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It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full week since the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival came to a close. It’s taken this long for exhausted film writers and avid moviegoers to recoup. Was this year’s fest worth the momentary sleep deprivation and insomnia?   Abso-freakin’-lutely!   Sure, it’s totally cliché to proclaim the most […]

It’s hard to believe that it’s
been a full week since the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival came to a close. It’s
taken this long for exhausted film writers and avid moviegoers to recoup. Was this
year’s fest worth the momentary sleep deprivation and insomnia?


 


Abso-freakin’-lutely!


 


Sure, it’s totally cliché to
proclaim the most recent edition of a still-relatively new and growing
enterprise such as film festival (in its sixth year) the best thus far. More
than likely, it’s a trend that will continue for the next decade or so as the
good folks at Milwaukee Film continue to nurture the city’s premier film
festival as well as expand upon what they’ve already done in an attempt to
continue to confound audience expectations.


 


Between Thursday, Sept. 25
and Thursday, Oct. 9, the sixth edition of the ever-expanding and improving
festival screened 276 films (157 shorts and 119 feature-length) from 63
countries around the world. In short, during those glorious 15 days the
festival took place over, Milwaukee was Ground Zero for not only the best in
local film fare but the best in world film fare as well.


 


For the first time, the Times
Cinema (pun intended!) was among the venues where festival fare played, and as
my colleague Tom Fuchs pointed out in his festival wrap up, it proved to be a
perfect addition.


 


What did I take away from
this year’s festival? Other than the importance of sleep and the rejuvenating
powers, however fleeting, of caffeine?


 


First, there’s a big world
out there beyond the overcast shores of Lake Michigan populated with a lot of
talented artists working in film. Yes, even film critics can forget that fact
from time to time.


 


Second, it’s a well-known
fact that Milwaukee is one of the most racially-segregated cities in the United
States. However, I’ve never seen such a racially diverse mixture of people
attend this year’s festival than I witnessed this year. I can’t help but think
that had a lot to do with the addition of the Passport: Mexico and the Black
Lens
film series, the latter of which was curated by Geraud Blanks and
Donte McFadden, which caters to the black movie-going audience.


 


The idea for the Black Lens
was born following the marked increase in black attendance during the opening
weekend of last year’s festival early in its run. Filmmaker and Milwaukee
native George Tillman Jr. was a festival honoree and screenings of two of his
films (2013’s The Disappearance of Mister and Pete and 2009’s Notorious)
drew huge crowds of black moviegoers. Following that weekend, the numbers of
black moviegoers dropped off considerably, likely due to lack of interest in
remaining festival fare.


Fingers are crossed that the
Black Lens programming slate will remain apart of the festival‘s program in the
years ahead. The inaugural eight film slate was quite impressive and offered
something for every taste. The highlight being a 27th anniversary
showing of actor-filmmaker Robert Townsend’s feature debut, Hollywood
Shuffle
(1987). Townsend attended the event and spoke with Moviegoers about
the film
.


 


Another highlight of this
year’s festival was the Milwaukee Show, an annual competitive showcase
in the festival’s Cream City Cinema program that features the best in short
film from local filmmakers. Despite it typically being a sold-out festival
event, I’m still amazed at the number of festival goers who aren’t familiar
with it. I’ve caught the showcase for the past four years now, and have seen
some truly exceptional work.


 


And for the first time since
its inception in 2009, there was such an embarrassment of riches that two
nights — instead of usual one — were required to show it all.


 


Of the 17 films that played
on either Night I or Night II of the Milwaukee Show, seven were truly
exceptional in my view, none more so than The Death of Corey Stingley from
director Spencer Chumbley. It’s a riveting, 26-minute short that chronicles the
story of a heartbroken local man trying to get justice for his son, a
16-year-old black teen who died from injuries sustained after he was wrestled
to the ground and rendered unconscious by three overzealous white men inside a
West Allis convenience store following a failed shoplifting attempt in December
2012. Actual in-store surveillance tape footage of the incident is shrewdly
used throughout the film.


 


The short film that took me
by complete surprise this year was Sitora Takanaev’s directorial debut, Balloons,
a beautifully composed, 5-minute gem that features a little girl trying to
spruce up her drab, snow-drenched surroundings. Shot in an around the Third
Ward, she shared that the film was born out of last year’s long, depressing
winter.


 


For the fifth time in the
six-year history of the festival, a filmmaker whose work was shown in
competition during the Milwaukee Show went onto claim the festival’s Cream City
Cinema Filmmaker-in-Residence prize. This year it went to the inventive,
dialogue-free, aliens lost in Milwaukee comedy New Planet by
James Tindell.


 


In the coming weeks, I’ll
have interviews with two filmmakers who had work show in the either part one or
part two of the Milwaukee Show.


 


Other highlights included:


 


Seeing Stanley Kubrick’s Dr.
Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
(1964)
in its entirety for the first time on the big screen in 35mm!


 


Catching The Raid 2 one
more time on the big screen! It nearly equaled the thrill of seeing Bruce Lee
onscreen for the first time — in his prime, and in 35mm no less — kicking
copious amounts of evil ass in last year’s festival screening of Enter
the Dragon
.


 


Speaking with festival
honoree and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone),
festival guest Robert Townsend (Hollywood Shuffle), and the chief
creative team behind the festival’s closing night film, The Surface
(an exclusive interview and my film review are forthcoming as the film is
tentatively set to open in Milwaukee on Friday, Oct. 31).


 


And catching approximately 35
films overall, with nary a dud in the bunch. (OK, there was one, but I plead
the fifth…here in print anyway).


 


The one’s that got away: Charlie’s Country; 1,000 Times
Good Night
; Mystery Road; Stop Making Sense (three-peat?);
and Dear MKE


 


And finally, congratulations
to this year’s jury and audience award winners:


 


2014 Milwaukee Film
Festival Jury Awards


 


Abele Catalyst Award: Marianne Lubar


 


Herzeld Competition Award
($10,000 cash prize)
: The Tribe
(Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, director)


 


Cream City Cinema:
Filmmaker-in-Residence ($5,000 cash and $20,000 production package)
:


 


New Planet (James
Tindell, director)


 


Cream City Cinema Special
Jury Prize
: An Evening at
Angelo’s
(Kara Mulrooney, director)


 


Shorter is Better Award
($1,000 cash)
: Love. Love.
Love.
(Sandhya Daisy Sundaram, director)


 


Shorter is Better Special
Jury Prizes: Through the Hawthorne
(Anna Benner, Pia Borg and Gemma Burditt, directors) & The
Last Days of Peter Bergmann
(Ciaran Cassid, director)


 


Kids Choice Short Film Award: Sweet Love (Albert Jan van Rees, director)


 


Kids Choice Special
Jury Awards
: Wombo
(Daniel Acht, director) & The Numberlys (William Joyce and
Brandon Oldenburg, directors)


 


2014 Milwaukee Film
Festival Allan H. (Bud) and Suzanne L. Selig Audience Awards


 


Feature Film :
Alive Inside (Michael Rassato-Bennett, director)


 


Short Film:
The Numberlys (William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, directors)

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