A few words with Ross Bigley of the Milwaukee Short Film Festival
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did the Milwaukee Short Film Festival start?
We began back in ‘94, 17 years ago. Back then there wasn’t a local venue for filmmakers to get their work shown, and there really wasn’t a film community, or not like the one that there is today. So I started the festival, first on local cable television as the “Milwaukee Short Film/Video Festival” which wasn’t really an annual event in the beginning. I only did a festival when I felt like putting one on. That first year we only got in four submissions and all four were shown. Then with the fourth event we moved to a coffee shop, screened seven films and had a great turnout, so I did another event (the 5th) later in the fall of that same year. That’s when we thought we could make this an annual event, and have done so since.
Well, since we took control of the Milwaukee Independent Film Society in late 2009, we decided to broaden our vision beyond shorts to help filmmakers locally and to build bridges between the filmmaking communities, plus (be) a resource for getting the word out on crew and casting notices. Because of that, we couldn’t help but alter the festival. In the past we had screened a locally-produced feature film or two; this year we are screening four.
And it’s not that we are cutting back on short films, we’re still showing around the same number. We’re doing this because local filmmakers are making features and they need help getting them screened and seen by a live audience. For us, as the Film Society, we can offer something that a traditional film festival can’t: a percentage of the door so filmmakers can begin recouping costs, and a film premiere in their home state and city. If they are in a festival they become one of, say, 20 or so films competing for attention, (but) we can promote those films along with the festival.
Broken Orbit is a family-friendly sci-fi film by Patrik Beck, with amazing CGI that makes the film look like a big Hollywood blockbuster. Amateur Monster Movie, by Kyle Richards, is screening for the first time locally since its sold-out performance at the Oriental. On one of the coldest days in January they sold out that 1,000-seater. If you missed that, now is the time to see it. And there’s Afraid of Sunrise by Justine Romine, a vampire film made by Chicago and Milwaukee filmmakers. (Ed. Note: Ross modestly neglects to mention his own racy feature film, The Bad Girl, co-directed with Glen Popple.)
I’m not sure. I tend not to even begin working on the festival until it’s time to do so, but that’s not to say I can help making notes. One of the things that helps us is the programming. We get such a high percentage of international films from all over, and its growing: India, Iran, Syria, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Sweden… We don’t have to hunt for films, they come to us. And with submission totals going up 25 percent each year, that could help determine the direction we move, but I think another shakeup could be needed. Might be time to do something different.
What are you most looking forward to about this year’s event?
You never know how your lineup will fall until you get the films in; then you start seeing how things can flow. Besides the features, we have some fantastic short films. 2008’s MSFF Best Film winner Tom Marshall returns with Happy Clapper; two-time Best Film winner (’09-10) Hans Montelius screens Sidewalk Wars; there’s Analogue Love by Stuart Drennan; 14 Minutes by Elise Plakke; Forgiven by Evan Atwood, and A Finger, Two Dots, Then Me by David Holechek. They’re all great films. For something a little off-beat you’ll dig Baden Krunk by Anthony Wood and Patrick Holland, Red Fish by Andreia Vigo, Abbie by Erin Good and One by TJ Thyne. There’s something for everyone.