MANNO: Film Festival Volunteering

The best thing I’ll do in the next week and a half is tear lime-green ticket stubs.

This is my third year volunteering at the Milwaukee Film Festival, and it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The Christmas morning of movies. The supercenter of cinema. It’s all great, and I love spending time outside the theaters and seeing the hordes of moviegoers flock to the screens.

But it is just a bunch of movies … what good is it to volunteer?

Part of it is nostalgia – the festival was my first real connection to Milwaukee when I came here. Part of it is the fact that I could just sit in the Oriental Theatre all day and stare at the walls. Part of it is that I love watching movies – and apparently watching other people watch movies.

But there’s also something big to be said about a non-conventional non-profit like Milwaukee Film, from the festival and beyond. Milwaukee Film is an awesome group that encourages all sorts of motion picture goodness, from private screenings for members to film workshops for kids. Local businesses and individuals support it, the filmmakers enter some brilliant flicks and the festival runs like clockwork because of the dedication of staff and volunteers.

Film is one of those “universal languages” (throw some subtitles in there, just for good measure), and I think volunteering makes the messages that much more accessible. Some Hollywood hits aside, movies have always been a powerful communicator – they unify us, pull out some hefty emotional reactions and give us a snapshot of another part of the world. It’s something we really don’t find enough of nowadays, and I’m glad I can do a tiny part in making sure it comes back to town.

That’s my plug about volunteering (you should do it, too). But something should also be said about what’s on the screen: movies!

In an age of billboard ads and two-and-a-half minute trailers, it’s much more exciting to see a movie when all you have is a paragraph description and a single still shot via the festival’s nifty schedule magazine. Independent movies have a different feel, and for many of them, this is the only chance to have a film so easily accessible. I’m always fond of the shorts programs, and there also seems to be a trend of European movies with one-off characters escaping from hospitals – awkward and hilarious.

International films; shorts; documentaries; classics; animation; filmmakers; discussions: until Oct. 11, they’re all right down the street. I can’t recommend volunteering enough, but if you can’t find the time, at least stop by for a movie or two. Go see a silent Hitchcock with a live orchestra or a documentary on China’s slick artist Ai Weiwei. See a Norwegian comedic epic about curling or support local filmmakers during “The Milwaukee Show.” Find one of those fancy schedules around town, and go see something!

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