MKE Film Festival expands its repertoire

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(Paul Boechler) The Downer Theater will host many films from the Film Festival repertoire, featuring locally made films and international successes.

The Milwaukee Film Festival includes 275 films, 119 features, 156 short films and 300 screenings, and takes place at the Landmark Oriental Theatre, Landmark Downer Theatre, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill and Times Cinema from September 25 to October 9.

Milwaukee Film began in 2008 with a series of small events, and announced the first Milwaukee Film Festival in 2009. For the past six years it has brought new films and Milwaukee filmmaking talents into the spotlight.

Milwaukee Film’s website states, “Film can entertain, educate and empower. It can bring change on levels both intimate and epic … Milwaukee Film’s mission is to communicate all of this to the city that we love, in a way that is both true and unique to Milwaukee.”

“[The festival] is a great celebration of cinematic storytelling and art, so it is first simply a vital outlet for great cinema. But more importantly, it is a catalyst for community itself. We … believe in the power of cinema to bring people together in an exploration of not only cinema, but the world itself. Cinema is a great mirror through which we can better understand out world,” said Jonathan Jackson, artistic and executive director at Milwaukee Film.

The festival has brought a number of hit films to mainstream audiences that would otherwise be unknown.

“I think the films that they present there are diamonds in the rough. They aren’t very noticed in real life, and this is their change to really bloom and show off their skill … Check out the film festival; there are some really great movies out there that you won’t regret, and just have fun,” said Graham Hartlaub, junior.

Throughout its existence, Milwaukee Film has made an effort to engage younger filmmakers, especially students. The creators want to encourage young and up-and-coming filmmakers. “[It] is core to our mission,” Jackson said.

Milwaukee Film has a program called The Milwaukee Youth Show, which features short films made by local youth without a submission fee. They also offer a prize package to one local filmmaker, which includes a $5,000 cash prize and more than $20,000 worth of goods and services to aid in the making of the filmmakers next film.

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(Paul Boechler) A student arrives at the Downer Theater, one of four theaters that will be showing Milwaukee Film Festival screenings.

In 2011, Celia Carroll, class of 2011, won a first place prize in an education program called Collaborative Cinema, which matched Milwaukee high school students with Wisconsin filmmakers. The Magical Camera, her original script, was then made into a short film and shown in the 2011 festival.

“i [feel] exceedingly blessed to have the chance to work with people who are so influential in Milwaukee film, and to be able to see how movies are made,” Carroll said in a 2011 interview with OnMilwaukee.

Jeff Zimpel, graphic design teacher, also believes the festival does a good job reaching out to students.

“They were willing to have people come out to the classroom and talk … they’ve been really good about outreach and … connecting with popular institutions like Colectivo,” Zimpel said.

However, Zimpel still thinks they could do more.

“I know they have … a major poster campaign every year, and I would love to see … high schools with design programs or art programs competing to make that image that is then plastered all over the city. I think that would be a great way to give young people a voice and an opportunity to participate in the festival itself,” Zimpel said.

Milwaukee Film is sponsored by and partnered with a number of local businesses, including Colectivo Coffee, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Lowlands Grand Cafes (Hollander, Benelux, Central).

“Colectivo sponsored a film that I saw last year … and I would never see a film like that if it were just on my own, but because Colectivo was attached to it, I was like ‘Oh, I’ll give it a shot,’ and it ended up blowing my mind,” Zimpel said.

This year’s festival features a number of must sees, including Man With a Movie Camera, a 1929 film following a day in the life of the Soviet Union, which was voted the “best documentary ever made” by the British Film Institute, Alive Inside, a documentary discussing the uses of music to cure dementia and The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, about a mathematician cracking codes during World War II.

The 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival will also consist of a record 113 guests, made up of actors and directors in attendance to both promote their own films and bask in the creative glory of the rest.

One of the guests will be acclaimed actor Sean Astin, best known for his role as Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and for his titular role as the persevering football player in the film Rudy. Astin will be promoting his film The in which he plays a man stranded in Lake Michigan.

Another guest will be Milwaukee native Jerry Harrison. Harrison played keyboards in the ground-breaking band, Talking Heads, and is at the festival promoting the documentary film Take Me to the River, which features the Memphis music scene.

This will be the first time Astin and Harrison attend the festival.

“I’m going to push it so hard for as many students to see it as possible … It’s such a smattering of creative output. I know cities that have great film festivals that grow momentum and get bigger and draw more creative people. It has an impact on the community at large. It affects people; it affects the creativity in a town, and film is such a powerful medium that it can affect all the other arts in really positive ways,” Zimpel said.

by Eli Frank and Max Janairo

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