Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

MKE Film Starts Oriental Theatre Prep Work

First phase is all about the big necessity.

By - Apr 26th, 2018 04:55 pm
Oriental Theatre with Milwaukee Film Signage. Photo by Alison Peterson.

Oriental Theatre with Milwaukee Film Signage. Photo by Alison Peterson.

While we’re still a few months away from Milwaukee Film taking over operation of the Oriental Theatre, the rapidly growing non-profit has begun preparation work for the first phase of their overhaul of the east side landmark.

Window coverings were installed today on an adjacent storefront to allow Beyer Construction to begin work on constructing new first-floor restrooms and a festival storefront. As anyone who has visited the theater will attest, the current bathroom situation is lackluster. The first-floor features a single stall for women and a barely adequate bathroom for men. A second women’s room is located upstairs and is not handicap accessible.

The work soon to get underway will create a new women’s restroom on the first floor, an enlarged men’s restroom and a single-stall family restroom. Milwaukee Film, which has used the theater as the hub for its festival for nine years, has identified the restroom situation as one of the most requested updates. And even if people didn’t ask for it, the long line down the hallway to the restrooms would have been a giveaway. That long hallway will become the site of one of the new restrooms, as the storefront is on the other side of the wall.

Milwaukee Film will also be adding a storefront presence as part of the renovation. The organization is still determining how to best use the space, but intends to leverage it year round, not just during the festival. The storefront at 2218 N. Farwell Ave. was most recently occupied by Heidi Witz Design.

The fledgling festival will formally take over the theater itself on July 1st from Landmark Theatres. The theater, which opened in 1927, will then be closed for a month while the building is renovated, including new projection equipment, seat repairs, and new first-floor bathrooms. Additional renovations planned after 2018 include rehabilitating the ceiling and other interior fixtures and updating the concessions, light, heating and air conditioning systems. Upgrades to noise cancellation technology between the three theaters and seating are also planned for the coming years.

The 2018 festival, the 10th annual, will run from October 18th through November 1st at a number of venues spread across town.

Programming for the theater won’t drastically change before the festival. But following the fall festival, Milwaukee Film envisions a new programming calendar showing three times the number of titles at the theater. “Milwaukee Film plans to program the best of international and American independent fiction and documentary films, including traditional weekly releases mixed with repertory selections, event cinema engagements, programming for families, and various themed film festivals and series throughout the year,” said the organization in a statement.

The theater building (2216-2230 N. Farwell Ave.), which includes a number of storefronts and a large basement bar, is owned by New Land Enterprises. Milwaukee Film has a 31-year lease for the space, which is in the process of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places for the first time. Design work on the project is being led by The Kubala Washatko Architects.

The theater isn’t the only thing on the move for the organization. Milwaukee Film has also relocated their offices to the No Studios building in The Brewery from their longtime home in the Railway Exchange Building. A formal ribbon cutting for the film hub is expected in September as more firms move into the building.

The organization is executing the expansion with support from a $10 million capital campaign. Milwaukee County Executive and festival co-founder Chris Abele contributed $2 million to the campaign, alongside $1 million from the Herzfeld Foundation.


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