Beginning Thursday, September 25 and running through Thursday, October 9, the 6th annual Milwaukee Film Festival promises to be a can’t-miss event. A total of 276 films will light up the screens of the Landmark Oriental Theatre, Landmark Downer Theatre, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, and Times Cinema during the fest’s two-week run, featuring everything from crowd-pleasing features and specialized documentaries to mind-bending shorts and home-grown oddities. There’s plenty to love beyond the films, too: live music; panel discussions; celebrity guests; and the occasional special event featuring Bloody Marys, cold pizza, and shitty horror movies. Before the celluloid (and digital) bomb drops on Milwaukee later this week, Slim-Pickens-in-Dr.–Strangelove-style (more on that later), Milwaukee Record rounds up 12 reasons to get excited for MFF2014.
1. Opening Night (Thursday, September 25 at Oriental Theatre and Kenilworth Square, 7 p.m.)
This year’s Opening Night festivities include a nod to Milwaukee Film’s past and a glimpse into its future. For the first time since the fest’s inaugural year, the Opening Night film is a documentary—in this case, Johanna Hamilton’s fascinating (and unnervingly timely) 1971. Through the use of interviews, archival footage, and re-enactments, Hamilton tells the story of eight everyday citizens who, on March 8, 1971, infiltrated an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and subsequently uncovered evidence of widespread government surveillance of its own people. The so-called “Citizens’ Commission” was never identified or apprehended, and are only now coming forward to tell their story. Think of it like the Edward Snowden saga of today, but with more polyester.
Immediately following the film, the Opening Night Party will take over nearby Kenilworth Square. The multi-level blowout will feature food, drinks, film trailers, a Neroli beauty bar, a red carpet, and a DJ-provided dance party. While moving the party from its previous home at Discovery World may seem like a case of downsizing, the change keeps the action centered on the East Side, and the focus on what’s truly important: the films.
2. Cinema Hooligante program
If we had to impartially pick our favorite program of MFF2014, we’d have to go with the Milwaukee Record-sponsored Cinema Hooligante program. For the past three years, the late-night series has featured cult classics, B-movies, and enough blood ’n’ boobs to make Lars von Trier and/or the creeps at Troma blush. For 2014, however, MFF is expanding (and slightly maturing) Hooligante to include more sci-fi, fantasy, and comedy. That move is evident in the program’s inclusion of two beloved classic films: Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, and Marty DiBergi’s Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap. Both films will screen in glorious 35mm.
But wait, there’s more! The 2014 Cinema Hooligante program will also include the latest film from Michel Gondry (Mood Indigo), a feature-length anime (Patema Inverted), a cinematic exploration of masturbation via vegetables (Wetlands), and The Raid 2. Hell yes.
3. Man With A Movie Camera w/ Alloy Orchestra (Tuesday, September 30 at Oriental Theatre, 7 p.m.)
Back in 2010, Cambridge, Massachusetts ensemble Alloy Orchestra gave MFF attendees a night to remember with its live score to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The internationally acclaimed group returned in 2012 with Hitchcock’s Blackmail, and will return this year with Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera. The 1926 silent documentary of life in the Soviet Union—recently named the greatest doc of all time by the British Film Institute—will be silent no more as Alloy breathes new sonic life into the film and reclaims it from the dreaded “film studies homework” status.
4. Sound Vision and Soundtrack
Film and music go together like bologna and peanut butter (seriously, try it), and Milwaukee Film has always done a fantastic job programming top-notch music documentaries for its Sound Vision series. This year is no different, with eight music docs covering artists like Nick Cave (20,000 Days On Earth), The Mekons (Revenge Of The Mekons), and Fela Kuti (Alex Gibney’s Finding Fela). Returning this year is Jonathan Demme’s classic Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which turned the Oriental into an impromptu dance party in 2013. If you don’t get out of your seat the second David Byrne walks onstage and says, “Hi, I got a tape I want to play,” you’re clearly dead inside.
For MFF2014’s Soundtrack series, The Hotel Foster has rounded up some of Milwaukee’s best live acts—including Space Raft, Whips, GGOOLLDD, Bliss & Alice, Soul Low, WebsterX, and more—and given them a two-week reign of its stage during the course of the fest. The shows are $5 for the general public, and free to anyone with a festival pass or same-day ticket stub. Yes, Virginia, live music still exists on the East Side. (A full lineup can be found here.)
5. Supersized “Milwaukee Show” (Monday, September 29 at Oriental Theatre, 8 p.m.; Monday, October 6 at Oriental Theatre, 7 p.m.)
MFF2014’s showcase of new work from Milwaukee-based filmmakers, Cream City Cinema, will include three feature-length fiction films (Hamlet A.D.D., The Other One, Pester, Serial Daters Anonymous), one feature-length documentary (Psychopath), and three shorts programs. Two of those shorts programs will be the always-popular “Milwaukee Show,” which has doubled in size for 2014. Part one will include shorts from Kurt Raether, Kara Mulrooney, WC Tank, and Nathaniel Heuer, as well as Spencer Chumbley’s powerful The Death of Corey Stingley. Chris James Thompson’s MECCA: The Floor That Made Milwaukee Famous highlights the second installment. If you’ve ever found yourself cursing the talents of Milwaukee filmmakers when you discover “The Milwaukee Show” has sold out in 30 seconds, this is your year.
6. “State of Cinema” lecture with Wesley Morris (Saturday, September 27 at Prospect Ave. Colectivo, noon)
Second to watching films is talking about films, an activity Milwaukee Film encourages with a series of informal Conversations accompanying select films. Of special note in the talk department is the annual “State of Cinema” address. Last year found the staff of The Dissolve holding forth on the health (or lack thereof) of modern movies; this year features Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Wesley Morris tackling the same subject. Following the talk, the Grantland writer will present the unsung Michael Haneke film Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales Of Several Journeys at the Oriental.
7. Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker tribute (Wednesday, October 1 at Oriental Theatre, 7 p.m.)
Forget, for a moment, those groan-inducing Travel Wisconsin Airplane! commercials. Also forget David Zucker’s foray into painfully unfunny right-wing moviemaking with An American Carol. Instead, remember the filmmaking team of Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker as the warped minds behind some of the funniest films of all time, including The Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane!, The Naked Gun, and Top Secret! The latter receives a special 30th anniversary screening at this year’s fest, as part of a tribute to the Shorewood-bred ZAZ team. The filmmakers will be on hand for the screening, which will probably be more enjoyable if you know a little German.
8. Jimi: All Is By My Side and The Surface (Saturday, October 4 at Oriental Theatre, 7 p.m.; Thursday, October 9 at Oriental Theatre, 8 p.m.)
MFF’s Spotlight Presentations are always your best bet for accessible-yet-rewarding indie fare currently making the film festival rounds. Two selections for 2014 include local ties: the impressionistic Jimi Hendrix biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side was directed by Milwaukee native John Ridley (who won an Oscar for his screenplay for 12 Years A Slave), while the harrowing The Surface was made in Milwaukee and on the waters of Lake Michigan. Jimi features Andre 3000 as Hendrix, and nicely avoids the run-of-the-mill biopic clichés by focusing on only one year in the musician’s career (1966-67). The Surface, meanwhile, stars former Goonie/hobbit Sean Astin as a desperate and mentally unstable man who ventures out into the middle of Lake Michigan, only to find the survivor of a single-engine floatplane crash. Written and produced by Milwaukeean Jeff Gendelman, The Surface is being touted as one of the best narrative fiction films the area has ever produced. It closes out this year’s fest.
9. Bloody Sunday (Sunday, September 28 at The Hotel Foster, 11 a.m.)
It’s easy to get drunk on all the cinematic goodness during the first weekend of MFF—so why not tend to your inevitable hangover by showing up at The Hotel Foster, drinking $1-off Bloody Marys, eating cold pizza, and watching shitty horror movies? Milwaukee Record will be hosting the free event, which may or may not include some of our own shitty horror movies we made when we were 13. Yeah, the Packers-Bears game is on at the same time, but a) the Packers are kind of shitty this year, and b) how can you pass up a chance to see this:
10. Everything else
Milwaukee Film describes the process of choosing its films as simply finding the best stuff out there. And there’s a lot of stuff, far more than 10 items can contain: shorts programs, kids movies, the Passport: Mexico program, the Black Lens program, films about art and artists, films about food, and tons more. Add to that a guest list that includes Jerry Harrison, Robert Townsend, and Sean Astin; a series of panels that includes a Mike Gousha-moderated discussion on media and freedom of information; and two super-secret screenings for Milwaukee Film members, and you have a festival that can hardly be contained in two weeks.
Head over to the Milwaukee Film website for a complete rundown of the whole shebang, info on tickets, and more. Oh, and get ready, Milwaukee: this is going to be good.