained a large following. More than 35,000 people attended last year, including fans from outside Wisconsin. At the rate tickets are selling now, artistic and executive director Jonathan Jackson is optimistic for growth. Once it gains a strong enough following, he hopes to turn the festival into a tourism opportunity for Milwaukee and the entire state. He is already on his way. According to Jackson, the Milwaukee Film Festival is regarded as one of the best regional film festivals, mainly due to the high quality of the films.
“We’re a ‘best of’ festival,” Jackson said. “You go see five movies at the Milwaukee Film Festival, or you go see five movies at the Sundance Film Festival; ours are going to be better.”
This year’s lineup features multiple motion pictures in several categories from which attendees can choose. These include documentary festival favorites; shorts from around the world; Cinema Hooligante, a collection of outrageous comedies and gory horror films; fiction festival favorites; Passport: China, eight movies and documentaries focusing on contemporary Chinese filmmaking and culture; and the Milwaukee Children’s Film Festival, which will show eight children’s films from around the world including the Rob Reiner classic, “The Princess Bride,” presented by Brewers closer John Axford.
Two more categories are centered on awards given out annually by Milwaukee Film. The competition category is made up of eight films that are considered adventurous, daring and experimental. A jury of film industry professionals chooses the feature that most exemplifies these traits to be the winner, and its director receives a $2,500 cash prize.
The Cream City Cinema category features movies made by Milwaukee filmmakers, some of whom are eligible to win the Filmmaker-in-Residence award. The winner receives a yearlong mentorship program, a prize package of production materials valued at over $20,000 and a $2,500 cash prize.
Tate Bunker is one example of how life-changing such an award can be. After earning the title of Filmmaker-in-Residence in 2010, he used the prize package to make “Studies in Space,” a ten-minute short that will be shown as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival’s special, “The Milwaukee Show,” along with other shorts made by Milwaukee filmmakers. Bunker’s most recent feature-length film, “Little Red,” a modern adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, is also playing at the festival. He says there is a real difference between having a feature film recognized versus a short.
“Having a feature come out is really amazing because it’s such an ordeal. It’s so much work,” Bunker said. “To have a feature in the [Milwaukee Film] festival, a great film festival; it’s an honor.”
However, there are a few films in the festival’s lineup that stand out above the rest. The film festival’s Spotlight Presentations includes the opening and closing films, a “centerpiece” and other specialty films.
The opening night film, “Starbuck,” tells the comedic tale of a man who, 20 years after donating sperm, finds out he has 533 children, 142 of whom want to know the identity of their father.
To close out the festival is the 2012 Sundance Audience Award winner, “The Sessions.” Based on true events, it retells the story of a 38-year-old man who, though stricken by polio, wants to lose his virginity with the help of a sex surrogate.
Also on the list of notable showcase works is “Blackmail,” Alfred Hitchcock’s last silent film. This suspenseful drama will be played at the Oriental with live musical accompaniment provided by Alloy Orchestra, a group widely regarded as the best in the world at live music accompaniment for silent films.
In addition to showing world-renowned movies, the Milwaukee Film Festival prides itself in giving audiences an experience that goes beyond the actual film. Many directors and producers will introduce their films and host Q&A sessions after showings.
One of these directors is Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, who will be presenting the U.S. premiere of his newest documentary, the festival centerpiece, “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God,” a controversial look at sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.
In addition, after over 90 of the festival’s screenings, attendees are invited to participate in a conversation series where they can talk to other festival patrons and experts in the film’s subject matter about what they just saw. These conversations will take place at bars, coffee shops and restaurants close to the theaters and will invite viewers to mingle and explore the meaning of the films. This experience is unique to the Milwaukee Film Festival, which Jackson described as “much more than just the experience of seeing the great movies themselves.”
Other interactive opportunities for attendees include discussion panels that consider the themes and subject matter of various films. Some are more specialized for filmmakers and discuss topics of ethics and distribution. Others focus on issues relevant to the Milwaukee community.
“Dahmer, Milwaukee” will look at the political and social effects of the Jeffery Dahmer murders as described in the documentary, “The Jeffery Dahmer Files.” “MKE At Risk: After-School Programs” will feature Marquette University Law School Senior Fellow Alan Borsuk as moderator of a panel discussing the struggles facing Milwaukee after-school programs.
Over the course of 15 days and more than 200 screenings, there are many opportunities to take part in this remarkable collection of world-class films. Jackson speaks for the entire festival staff when he says the Milwaukee Film Festival is an event that should be experienced by everyone with an appreciation for movies.
“There’s truly, truly something for every audience and taste and lots of fun programs that I think students at Marquette should take advantage of.”
Video by: Victor Jacobo
As Goes Janesville Trailer