Jeramey Jannene
Milwaukee Film Festival

Jeramey’s Weekend Recap

Reporting on a great opening weekend and five films I saw. Which are worth your time?

By - Sep 29th, 2014 02:15 pm
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Cast and Crew of 1971 with Jonathan Jackson

Cast and Crew of 1971 with Jonathan Jackson

The Milwaukee Film Festival packed the theater, repeatedly, for the first five days. The festival notched 36 sold-out screenings and 20 percent year-over-year growth in ticket sales. A revamped Opening Night Party drew a capacity crowd (950) at UWM’s Kenilworth Square building that had people getting turned away at the door. The sold-out opening night screening of 1971 drew 1,070 attendees, including the film’s director, as well as four people featured in the eye-opening film.

This weekend I took in five films, including three that were sold-out, that ran the gamut from documentaries to comedies and dramas. The following is my take on the first weekend’s festivities, and on five films you can catch over the remaining 11 days of the festival.

1971

Before Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks there was a group of activists that broke into a FBI office in suburban Philadelphia to show what illegal activities the FBI was up to. No member of the self-titled “The Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI” revealed who they were until this year. It’s a revealing, well put together documentary. Four of the subjects were on-hand at the screening, as well as the director, Johanna Hamilton. No showings remain at the film fest, but the film will air on PBS and be released in theaters.

Opening Night Party

I was prepared for a bit of a let-down, with the party being relocated from Discovery World to Kenilworth Square, but in the end I came away quite impressed. Out went last year’s over-the-top party, a highly-hyped event that ultimately didn’t seem to have much to do with the festival. In its place was an event that was down the block from the Oriental Theatre (site of the opening night movie). The party stretched over three levels, with each having a slightly different flare. Unlike in years past, it seemed most people at the party had actually gone to the opening movie. Trailers were on display, and people were actually watching them, whereas they seemed to be largely ignored at Discovery World. Despite the change in venue, the party was still the place to see and be seen in Milwaukee on that night.

The State of Cinema: Wesley Morris

While not a movie, The State of Cinema is an annual address given at the film festival. Pulitzer Prize winner Wesley Morris of Grantland delivered a speech around race in film. While I can’t do justice to his argument in a single paragraph, he did an excellent job of making the topic accessible. Speaking to a predominantly white audience, Morris unpacked a loaded topic with insightful criticism and humorous anecdotes. The speech will be made available online at a later date. It’s worth your time to watch.

We Are the Nobles 

A full house at the Fox Bay Cinema took in We Are the Nobles, a comedy centered around a wealthy family in Mexico. The excessively privileged kids have their credit cards and cell phones cut off, as they’re taught a lesson by their suddenly interested father. Predictably everyone learns from each other and ends up better off because of it. And of course, the poor guy gets the rich girl, but not without drama first! Despite the predictable ending, the journey the characters take makes the film worth watching. The film employs what feels like a generic “bad guy becomes good guy” trope, but does it in such a way that it’s never cheesy. The film is in Spanish with English subtitles and is supposed to be the highest grossing film in Mexican cinema history. Two screenings remain (September 30th and October 6th).

Shorts: The Best Damn F*#@ing Midnight Program Ever. Sh*t.

Shorts are by-and-large hit or miss. You’re going to love some. You’re going to hate some. And be indifferent about others. Milwaukee Film does a good job of packaging them together in logical groupings (animated, sports, kids, date night, etc, etc.), but I couldn’t figure out how the films were chosen for the midnight show (my best guess: they grouped anything that could offend someone). In the end, there were enough films I wasn’t interested in that I walked out early. Two animated offerings were okay, but one seemed to drag forever. A short about a couple that played jokes on another took an amusing turn at the end, but seemed way longer than necessary. The best thing I saw (and something I recommend you watch when it surfaces on one of the streaming services) is a Nick Offerman narrated short, The Gunfighter, that is hilarious and perfectly timed at nines minutes in length. Those that didn’t walk out early seemed to love it.

CRU

Part of the film festival’s Black Lens program, the drama CRU follows four friends that have had their lives altered as a result of a high school car crash. I really enjoyed this film, but felt there were a few head-scratching transitions that could be cleaned up (one character went from broke to buying two last minute plane tickets, etc.). Actor and producer Antwon Tanner is in town for both showings. One showing remains on September 30th.

The Overnighters

This movie, dealing with the world of oil fracking in North Dakota, had me intrigued. My interests in the scientific, social and financial implications of the booming industry were colliding with my film obsessed self, or so it seemed. The documentary, set in Williston, ND, actually has little do with fracking (so little that my fiance left the film still not understanding what fracking is) and deals more with the realities of a boom town where single men head looking for work. The film follows Pastor Jay Reinke around as he negotiates the world of running an unsanctioned hotel/homeless shelter in his church and home for people that arrive in the boom town to find work. The film will screen again on October 2nd and 4th.

SPOILER ALERT: A serious twist at the end of the film will leave you reconsidering everything the movie presents. I spent a half hour after the film searching the internet for everything I could find about the main subject. I’m sure director Jesse Moss didn’t expect the surprise he encountered, but there’s no way it couldn’t be included. Searching online for one of the people Reinke let stay in his house reveals yet another twist (which just happened a month or two ago) and further calls into question what the movie presents. This story seems far from over.

Rankings

Which of these films should you go see? I’ve listed them in order of my likelihood to recommend them to a random stranger (or more likely, someone standing next to me in line to get into a movie). I’ll continue to update this list as the festival moves along.

  1. 1971
  2. We Are the Nobles
  3. The Overnighters
  4. CRU
  5. Shorts: The Best Damn F*#@ing Midnight Program Ever. Sh*t.

0 thoughts on “Milwaukee Film Festival: Jeramey’s Weekend Recap”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What a great way to cover this event.

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