“What” To See And “Why” At The Milwaukee Film Festival

As tickets go on sale ten picks from a grizzled veteran.

Just because you can’t see ‘em all doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

How to choose among the more than 300 films in this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival?

The festival itself provides assistance.

Its program guide offers; a synopsis for each film; color coding to help distinguish films in various programs; a “quick picks” section to steer you to films based on your personal taste; a YouTube channel with trailers for the films; and advice by staff members on its website.

Tickets go on sale Wednesday for members and Thursday for the public at the festival website; by calling 414-727-8468; and at the Oriental Theatre box office, 2230 N. Farwell Ave, at 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday and at noon Friday through Sunday.

During the festival tickets will also be sold at the other venues; Avalon Theater, 2473 S. Kinnickinnic Ave; Downer Theater, 2589 N. Downer Ave.; Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, 334 E. Silver Spring Dr.; and the Times Cinema, 5906 W. Vliet St.

Another way to choose?  Take the advice of a grizzled veteran and try one of the ten films below.

–What: Youth

When: Sept. 24, 7 p. m., Oriental.

Why: No brainer. Opening night is an essential festival experience. It is the festival’s front page. But the crowd is an atypical one filled with donors and sponsors, so it’s hard to hit the right note. Films have ranged from the depressing (“Blue Valentine”) to the trivial (“Starbuck.”) This year they have struck gold with an adult film starring an Oscar winning actor (Michael Caine) by the Oscar winning director of “The Great Beauty.”

Program: Spotlight.

Quick Pick: For Someone Who Likes Movie Stars.

–What: Uncle John

When: Oct. 1, 7 p.m., Oriental; Oct. 8, 7 p.m. Oriental.

Why: Morally complex thriller is not about the crime, but the coverup. Someone has been killed and the title character, played by John Ashton, is somehow involved. The story by UW-alum Erik Crary also tells a second story about a stop-and-start flirtation between two young people. How are the two stories related? Hmmm. Filmed in Prairie du Sac and Lodi.

Program: Competition.

Quick Pick: For Someone Who Likes A Good Thriller Or Adventure.

–What: The Great Alone

When: Sept. 27, 7 p.m. Oriental; Sept. 27, 1 p.m., Oriental.

Why: A successful documentary can involve you in something you may not know or care about. Unless you are are a student of the grueling Alaskan dog sled race the Iditarod that’s the trick accomplished by Greg Kohs, who previously directed “Song Sung Blue,” about late Neil Diamond impersonator and Milwaukee area native Mike Sardina.

Program: Competition.

Quick Pick: For A Sports Fan.

–What: Margarita With A Straw

When Sept. 28, 7 p.m. Avalon; Oct. 2, 1:15 p.m., Downer; Oct 3, 10 p.m., Times; Oct. 6, 4:15 p.m., Fox Bay.

Why: Tender coming-of-age tale about a musically accomplished and flirtatious young woman from India with cerebral palsy at school in New York. Challenges the idea of what is “normal” in more ways than one.

Program: Worldview.

Quick Pick: For LGBTQ Or An Ally.

What: The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

When: Sept. 28, 6:15 p.m., Oriental; Oct. 5, 7 p.m., Times.


Why: Vintage footage and interviews with surviving members and witnesses fills this historically vivid account of a turbulent period with contemporary resonance. Director Stanley Nelson will appear to receive the festival’s Tribute Award.

Program: Black Lens.

Quick Pick: For A Political Wonk.

–What: Peace Officer

When: Oct. 3, 7 p.m. Oriental.

Why: A soft-spoken and thoughtful former Utah sheriff, who introduced the S.W.A.T. concept to his county, investigates the excessive use of force in the death of a his son-in-law. A gripping look at how S.W.A.T. teams have become part of domestic law enforcement.

Program: Spotlight.

Quick Pick: For Someone Who Cares What Festival Juries Think.

–What: The Wrecking Crew

When: Sept. 25, 9:45 p.m., Times; Oct. 6, 7 p.m., Downer.

Why: Untold story of the unsung studio musicians and “secret star maker machinery” behind music you loved that wouldn’t have existed without them. In the tradition of “Twenty Feet From Stardom,”

Program: Sound Vision.

–What: Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club

When: Sept. 26, 1:15 p.m., Fox Bay; Sept. 27, 3:45 p.m., Downer; Oct. 5, 10 p.m., Times.

Why: As much of an “unhurried pleasure” as the institution it celebrates. An amiable stroll through the history of a uniquely Wisconsin eating and dining experience, from the relish tray and Friday fish fry to ice cream drinks.

Program: Film Feast.

-What: He Named Me Malala

Why: Single showing of anticipated documentary, opening in theaters next month and a likely Oscar nominee. Personal story of a young girl who survived a confrontation with the Taliban, became a beacon for women’s education and won a Nobel Prize.

When: Oct. 1, 4:15 p.m., Downer.

Program: Documentary.

Quick Pick: For Someone Who Likes To be Inspired.



Duane Dudek is a Milwaukee native. For more than 30 years, he was film critic and television columnist at the Milwaukee Sentinel and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He continues to apply his expertise at DuaneDudek.com.