Let’s Go To The Movies!
After countless months, days and hours the inaugural Milwaukee Film Festival is finally here! Well, almost. Kicking off this Thursday, the MFF promises to be an absolute whirlwind, screening 162 films from around the world over the course of 11 days, playing host to more than 100 out-of-town guests in the film community and throwing some of the best parties of the year.
The dedicated team at MFF has been screening films in the group’s conference room since April, hand-selecting the best films for the festival. The end result is an amazing lineup of local, national and international films that Executive Director Jonathan Jackson calls “the best of the best” on the film festival circuit.
Just a few highlights of the extensive program: Shorter is Better — a neatly packed series of some of the best short films from around the world; Documenting Our World explores the explosion of artists and filmmakers who have embraced the documentary medium; and MKE: Film, along with the “Milwaukee Show” competition and “Milwaukee Showcase,” presents the stunning work of 26 Milwaukee filmmakers.
“We feel very strongly that the [Milwaukee] film community has arrived,” Jackson says of the The Milwaukee series. ” It really raises the bar.”
The festival launches on Thursday night with Marshall Curry’s second documentary, Racing Dreams, a film that follows three preteens as they traverse the fast-paced, high intensity world of competitive kart racing — the first step on their way to professional racing careers. Throughout the course of the film, the audience watches as Annabeth (age 11), Josh (12), and Brandon (13) zip around on hot asphalt, clocking in at speeds of up to 70 mph in the hopes of one day becoming like their idols — the likes of IndyCar phenom Danica Patrick or Nascar’s golden boy Jeff Gordon.
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this year and was instantly the most surprising breakout hit of the festival, garnering awards for Best Documentary Feature as well as runner-up in the Audience Award.
“It proved that a film about race cars could work in a city that’s the furthest thing from a Nascar community,” Jackson says. “It’s perfect for an opening night film … it’s fun, it’s thrilling and it’s all-ages, which is unique.”
Touted as “an instant classic” by the L.A. Times and “dynamite” from Variety, it looks as though Racing Dreams is on the fast track (pun intended) to becoming one of the most popular films of the year.
“I think it’s a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination — if not a win,” Jackson says. “I think audiences are going to be overwhelmed.”
Racing Dreams is slated for wide release in theaters around the country in Spring 2010, so the MFF premiere is your chance to see it first! The film will screen at both The Oriental and the newly-renovated (and fabulous!) North Shore Cinema on opening night, with special appearances by director Marshall Curry, Producer (and former Whitefish Bay High School attendee) Jack Turner along with the documentary’s subjects and their families.
At both the Oriental and the North Shore Cinema moviegoers will not only get plenty of face time with the cast and crew during pre- and post-show panels, but attendees also get an up-close look at display models of the go-karts used in the film, provided by Milwaukee’s own Briggs & Stratton that builds all of the motors used in these WKA karts.
After the screenings, Discovery World will host the Opening Night Gala — a one-of-a-kind event that encompasses all four floors of the building’s east wing with live art, music and interactive media designed to immerse everyone in the film-making process.
“It’s an experience of the festival that no one has ever imagined,” Jackson says.
Admission to the gala is $15, or $10 with a ticket stub and that price includes complimentary nibbles and a cocktail, plus the chance to rub elbows with the film elite, civic leaders (rumor has it that tough-as-nails Mayor Tom Barrett might even make it out) and the cast of Racing Dreams.
This sort of immersion is an apparent theme throughout the festivities organized around the film festival. Jackson says that there will be a destination point, beginning at 9 pm for each night of the festival. Some destinations will host larger events, like the Milwaukee United party at Turner Hall, emceed by the gang from Mondo Lucha with live music by Kings Go Forth, films by Brian Gallagher and live art from Dwellephant. Others will be more low-key, like happy hours at Twisted Fork or Zaffiros each day from 5 – 7 pm. Whatever your style, these destination points offer a chance to see new faces and experience the festival outside of the theater.
“It’s not just about getting your popcorn and trying to avoid people,” Jackson says of the movie-going experience. “It’s really an experience of community and dialogue.”
Jackson adds that the festival — which is expected to draw a crowd of more than 30,000 this year — has the ability to attract people from various locations, backgrounds, income levels and cultures and not be limited to solely the film community. It brings people together, but also showcases the diversity of the city and hopefully, Jackson says, encourages people to want to live or produce films here.
“The idea is to connect people who haven’t been connected before,” he says. “And, [MFF] is a way to meet people and see the world without really leaving your local cinema.”
Intrigued? You should be. Check out the entire list of films, buy tickets (get em’ early!) and find the movie bus shuttle schedule (like a personal chauffer!) at the Milwaukee Film Festival web site. Special pricing is available for students, seniors and bulk packages. In the meantime, feast your eyes on the Milwaukee Film Festival’s official trailer: