From Thursday, September 22, through Thursday, October 6, the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival will descend upon the city like a benevolent cinema behemoth (think Godzilla, but friendlier and with a jones for Godard). The 15-day extravaganza will feature hundreds of films lighting up the screens of the Landmark Oriental and Downer theaters, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, Times Cinema, and Avalon Theater. Crowd-pleasing features, all-too-timely social documentaries, plenty of local love, stone-cold classics, and fucked-up midnight screamers are just a few of the fest’s highlights. Toss in panel discussions, parties, and a whole lot more and you have one of the best events in Milwaukee, hands down. Here are 12 reasons we’re excited for the 8th annual Milwaukee Film Festival.

New Age Narcissism headlines the Opening Night Party
Overture! Curtains! Lights! Few events make us more giddy here at Milwaukee Record than Milwaukee Film Festival’s Opening Night, and this year’s kickoff promises to be a doozy. It all starts at 7 p.m. at the Oriental with a typically life-affirming spotlight film presentation: Life, Animated, a heartwarming documentary about how Disney cartoons helped one family battle autism. Once the film is over, dry your eyes and walk around the corner for the best-dressed portion of the festival. The Opening Night Party has always been the place to be seen, but never before has it boasted a potential dance party the likes of which New Age Narcissism is bound to produce. Throw in sets by Radio Milwaukee and WMSE DJs, and you’ve got a musical extravaganza fit for a Saturday night in some packed Riverwest club. Oh, and there will be film trailers! And probably other movie-related geekery. It’s a film festival, after all. [Cal Roach]

Cinema Hooligante and Raiders Of The Lost Ark in 35mm
Long the home of all things bloody, raunchy, and gleefully offensive, the Milwaukee Record-sponsored Cinema Hooligante program has grown up in recent years. Yes, this year’s lineup still has plenty of Technicolor T&A (The Love Witch), but there are also post-apocolyptic mind-fucks (Embers), gritty Italian superhero deconstructions (They Call Me Jeeg), sequels to past Cinema Hooligante films (Klown Forever), and a movie where a Hungarian woman in the 1970s searches (and kills) for love with the help of the ghost of a 1950s Japanese pop star (Liza, The Fox-Fairy). Oh, and did we mention Cinema Hooligante 2016 also features a screening of Raiders Of The Lost Ark? Cue the clip where Indy just shoots that guy! [Matt Wild]

David Lynch usurps Stanley Kubrick as the festival’s spotlight fringe maestro
Each of the past three years’ festival programs featured one of Stanley Kubrick’s indisputable directorial classics, culminating in last year’s conspicuously loud screening of The Shining. But while the Kubrick filmography was far from exhausted (No Full Metal Jacket? Seriously?), we’re totally on board with what will hopefully be a new yearly tradition. As David Lynch is busy preparing for the launch of a star-studded reboot of his acclaimed TV series Twin Peaks, we’re being treated to the 30th-anniversary restoration of Blue Velvet, Lynch’s classic tale of two ostensible innocents (played by Laura Dern and Kyle MacLachlan) who stumble into the creepy, murderous underworld of Lumberton. Highlighted by arguably Dennis Hopper’s most memorable filmed performance, this is the picture that launched Lynch as a cult icon, as well as tripling the domestic beer market share of Pabst Blue Ribbon overnight. (Okay, we made that last part up, but let’s hope the Oriental isn’t serving Heineken during this screening.) [CR]

The annual Stop Making Sense dance party
Returning to the Fest for the fourth year in a row is Stop Making Sense, Jonathan Demme’s untouchable, unstoppable, and unbelievable document of a 1984 Talking Heads show. Oh, but it’s not your normal MFF screening: In honor of the film’s long Friday-night run at the Oriental in the mid-to-late ’80s, Milwaukee Film encourages the audience to applaud, cheer, and dance, dance, dance! throughout the 90-minute musical masterpiece. Bring your best giant suit (and/or boombox with a tape you want to play) and prepare to burn down the house. [MW]

John Axford officially joins the staff
Speaking of Kubrick, former Milwaukee Brewer pitcher John Axford has become the Film Fest’s most beloved celebrity champion, memorably introducing Kubrick films for the past three years. This year, though, he’s changing it up, taking on a presenting role in the Cream City Cinema program, as well as co-programming a brand new series called…Sportsball! You guessed it: six films about athletic endeavors, the perfect escape from baseball post-season misery and/or Packer mania. The program includes a timely screening of the renowned Muhammad Ali documentary When We Were Kings, as well as lesser-known flicks about basketball, long-distance running, auto racing, lacrosse, and yes, baseball. We had a slew of baseball-related puns lined up for this piece, by the way, but we balked. [CR]

