Milwaukee Film Festival 2018: Cream City Hosts Cream of the Crop in Local, Awards-Contending, and Lost Silent Cinema

Milwaukee may not be the first city that jumps to mind when thinking of the film industry as a whole.

It should, however, be one of the first cities that jumps to mind when thinking of the ever-growing, and constantly flourishing, independent film industry. The city of Milwaukee has an entire world of moviemakers thriving just beneath the surface, ready to break out. And, arguably, it already has.

Like many fellow arts-minded Midwest cities, Milwaukee is a festival town, a place for people from all around to gather and celebrate the roots of Americana and the joys of the world beyond. Some of Milwaukee’s most notable celebrations include the music-based Summerfest, beer-and-sausage-heavy PolishFest and fall’s Indian Summer. Sitting next to these festivals is the expansive Milwaukee Film Festival, an all-encompassing 15-day celebration of the film industry. No matter where you are in the city, from October 18 to November 1, everyone knows which festival is this week’s talk of the town.

Each fall, the Milwaukee Film Festival provides a lengthy showcase for some of the most noteworthy cinematic achievements of the year. MFF boasts high profile screenings, from such Oscar contenders as Burning, Cold War, Shoplifters, and Madeline’s Madeline, Support the Girls, and other acclaimed American independent films of the year, to such Milwaukee-centric Spotlight presentations as Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini’s Science Fair and Carol Brandt’s Pet Names. I even got to see the long-thought-to-be-lost 1926 Japanese silent film A Page of Madness on the big screen with a live orchestral accompaniment, courtesy of Alloy Orchestra.

Dewanda Wise, star of Spike Lee’s Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It, shares film industry stories at Milwaukee Film Festival 2018. Photograph by Jake Hill

Whatever your watching habits are, MFF has you covered: The festival includes programs centered on Latin cinema, LGBTQ moviemaking, German cinema, midnight movies, a food-centric program and, of course a short film program. The shorts are carefully placed by Senior Programmer Anna Sampers into specific categories, from romance to sci-fi, so you can curate your own viewing experience, and there’s even a grab bag of short films if you’re the adventurous type.

Last year, MovieMaker noted the splendor of the Oriental Theatre, which can be considered the main venue of the festival. The classical beauty of this theater has finally been brought into the new age. All of the theaters put to use in the festival are striking in their own way, whether they are local independent theaters brought into the fray, or pop-up theaters put into use with rafters, a canvas and a projector. The town molds itself to the festival and the festival molds itself to the town.

Elsewhere in the city, nestled in between countless breweries, the local independent radio station, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, and the newly completed Fiserv Forum, where the Bucks play, is Oscar winner and Milwaukee native John Ridley’s newly opened Nō Studios, which provides a safe haven for Milwaukee’s creative arts scene. The unique building provides a venue for consuming art (including a high-tech screening room), a place for artists to network and interact, as well as workspaces for both individuals and budding businesses.

Milwaukee moviemakers and their loyalty to the city are an integral part of the festival. Notables include Erik Ljung, whose film The Blood Is at the Doorstep, which screened at the festival the year before, is an incendiary exposé of the shocking death of Dontre Hamilton at the hands of a Milwaukee police officer, an act of racial violence that divided the city. Sitora Takanaev, another local, is a magnetic, Andrei Tarkovsky- obsessed moviemaker from Uzbekistan who has had multiple films screen at the festival. Rubin Whitmore II, a hard-working local constantly pushing to create better work, churns out multiple films a year. Every one of these Milwaukee-based beacons speaks with nothing but admiration for all the town has to offer. Whether they be relevant and worthy stories, excellent equipment or hard-working crew members, Milwaukee supports these moviemakers in their artistic journeys.

Everywhere you look in Milwaukee, there’s nothing but pride—pride in the films that are screening, in the independents who’ve made them, and yes, in the Brewers (just don’t mention it if you’re a Dodgers fan). That pride on display in this city is also everywhere at the Milwaukee Film Festival. MM

The 10th Milwaukee Film Festival ran from Oct. 18-Nov. 2, 2018. 

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