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Milwaukee Film Festival offers sequel-free cinematic glee

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"Like Crazy" is a romantic drama that becae a favorite at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Photo via Andrea Sperling Productions.

Thus far, 2011 has been a disappointing year for mainstream Hollywood cinema.

There have been a few notable big releases, but for the most part, movie theaters have been inundated with sequel after 3D sequel. In fact, the current year has set the record for the most sequels released into theaters with 27, including the much anticipated sequels to “Hoodwinked,” “Johnny English” and “Big Momma’s House.”

If only there were a place where new, original films from up-and-coming writers, directors and actors could be found.

With the third annual Milwaukee Film Festival approaching, cinema junkies’ prayers have finally been answered.

The festival, which runs from Sept. 22 to Oct. 2, features a week-and-a-half-long melting pot of various movie genres and topics. The lineup features indie darlings, such as “Like Crazy,” a romantic drama that became a favorite at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, as well as movies from Wisconsin-based writers and directors. Documentaries also make up a large chunk of the film list with topics ranging from inner city crime to men who want to be Santa Claus.

Short film collections are a pastime of the Milwaukee Film Festival, as well. The 2011 edition is no different, featuring six different collections. Each film compilation has a basic theme, such as “Date Night.” For those who find themselves fast forwarding through TV shows to get to the ads, one of the options is a medley of the world’s best commercials from the past year.

In addition to the usual categories of low-budget indies and thought-provoking documentaries, the film festival showcases several particular genres, cultures and filmmakers.

For instance, the event is showing two films, “The Rose” and Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi classic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in order to pay tribute to cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. The Oscar-winning Zsigmond will also be on hand to discuss the making of some of his most influential films.

Unique to this year’s festival is the Passport: India aspect. According to Jonathan Jackson, artistic and executive director of Milwaukee Film, focusing on a particular region has always been a goal of the festival, but this is the first year it’s come together.

“It’s not just films by filmmakers from the country,” Jackson said. “It’s truly a trip into their culture, their cities, their communities and their different issues.”

While some selections are more traditional Bollywood fare, others, such as “Gandu,” hope to demonstrate a different side of Indian cinema.

“Robot,” another selection playing at the Milwaukee Film Festival, has gained notoriety for a ten minute clip that became a YouTube sensation. The movie is more than an internet meme. The three-hour epic is famous in India, featuring two of the country’s biggest stars and music from the Oscar winning composer of “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The festival is not only reaching out of the country for different experiences and genres. Three of the films highlighted belong to the Chicago based non-profit film company Kartemquin Films. The company produces documentaries that probe the difficult issues of social justice in America with critically acclaimed results.

Their most famous documentary, “Hoop Dreams,” which features a Marquette alum, is noted by Sports Illustrated as one of the greatest movies ever made. “The Interrupters,” their latest film, is also garnering Oscar hype for Best Documentary. Both films will be shown at the festival.

According to Jackson, the stars and director of “The Interrupters” will be at the Sept. 24 showing of the film at the Oriental Theater. The following Monday, they will also be participating in a panel discussion on violent crime with Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow of law and public policy, at Marquette’s own Eckstein Hall.

The films presented cover a wide range of locations, and the festival itself is no different. While many of the screenings will be held at the Oriental and Downer theaters, additional showings are scheduled for the Marcus North Shore and Ridge cinemas.

“Our great relationship with the Marcus Corporation allows us to show films in places where you don’t typically see film festivals occurring,” Jackson said. “It can truly be reached by the whole community.”

No matter where you attend it, the Milwaukee Film Festival is perfect for those seeking more than a bucket of popcorn and some 3D explosions from their movie-going experience.

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