How Are You Coping? Milwaukee Film’s Jonathan Jackson

He begins every day with a long walk and a big smoothie.

For MilwaukeeMag.com‘s series, How Are You Coping, photographer Alexis Gleason is creating portraits via Facetime. “I started this project as a way to connect with people. In the process, I’ve seen that these sessions are giving people a reason to get dolled up for a special occasion—even if its just posing in their living room.”


WE ASKED MILWAUKEE FILM Chief Executive Officer & Artistic Director Jonathan Jackson how he’s staying sane as the city begins another month of Safer at Home. 

For MilwaukeeMag.com’s series, How Are You Coping, photographer Alexis Gleason is creating portraits via Facetime

What’s been keeping you grounded?

I’ve tried to stick to some habits that have helped me become a healthier person over the past few years. Even basic routines can be incredibly helpful, things as simple as a morning walk along the lakefront – I find that a great way to start the day. I also make myself a big smoothie every day. 

Are you working remotely right now?

We’ve been working remotely since the day we decided to shut down the Oriental Theatre, all 59 staff members of Milwaukee Film have been since then. I miss seeing them, but we’ve managed to stay pretty productive.

I have a four- and six-year-old, and my wife works full-time as well, and we’re all home right now.

What’s that been like?

Our six-year-old is in first grade, and she can complete her assignments with a little guidance. She loves school, though, so the change has been hard for her.My son misses his friends too. And his days are usually less structured, so it’s been difficult to try to recreate his school day at home. 

The two of them are actually playing together better than they ever have before, though. That’s been nice to see. 

Tell us a bit about Milwaukee Film’s new Sofa Cinema programming.

I’ve always been adamant that the viewing experience of watching a film in a cinema can’t be replicated. But we had no choice but to try. The independent distribution industry pivoted to virtual distributions quickly, and out of necessity.

We’re offering a curated selection of three or four films at once, so it’s not like going on Netflix and staring down thousands upon thousands of options. And we see it as a way to give back to the indie distributors who really need our help right now.

Movie theaters have really been struggling as a result of the pandemic. Will the Oriental be able to weather the storm?

Businesses that involve social convening have been hit hard, and will continue to be hit hard. They’re going to be impacted longer than most. 

We’re hurting, but we have an incredible membership base of over 5,000 people who donate annually to Milwaukee Film. That’s going to help ensure our future. And being a nonprofit has worked in our favor too. We have a board of directors and donors who can help us. That doesn’t mean that we’re invulnerable, but it does mean that I’m confident that we’ll get through this. 

And I think that when this is all over people will appreciate the experience of going into a historic theater like the Oriental all the more.

Are you still planning on holding the Milwaukee Film Festival this fall?

We are absolutely planning on a festival this fall. It’s likely that we’ll have to make some changes. The economy is depressed, and the festival relies on fundraising. But we’re committed to doing it. We just have to see how things develop over the next few months to find out what shape and form the festival will take.

What’s the last great film you’ve watched?

Annihilation. I think maybe I’m leaning a little too much into the darkness, but I decided to rewatch it a few nights ago. I was profoundly affected by it the first time I watched it and found it especially eerie, to revisit it again now. 

What else have you been doing, while stuck at home?

I’ve invested more in cooking, and cooking with my kids. And our yard too. People in my neighborhood are spending a lot of time on their yards. They’re all going to be amazing this year.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I serve as a board chair for the East Side BID, and I just can’t stress enough that – if you’re looking to do something to help, you can choose to spend the money that you have to spend locally. By supporting your local businesses, you’re helping ensure that when we can all come back together again, they’ll be coming back with us. 


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Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.