How Does Milwaukee Film Do It?

An inside look at how they choose the films they show.

By - Jun 3rd, 2022 02:08 pm
2014 Milwaukee Film Festival Opening Night.

2014 Milwaukee Film Festival Opening Night.

For many years Milwaukee Film (MF) has presented films at its annual festival either in theaters, virtually or this year a hybrid of both. The question is how do they do it? How do they pick the films they show?

Kerstin Larson, MF’s programming director, says that there are mainly three avenues that provide information about what films might qualify. One is research by MF staff who go to film festivals, particularly the more well-known events like Sundance, Toronto, and New York, but also the regional midwestern festivals.

Then there are distributors who have a shopping service online called Free Form. This offers information about a film, its genre, stars, director, if it’s been shown elsewhere and if it can be streamed. It’s an important resource for MF’s selection process.

A third avenue is a direct approach from the filmmaker. Filmmakers see value in the exposure they get from a festival and feedback from audiences and will take a direct approach to get their films into the lineup.

At a time when the malls offer the latest MARVEL-ous adventures, high body count action films with attendant car chase scenes and vampire rom coms, festivals like the Milwaukee Film Festival are looking for something different. These kinds of films can be more challenging to the intellect without losing entertainment value. It can be an informative documentary, a quirky short film, a locally produced effort or a foreign film that informs you about different cultures.

Larson says one of the parameters is, “If we like it and don’t show it, will anybody in Milwaukee be able to see it?”

At this point in the process, nearly a year before the next festival, its organizers have thousands of films to consider. The genre programmers for fiction, documentary, kids, Black Lens and Cine Sin Frontera are standing by looking for the films to be vetted so they can build the schedule.

Larson will be looking for volunteers in August. She will be assembling a committee of evaluators. This group will watch thousands of hours of film and rate them.

The evaluators have no control over what kinds of films they are asked to rate. However, they do have control over how much they will watch. They can agree to spend anywhere from a few hours a week screening films to an “I don’t need time off to do anything but eat and sleep” commitment.

These ratings and comments will be used to make the final selection of films to be shown at the festival. Unlike in the early years of the festival, evaluators need not go to the theater and watch the films. If you would like to evaluate films, you can do it from home on your desktop, laptop, or tablet.

All you have to do to become involved is to contact MF coordinators Kristopher Pollard or Larson and tell them you want to volunteer. There is an application, interview, and training process.

When asked about the selection of the free film of the month for MF members, Pollard said they reflect the philosophy of the film festival to inform and entertain. He wants the films to be challenging for viewers and varied in their content.

Pollard noted that when he first began working for MF, he had a certain taste in films. His subsequent exposure to different types of films has expanded and sharpened his appreciation

Pollard said MF staff often has people complain about a film and in the next minute they hear from a member who loved the same film. “It gets people thinking and talking about what they have seen. Love it or hate it, we’ve got people talking.”

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