35 mm is dead; long live 35 mm
While digital distribution makes a special sort of sense for a film festival (keeping track of nearly 100 prints in the nascent days of the festival must've been a Herculean task), we just can't stop loving the format. The festival screened The Land Before Time, Wings of Desire, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Enter the Dragon, Earth and Blow Out, among others in 35 mm this year. There is a je nais se quoi about an extra large projection (all of these 35 mm screenings took place in the Oriental's main theater, only amplifying their appeal) on film instead of digital – a reminder of the hand-made perhaps, or Tom’s slightly more bonzo gonzo theory that the film flicker/persistence of vision that comes with projected film stock is much closer to our dream state than that pure HD, allowing them to plumb our subconscious that much more efficiently.
Nothing this year beat the sheer thrill of being able to see Bruce Lee – in his prime, no less – kick all sorts of evil ass on the big screen in Enter the Dragon. Affording both fans and admirers the rare opportunity to watch Lee on the big screen – many for the first time – in the format the now-iconic film was originally shown in 40 years ago, drove home the fact that as commonplace as digital projection has become in recent years, nothing beats the aesthetic and overall quality of film projection.
The festival encourages the joy of discovery
Discovery World wasn't just the site of the opening night party if one was willing to take a chance on the unknown when planning out their festival schedules. From the stream-of-consciousness journey down the philosophical rabbit hole that was The Pervert's Guide to Ideology to the gently romantic/comedic/dramatic Key of Life whose identity swap premise was filled with nothing but love for all of its characters throughout, if you took a chance on seeing something at the festival chances are your faith was rewarded. Be it documentaries like Maidentrip (following the journey of the youngest girl to ever circumnavigate the globe solo) or Breathing Earth (a look at an artist whose sculptures interact with nature in beautiful, hypnotic ways), or fiction features like The History of Future Folk (a low-budget comedic origin tale of a folk band from another planet whose plans of planetary takeover are thwarted by their love of our music) and Billy Club (a bread-and-butter locally grown slasher flick reviewed earlier) the odds of catching something you'd never even heard of and subsequently having it turn out to be good or excellent were high.
The State of the Cinema in Milwaukee is looking pretty, pretty good
There was a brief time in the early years of the festival where it seemed Milwaukee just might not be a town terribly interested in film culture. The Times had gone out of business despite a programming slate that was electric/eclectic. It seemed we might have to cross state lines in order to find packed theaters in support of classic/indie cinema. Flash forward to the MFF's fifth year, and we now know that there's a thriving and passionate audience for movie-going in Milwaukee. We were continually heartened by lines wrapping around the side of the Oriental or down Downer Ave. for so many of the festival's screenings. There really isn't anything that compares to taking in a film with a packed house that is wholly receptive to what the filmmakers are trying to accomplish. It's an opportunity rarely afforded us in an age of Netflix and video on demand, and we’re insanely grateful to both the MFF 2013 staff and audience for working together to ensure the future of film in Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee Show delivered, again
Of the 12 shorts screened with local ties, there were a handful that stood out. Zijian Yan’s The Glitch, where a female robot pleads for her life after attacking a human, it’s reminiscent – to a certain degree – of the New Tokyo-portion of Cloud Atlas, the most engaging portion of that beautiful mess of movie. Karim Raoul’s Water, Ice, Snow (formerly I Am), a documentary about a talented female photographer who travels to Mongolia of all places as part of a larger project she’s working on called “I Am” which encourages children from around the world to use photography as a means of self-expression. Anna Sampers’ Margaret Hue Would Like To Go To Mars is a funny crowd-pleaser where the title character makes her case to go to…Mars. Collaborative Cinema’s final film, Love You Still, directed by UWM film student Michael Viers and written by Franklin High School student Katie Theel, is a surprisingly mature and heartfelt rumination on love and loss with Hollywood-caliber production values. A group of talented, local filmmakers came together to give us the genre-switching curiosity that is Spectacle! (which started out as a film installation earlier this year). Michael T. Vollman’s Before You is a beautifully shot, lyrically composed lullaby of sorts which illustrates how the arrival of the filmmaker’s infant daughter was a total game changer. Before You won Vollman the Cream City Cinema Filmmaker-in-Residence prize. It’s the fourth time in five years that a filmmaker whose work was shown in competition during The Milwaukee Show has won the prize.
War Witch should be seen by as wide an audience as possible
Mack’s personal favorite festival selection from this year was War Witch (Rebelle), an award-winning film about a 12-year-old girl (Rachel Mwanza, simply amazing in her feature film debut) who is abducted in sub-Saharan Africa and forced to become a child soldier. Canadian filmmaker Kim Nguyen, who wrote, co-produced and directed the film, makes the wise decision to tell the entire film from her perspective and is unflinching in showing the brutality of war both physically and psychologically. It was Canada’s official submission for the Foreign-Language film Oscar competition earlier this year, for which it was nominated. And it swept the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards earlier this year winning 10 awards including best picture, best director and best original screenplay for Nguyen, and best actress for Mwanza.
Favorite Classic Screenings
2001: A Space Odyssey
Favorite Festival Features
Short Term 12
The History of Future Folk
Key of Life
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete
Favorite Festival Documentaries
12 O'Clock Boys
The Act of Killing
The Pervert's Guide to Ideology
2013 MILWAUKEE FILM FESTIVAL JURY AWARDS
The Herzfeld Competition Award Winner
War Witch (dir. Kim Nguyen)
Special Competition Jury Prize
12 O’Clock Boys (dir. Lotfy Nathan)
Cream City Cinema: Filmmaker-in-Residence
Michael T. Vollman, Before You
Special Cream City Cinema Jury Prize
Habibeh (Thicker Than Paint) (dir. Maryam Sepehri)
Special Cream City Cinema Jury Prize, Acting
Logan Lark, When the King Tilts
2013 Allan (H.) Bud and Suzanne L. Selig Audience Awards
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete (dir. George Tillman, Jr.)
Eddie Adams: Saigon ‘68 (dir. Douglas Sloan)