Howie Goldklang
The Future of Independent Film Has Arrived

Meet Milwaukee Film

By - Oct 1st, 2008 02:52 pm

by Howie Goldklang + Photo by Kat Berger


Film festivals are a tough business, man. One day you’re wearing your cleanest dirty suit in some board room asking for sponsorship money and the next you might be unloading office furniture from a rental truck, arguing about which films to program or waiting around for the Road Runner guy to show up between 3 pm and 10 pm on a Tuesday. And so it goes, on and on into an abyss of film submissions, stacks of papers and messes of wires up and down your office walls, dealing with filmmakers, the endless quest for sponsor dollars, securing equipment partners, a constant need to build build build – film programs, screenings, screenplay readings, competitions, contests, and then your actual festival! My god, you mean we have to show films? Yes! Creating the printed program, hawking down sponsors for ads two weeks late, finding reliable projectionists, pulling a jury together, organizing parties and panels, printing tickets and those cool-guy laminated passes, glad-handing sponsors, and on and on into an abyss of …

You get it. The film festival world is a fucking grind and to be the core staff of a successful one means you are either crazy, bulletproof or both. Enter Jonathan Jackson, Kyle Heller and T.J. Fackelman – keys to the defunct Milwaukee International Film Festival (MIFF) now forging ahead with a new organization called MILWAUKEE FILM. (Peep the Facebook group of the same name. Now!)

But wait? What the hell happened to MIFF? We’re a beer and shot away from that conversation, so if you see me at a bar, walk over with a Magic Hat and Makers and we can get into it. For now, think about reasons that arts non-profits might split. Then think about who the original organizers were. Go ahead, name names. Then do a Mad Libs called FOUNDERS VS. FESTIVAL and carefully place the words Money, Ego, Sponsors, Vision, Credit and Direction. Then buy me another drink. (Search the REEL MILWAUKEE Blog at for more on the 4W/H about what happened to MIFF.) But I digress.

Can you imagine doing the brick-by-brick, day-to-day festival grind for five years and without warning, it’s gone? These dudes couldn’t. Up from the ashes came Milwaukee Film, which is both a kick to the teeth of the powers that stole MIFF from Milwaukee and a dog whistle to independent filmmakers and artists in Milwaukee that the real supporters of MIFF don’t go out like that.

“The whole staff went through a grieving process. Having put a festival together for the last five years, I feel like a big part of my life is missing,” says Milwaukee Film Artistic Director Jonathan Jackson. “Ultimately though, I am ecstatic about the future. We have an incredible opportunity to create a cultural organization that will maximize its potential and provide entertaining and socially conscious film programming throughout the year. We can’t guarantee perfection, but the staff and board of Milwaukee Film are going to work tirelessly
to achieve it.”

Stoked, right? Ready to roll up your sleeves and get all film crazy? Mayor Barrett is too. “I am pleased,” says Tom, “that Milwaukee will continue to host this international event which highlights our tremendous cultural landscape and local talent.”

And the Mayor’s not the only one on board, big Milwaukee players (read: money dudes) are there too. Chris Abele, President and CEO of the Argosy Foundation, echoes the Mayor’s sentiments. “We are excited to help shape the future of a new international film festival in Milwaukee,” says Chris. “We’ve already received an overwhelmingly positive response from funders, and their generous seed money has built great momentum as we move forward with plans for the new festival.” Sweet!

Adds Jonathon: “Our goal is that Milwaukee Film will eventually play a central role in [Milwaukee’s] year-round film culture. We are planning a major festival for 2009, but we are equally focused on developing events throughout the year, education programs for students and production initiatives to help foster our burgeoning film scene. There is a need in Milwaukee for more foreign and independent film exhibition, and we intend to work towards satisfying it.”

Milwaukee Film’s inaugural screening is on October 23. The Milwaukee Show will be a premiere showcase of diverse locally-made short films at the Oriental Theatre. Films were submitted for screening consideration at no cost, and the top filmmaker will receive a Milwaukee Filmmaker prize package valued at over $10,000, including a camera rental package from North American Camera.

Also on tap is the Milwaukee premiere of award-winning feature-length documentary Song Sung Blue on November 6, also at the Oriental. It follows the story of Milwaukee favorites Lightning & Thunder, a homegrown husband and wife singing duo that pay tribute to the music of Neil Diamond. From humble beginnings to their arrival on the world stage, and through success and tragedy, the film shows a couple who pursue an impossible dream while staying true to each other amid life’s toughest challenges. Talk about hitting the ground running. Milwaukee Film is ready to rock and now you are too. VS

Categories: Movies, REEL Milwaukee

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