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New programs, guests expand sixth annual MKE Film Festival

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Over 250 films will be shown at the sixth annual Milwaukee Film Festival. Photo via onmilwaukee.com

Over 250 films will be shown at the sixth annual Milwaukee Film Festival. Photo via onmilwaukee.com

For the past six years, the Milwaukee Film Festival brought directors and movie buffs from all over the country to experience two straight weeks of cinematic glory. With this year’s new programs, special guests and additional venues, the festival is expected to see a 40 percent increase in attendance.

The sixth annual Milwaukee Film Festival runs from Sept. 25 – Oct. 9 at seven different venues including the Oriental Theatre, Downer Theatre, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, Times Cinema, Kenilworth Square, Hotel Foster and the Colectivo Coffee on Prospect Ave.

“Our guiding principle is to present the best 15 days of cinema on the planet,” said Jonathan Jackson, the Milwaukee Film Festival’s artistic and executive director.

The festival’s team extensively researches 50 film festivals in the U.S. to determine the most noteworthy motion pictures. The team monitors which films received the best track record among audiences based on the films with the most screenings and award wins.

“We do not strive to show the first cinema you can find anywhere, but the best,” Jackson said.

Jackson predicts that the films shown during the opening ceremonies and closing night will attract the largest audiences. The festival’s opening night feature is “1971,” Johanna Hamilton’s thrilling documentary on eight fearless citizens who take the initiative to expose government corruption. Through dramatic reenactments, exclusive interviews and archival footage, she shows the citizens breaking into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania to take hundreds of secret files and reveal them to the public. Hamilton also plans to attend the screening.

The opening night party follows the screening of “1971” and occurs at Kenilworth Place. Jackson described the event as a great way to meet fellow movie lovers in Milwaukee, as well as interact with people you know in a casual setting.

“Guests can expect a really awesome experience,” he said. “The party has multi-level dance floors and allows the audience to engage with each other.”

The festival’s guests of honor include critically acclaimed documentarians Marshall Curry and Deborah Granik. Curry and Granik will both participate in extended question and answer sessions following screenings of their films. Curry’s first directed piece, “Street Fight,” about the first political campaign of current U.S. Senator Cory Booker, is playing Oct. 7 at the Oriental Theatre. His latest documentary, “Point and Shoot,” follows a young Baltimore native who finds himself as a Libyan rebel fighting dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Granik’s films in the festival include “Stray Dog” and “Winter’s Bone.” “Winter’s Bone” stars Jennifer Lawrence, whose character must locate her missing father. The film helped launch Lawrence’s career and received four Academy Award nominations in 2011. “Stray Dog” follows Ron “Stray Dog” Hall, a biker, Vietnam vet, husband and father. The documentary serves to correct rural stereotypes. Jackson praised both Curry and Granik as “the leading storytellers of our time.”

Over the two-week period, the festival will show 275 movies broken up into 14 different programs, including the new Film Feast, Black Lens and Art + Artist series. Film Feast features eight movies celebrating the culture of food and drink. Jackson said the films go beyond the standard food documentaries and include fiction films as well. An interesting pick in the series includes “Paulette,” a French comedy about a pastry chef who turns to cannabis dealing to make ends meet.

The Black Lens program showcases the work of established and emerging African-American filmmakers. The films are meant to spotlight the innovative individuals behind the cinematic work and broaden their audiences. The idea for the program developed after George Tillman Jr.’s “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete” sold out the Oriental Theatre last year. A must-see in this category is Alton Glass’s “CRU,” a drama about four high school friends who reconnect after a tragic accident split them apart 20 years earlier.

The Art + Artist series features eight documentaries focused on the creativity behind visual and performing arts. Jackson teamed up with Kristopher Pollard, the festival’s membership manager and a local artist, to select the films. The documentary “Advanced Style” follows seven older fashionistas living in New York City with ages ranging from 62 to 95.

Another new feature to the festival is the addition of the Times Cinema in Wauwatosa to its exclusive list of venues.

“The festival is a great way to engage with Milwaukee and the world presented on screen,” Jackson said. “It allows guests to visit unique venues like the Oriental Theatre, architecturally one of the top cinemas in the USA.”

Motion Pictures Magazine named the Oriental Theatre “One of the 10 Best Movie Theatres in America” in 2011.

Along with featuring films by experienced and award-winning directors, the festival hosts a competition category to help emerging filmmakers. The festival’s esteemed jury will judge the eight films in this category, a mixture of documentary and fiction films. The winning director will receive the $10,000 Herzfeld Competition Award to assist with future work.

Jackson’s goal for the film festival is to expose Milwaukee to the positive impacts of film.

“I have been profoundly impacted by films in my own life,” Jackson said. “I want to bring this back to the community to make a positive impact on those watching the movies and cinema.”

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