Roughly six months after abruptly closing, the Downer Theatre (2589 N. Downer Ave.) has a new lease on life. And it’s thanks to an expected savior: Milwaukee Film.

Yes, Milwaukee Film announced Tuesday that it will officially take over operations of the historic East Side theater starting with the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival on April 12. The festival runs through April 25; regular operations at the Downer will resume April 26.

“The Downer Theatre, with its storied past and charm, has been a cornerstone of Milwaukee’s cinematic and cultural scene since its opening in 1915,” says Susan Mikulay, chair of Milwaukee Film’s board of directors, in a press release. “Milwaukee Film and its board are thrilled to bring life back to the theater and cinema back to the neighborhood. Our mission has always been to make cinematic experiences possible for as many people as possible, and expanding our footprint in this way is a key next step in doing that.”

The 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival will run April 11-25. It will include screenings at the Downer, Milwaukee Film’s Oriental Theatre, the Avalon Theater, and Times Cinema.

“Our being able to reopen the Downer this spring is a significant occasion for our organization as well as for the neighborhood,” says Cara Ogburn, Artistic Director at Milwaukee Film, in a press release. “When the Downer closed last year it meant that many films could not show on screens in our city. Adding these two screens to our footprint will allow us to better serve our community with high quality films year-round.”

Milwaukee Film has also launched a “Save The Downer” campaign, urging folks to donate to “help us bring the Downer Theatre back to its glory days,” become Milwaukee Film members, and attend the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival.

“This is a story of what dedicated supporters can do,” says Anne Reed, Milwaukee Film’s Interim CEO, in a press release. “By stepping forward to support Milwaukee Film, our community is saving another historic cinema, and all the moments of story and connection that can happen there again.”

The Downer suddenly closed in September 2023. Milwaukee Film was long rumored to be taking over operations of the theater, and the group quickly released a press release teasing a possible acquisition.

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