Each year, the Milwaukee Film Festival expands in days/venues/films/world domination, so if you’re going to tackle this 15-day, 5-venue, 300-film beast (or just arm wrestle it for a bit), you better have a solid plan in place. This year’s just-released program book is nearly 100 daunting pages, so allow Milwaukee Record to save your sanity and be your guide. We have strategies for whatever kind of filmgoer you are (or pretend to be).
1. I like to feel cinematically superior to my friends
Ladies and gentlemen, turn your hymnals to page 28, where you will find the Competition program, a.k.a. the coo-coo banana-pants films. (No judgement, weird films, we adore you.) These eight films are meant to interrupt your normal brainwaves, confuse your mathematician friends, and make you question the very nature of the art form itself. Your next stop is Shorter Is Better, which features many directors on a debut-feature-at-Sundance trajectory, providing you with endless bragging rights (“I saw her short film about French transgender sex trafficking back in ’05. So powerful. I could tell she’d have a significant career.”) Whatever you do, stay away from the crowdpleaser Spotlight films, which are kryptonite to your cinematic superiority powers.
2. I’m a total cheapskate
If you’re low on funds but you still love cinema, don’t worry, you’ll still be able to take in more films than your mind can reasonably comprehend. Beggars can’t be choosers, so your schedule will be dictated by factors outside of your love for Jason Schwartzman. Volunteers get one free ticket for each shift worked, but you can’t watch the film you are volunteering at, so your best bet is scheduling a shift that ends about an hour before the film you want to see. If you’re feeling lucky, make special note of the media outlets in the Sponsor lineup—nearly all of them will be giving away tickets to specific films throughout the run (including us!)
3. I am a very, very busy person. Exceptionally busy with little time to spare
Great for you, Mr. Busybody! You are so important! All of your social engagements may give you a heart attack by age 34, but they also make it super easy to schedule your films. Go directly to the schedule grid and circle the day/times you are free. We’re sure there are only, like, 25 films in there, so you’re nearly done. Do you have any plans before or after your dip into the fest? (Of course you do.) Pick the closest venue and cross off all the other rows. Now, from what you have left, just pick the shortest film, ‘cause you know you need to get on to the next event for your amazing Instagram feed. Film festival, done!
4. I’m a starfucker
The Milwaukee Film Festival is what’s known as a “regional film festival” (meaning it screens the best of what’s on the circuit for its local-ish audience) instead of a “premiere festival” (like Sundance, which requires films to be premieres, thereby luring the stars). Translation: You are pretty much S.O.L. for red carpet eye candy. Unless up-and-coming documentary filmmakers really make you hot, in which case, game on! With the reduction of Tribute recipients this year, you have to be more dogged in your devotion to the celebrity beast. Keep your eyes peeled for the list of special guests in attendance (released in the next week or so) before you make your schedule.
5. I want to win my Oscar pool
While MFF isn’t stacked with stars and premieres, it can still give you a significant edge in your Oscar pool. Everyone knows it’s the documentaries and the short films that separate the devoted cinephile from the poser that lives in the nexus of Google and Nathan Silver. MFF has a great track record in both of these categories, so chances are good if you devote yourself to Spotlight Presentations, Shorter Is Better, and Documentary Festival Favorites you will win a pile of cash come next February.
6. I don’t really like films, I just want to party
Then party, you shall. Beyond the festival’s quite limited official party offerings (Opening Night Party, Milwaukee Show After-Party, and two nights of local bands), most of the fetes spring from the sidelines. Listen closely during the Q&As with Milwaukee filmmakers—nearly all will invite the audience to an after-party nearby so the director can celebrate with their friends, family, and you. Community Partners are also well-known for producing some great off-the-radar celebrations of their partnered films (Burnhearts in Bay View is a good place to start). If all else fails, throw on something black and hang out at The Hotel Foster’s daily happy hour and do what everyone does at bars: lie. (Something along the lines of: “The Seventh Seal had such an impact on my filmmaking in college. Don’t you think seeing it on the big screen provides a different dimension to Bergman’s work?”)
7. I am a free spirit and I don’t know when the muse will strike me
Oh, Holly Golightly, we feel you. Sometimes you get the mean reds, and Tiffany’s is so far away. The next best way to calm yourself is a good foreign drama. Wake up, check Milwaukee Record for our daily picks, and call it done.
8. I’m a film festival professional, goddammit
Now it is time for you to learn the ways of the wise film festival scheduling Jedis that have gone before you. You must invest in a festival pass to go down this road, which is for only the most serious of festival-goers. First, give the whole schedule a once-over: read the blurbs, look at the film stills, scan the credits, and mark anything that looks intriguing. Narrow your choices down by watching trailers. Read through reviews on IndieWire, Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter to narrow even further. This is your list. It’s time to attack the puzzle that is the schedule grid.
First thing’s first: reality. Block off any times/days when you have to work or can’t sneak out of a friend’s wedding or must attend your kid’s violin recital. Just pretend those films do not exist. After that, choose the must-see films on your list. FOMO is real, folks. Lock those in; they are the cornerstone of your schedule. (The Shining on 35mm in the main room of the Oriental? Check.) Next, note which films you want to see that are only scheduled to screen once. Hang on—is there a famous actor in it? Chances are good it will come back to town sometime this fall, and you can catch it then. The last piece of the puzzle is that forthcoming list of Special Guests. All things being equal, seeing a film with a Q&A is roughly 65 percent better than without, so do let that sway your choices.
After you make your final screening choices, factor in your venue preference, time between venues (we recommend biking between the Oriental and Downer), eating, and recovery time. You might not want to take your 10-year-old to a morning screening of Kids Shorts the night after seeing Turbo Kid, which ends at 2 am. After your grid is set, stay loose. Once the festival starts, you will gain a wealth of information from talking to your fellow film nerds in line. (“What, someone fainted last night? When is that film playing again?!”) Jump on these suggestions, let go of your schedule OCD and re-work your plan in the morning. There’s always a new day at the festival.