More new program categories
In addition to Sportsball!, MFF2016 is rolling out two more new themed programs. Gone is the country-specific “passport” category, but in its place, the debut of Cine Sin Fronteras (literally, “Cinema Without Borders”), a.k.a. “six fiction and documentary films highlighting stories of the multi-faceted Latinx diaspora.” Films from Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Chile, and Brazil are featured, along with the tantalizingly titled Ovarian Psycos, a documentary about an LA Chicana bicycle gang. Also new this year: United States Of Cinema, showcasing six feature-length works of fiction from up-and-coming independent filmmakers. [CR]

The Black Lens program continues to expand its reach
Now in only its third year, the Black Lens program nearly doubled its total audience from 2014 to 2015, and its growing popularity and increasing support from local and national organizations has prompted some noteworthy developments. For one thing, the newly created Black Lens Engagement Committee, culled from groups like FUEL Milwaukee, Media Circus, Milwaukee Urban League Young Professionals (MULYP), Milwaukee Black Professionals (MBP), and Social X, will work in tandem with festival programmers on community outreach programs. This year also sees the addition of a jury prize for the best feature or short film in the program, including a $5,000 cash award. [CR]

There Will Be Bowling
What’s the only thing that could make seeing hundreds of films over 15 days even better? Bowling. Yes, on Sunday, September 25, from 5-9 p.m. (post-Packers!), we’re taking over the lanes of Landmark Lanes for There Will Be Bowling, our very own movie-themed bowling tournament. For a lousy $10 you get three games, shoes, a shot at some prizes (expect plenty of MFF tickets and some old Batman Forever trading cards), and free admission to Cinema Hooligante film Klown Forever (11 p.m. at the Oriental). A few open spots remain, so drop us a line at [email protected] and sign up now! [MW]

A plethora of films that have already won awards
Sometimes we can’t help feeling nostalgic for the days when the Milwaukee Film Fest was a bit of a crap shoot. Lured out to the cinema by a well-written, enticing blurb in the program booklet, we’d find ourselves debating walking out of some godawful movie like Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal that even the internet had never heard of. Those days appear to be gone, however. Far be it from us to put much stock in awards, but they do tend to be an indication that a flick is at least worth having an opinion about. This year’s lineup features an unprecedented array of films that have been making waves at prestigious festivals, and heck, even a couple of Oscar-winners. It’s like they’re taking all the risk out of it! You might as well just throw a dart at the calendar and walk into whatever screening it lands on. Where’s the danger in that? [CR]

Cream City Cinema and Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Milwaukee
It ain’t called the Milwaukee Film Festival for nothin’: MFF2016 features 58 Milwaukee-made films as part of the ever-popular Cream City Cinema program. The films range from feature-length narratives (Christopher Darling) and music videos (Lorde Fredd33’s “SOS”), to documentaries (Tolkien & Lewis: Myth, Imagination & The Quest For Meaning) and youth films (Dark Side Waffles). The program also boasts three juried cash prizes totaling $12,500, including the $5,000 Cream City Cinema Jury Award. New this year are the Cream City Cinema College Filmmaker Award ($2,500 cash prize) and the Milwaukee Music Video Award ($5,000 cash prize). Pro tip: Get your tickets now to the two Milwaukee Show short film programs, ’cause those things sell out quick. [MW]

Finding a new pre-/post-game establishment to replace Hotel Foster
As we all know, the East Side is not dead. However, the neighborhood was dealt a blow when Hotel Foster not-so-abruptly closed its doors for good last month. Regular film-festers might take the loss especially hard, as the bar had become the default meet-up spot for pre-movie drinks, post-movie discussion, and in 2014, fest-affiliated live music throughout the two-week run. Sure, there’s still the one-night pop-up bar, which happens to fall during the festival, but otherwise, the building will be vacant, so Oriental patrons will have to find a new hangout. Remember that dive bar that used to be around the corner that turned into a retro-’70s bar or something? Yeah, that place is closed now. What about that place just up the block with the yield sign? Nope, that’s closed, too. [CR] [Ed. – Vintage, Burnhearts, Wauwatiki, and The Bay Restaurant are the official MFF “happy hour” bars of their respective neighborhoods, and Good City Brewing is hosting various after-parties.]

And a bunch of other stuff!
Man, we didn’t even mention the Alloy Orchestra returning to live-score Fritz Lang’s seminal Metropolis, the Madison-centric doc The Smart Studios Story, the Milwaukee-centric doc Beware The Slenderman, John Ridley’s “State of Cinema” keynote address, a 40th-anniversary screening of All The President’s Men, the always delightful shorts programs, a sing-along to Disney’s Beauty And The Beast, and, well, everything else. Let’s get excited, Milwaukee.