It would make sense if organizers of the ninth annual Milwaukee Film Festival took things a little easy. After all, next year will be the fest’s big 10th anniversary, and its first with complete control of the Oriental Theatre. Why not relax a little in 2017, and do it big in 2018? The 10th annual Milwaukee Film Festival could be the iPhone X, while the ninth annual Milwaukee Film Festival could be the iPhone 8.
But no, that’s not what’s happening. From September 28 through October 12, Milwaukee Film will light up the screens of the Oriental, Downer Theatre, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, Times Cinema, and Avalon Theater with one of its strongest lineups yet. Is there something for everyone? Yes, there’s something for everyone. Add in the usual parties, panel discussions, and other goodies, and you’ve got another can’t-miss event. Here are 14 highlights. (More info, along with ticket info, can be found here.)
Opening Night Party
MFF is taking over a new location for this year’s Opening Night Party: Good City Brewing. Does the cozy East Side brewery seem a little too cozy for a film-tastic kickoff party? Never fear, because the party will include Good City’s rooftop patio and a tent in the back parking lot. There’ll be plenty of food, drink (your first one is on Milwaukee Film), and 88Nine DJs. Plus, you’ll be able to enjoy live music from Storm Chaser and Abby Jeanne. The fun begins September 28 at 9 p.m., immediately following the Oriental screening of the Opening Night Film, Stumped.
The Blood Is At The Doorstep
This year’s Centerpiece Film says a lot about Milwaukee Film’s dedication to the city’s filmmakers, and its dedication to the city itself. Erik Ljung’s The Blood Is At The Doorstep follows the family of Dontre Hamilton, the unarmed black man who was shot and killed by a white Milwaukee police officer in 2014. It’s a sobering, eye-opening documentary, one that looks past the headlines and talk-radio spin and focuses on one family’s remarkable search for answers. If you think you know the full story, you do not. The film is a feature-length version of Ljung’s short film Mothers For Justice, which won a $35,000 prize at the 2015 Milwaukee Film Festival.
Long the home of all things bloody, raunchy, and gleefully offensive, the Milwaukee Record-sponsored Cinema Hooligante program has grown up in recent years. Okay, there’s still plenty of “stomach-churning exercises in sheer tension” (Killing Ground), and brain- and face-melting horror slow burns (Without Name), but there’s also 1986’s family-friendly-ish The Dark Crystal, Steven Spielberg’s Tobe Hooper’s wonderfully terrifying Poltergeist, and a special “After Dark” installment of the Found Footage Festival. Looking for free tickets to The Dark Crystal? Then you’ll want to check out…
There Will Be Bowling 2: Electric Boogaloo
On Tuesday, October 3, from 6-9 p.m., we’re taking over Landmark Lanes for our second annual There Will Be Bowling tournament. What can you expect this time around? How about prizes, karaoke in the side bar, free Dark Crystal tickets, a free pitcher of beer for your team, and more. Oh, and one more thing: Milwaukee Record is putting together a team, too, and there will be super-secret prizes for any team that can beat us. Think you can take us down? You probably can! Sign up your four-person team now! (It’s only $10 per person.)
It ain’t called the Milwaukee Film Festival for nothin’. MFF’s ever-popular Cream City Cinema program boasts four shorts programs (including the can’t-miss Milwaukee Music Video Show), six features (including a doc on Milwaukee roller derby, Roller Life), and pre-feature shorts. Pro tip: Get your tickets now to the two Milwaukee Show short film programs (featuring new works from Kara Mulrooney, Andrew Swant, and many more), ’cause those things sell out quick.
Another Cream City Cinema selection, the Ryan Sarnowski-directed Manlife is a feature-length documentary that explores the stranger-than-fiction life of Alfred Lawson, founder of his own “economic/spiritual/philosophical movement” known as Lawsonomy. Remember driving down I-94 years ago and seeing that unexplained “Study Natural Law” sign? That’s Lawson and Lawsonomy.
Live music, Prince, and more Prince
Need some musical distraction during your 15-day MFF2017 adventure? There are plenty of options: The Jazz Estate will have nightly entertainment throughout the run of the fest, 88Nine will host a vinyl-only dance party in conjunction with the premiere of Chavela, and Company Brewing will host a night of “The Sounds of ’90s Black Cinema.” Then there’s Prince: Not only is Milwaukee Film screening Purple Rain Friday, September 29, it’s following the film up with not one, but two Prince dance parties—one at the Riverwest Public House, the other at The Jazz Estate.
Stop Making Sense (again!)
Returning to the festival for the fifth 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.
Black Lens (and Larenz Tate)
Now in its fourth year, MFF’s Black Lens program is stuffed with features and documentaries from African-American filmmakers both past and present. John Ridley’s new Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 explores racial tensions that reached their boiling point with the Rodney King verdict, while Theodore Witcher’s 1997 romantic dramedy Love Jones comes to the fest via a special 35mm screening. Speaking of Love Jones, star Larenz Tate will be on hand for a discussion Saturday, September 30, following the 7 p.m. screening of the film.
Shorter Is Better
Looking to get the most bang out of your film fest buck? Then go all in with MFF’s always-entertaining shorts programs. The Shorter Is Better program is separated into themes like “Stranger Than Fiction,” “Let’s Get Animated,” and “Out Of This World” (and don’t forget “The Best Damn F*#@ing Midnight Program Ever. Sh*t.”), while Cream City Cinema, Cine Sin Fronteras, and Black Lens have their own shorts collections, too.
The Lost World, with live accompaniment from the Alloy Orchestra
A longtime MFF highlight is a screening of a silent film with live music accompaniment—usually courtesy of the Alloy Orchestra. This year the Orchestra returns to live-score the 1925 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. Buckle up for some stop-motion dinos and an utterly unique night of entertainment. (Sorry, no Jeff Goldblum.)
Saying goodbye to Harry Dean Stanton
Harry Dean Stanton, who died earlier this month, was awesome. Harry Dean Stanton’s final movie, Lucky, will screen three times throughout the fest. David Lynch is in it. See it.
Free and open to the public, MFF’s Public Forums add a bit of discussion and context to the fest’s offerings. This year’s lineup looks solid, and peppered with plenty Milwaukee-focused talks: “State of Cinema in Milwaukee,” “Activism Then: Recognition,” “Indigenous Voices in Film,” “State of Cinema,” “Milwaukee’s Restaurant Landscape,” “Activism Now: Re-Ignition,” and “Revitalizing City Spaces Through Art & Design.”
Hundreds of movies! Here are just a few not mentioned above that we’re looking forward to seeing: Alphago, The B-Side: Elsa Dorman’s Portrait Photography, The Ballad Of Lefty Brown, American Fable, Infinity Baby, Person To Person, Unrest, Extra Terrestres, Spookers, The Last Of Us, Lemon, Manifesto, Bill Nye: Science Guy, New Chefs On The Block, Don’t Break Down: A Film About Jawbreaker, A Life In Waves, Requiem For A Running Back, Kati Kati, and, why not, Aladdin. Let’s do this.