Milwaukee Film
Press Release

Milwaukee Film Announces Dramatic Expansion, Leases Oriental Theatre for 31 Years

Secures Largest Gift In Its History: $2,000,000 from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele

By - Jun 18th, 2017 07:00 am
2014 Milwaukee Film Festival Opening Night.

2014 Milwaukee Film Festival Opening Night.

MILWAUKEE – Sunday, June 18, 2017 – Milwaukee Film is excited to announce the acquisition of a 31-year lease to operate the Oriental Theatre beginning July 1, 2018. The realization of years of effort, this lease signals tremendous future growth for the organization and ensures that the Milwaukee Film Festival, presented by Associated Bank, will be a part of the community for years to come.

“The Oriental Theatre is a treasure. I have visited hundreds of cinemas worldwide and the Oriental Theatre is my favorite. It is magical to see 1,000 of our members fill the main house at our monthly screenings,” says Jonathan Jackson, Artistic & Executive Director of the nonprofit Milwaukee Film. “Our nine-year-old organization securing long-term control of this cinema is a momentous occasion. We have cemented our permanence in Milwaukee and intend to greatly expand our cultural, economic, and educational impact on our community.”

Opened in 1927 as a “movie palace,” the Oriental Theatre is not only a beloved local landmark, but has also been recognized nationally as a top ten movie theater by Entertainment Weekly and USA Today. Milwaukee Film seeks to revitalize the space through investments in the infrastructure and upgrades to the projection and sound, creating a superior customer experience and making the Oriental Theatre a state of the art historic cinema. While designs have yet to be completed, the organization is committed to maintaining the existing aesthetics and character of this iconic Milwaukee building.

In order to support the growth of the organization and successfully meet the demands of running a world class film institution, a fundraising initiative has already begun. A total of $3 million of a $10 million goal has been raised so far, with Chris Abele, Milwaukee County Executive and Milwaukee Film Co-Founder and past Board Chair, making a personal contribution of $2 million.

“From day one, every person involved in Milwaukee Film – from staff, to volunteers, to the Board, to our dedicated 3,600 members – has been driven by the goal of not simply creating a film festival, but creating one of the best and biggest film festivals in the world,” states Chris Abele. “This announcement brings us closer to that goal. It isn’t the culmination or an end point, it’s the start of the next chapter.”

In addition to Abele, Milwaukee Film Co-Founders, the Herzfeld Foundation, led by Herzfeld Foundation President and past Milwaukee Film Board Chair Bill Haberman and Herzfeld Foundation Vice President and Milwaukee Film Board Member Carmen Haberman, has committed $1 million to the initiative.

Milwaukee Film deeply appreciates its sustained nine-year relationship with Landmark Theatres, noting that the organization’s remarkable growth could not have happened without renting the Oriental Theatre for its monthly member screenings and the annual film festival.

Beginning with Jackson’s vision of the enormous opportunity that would be provided by Milwaukee Film operating the Oriental Theatre, over the last five years Milwaukee Film’s Board of Directors and staff thoroughly vetted the idea and financials of operating a year-round, non-profit cinema, developing a business plan one year ago that was unanimously approved by its now 32-person Board of Directors.

In 2004, Boris Gokhman, father of Tim Gokhman, Director of New Land Enterprises, purchased the Oriental Theatre building after a several year pursuit. The trust and faith of Tim Gokhman in Milwaukee Film’s vision has been unparalleled.

“We are excited to partner with Milwaukee Film because it presents a truly unique opportunity to fuel Milwaukee’s cultural renaissance,” states Tim Gokhman. “As a key Milwaukee institution, Milwaukee Film is uniquely positioned to energize North Ave., Farwell Ave., and the entire city with year-round programming. For years, I have considered the Milwaukee Film Festival my favorite annual event in Milwaukee, I just can’t wait to see what they do next.”

At the Oriental Theatre, Milwaukee Film intends 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 as well as the annual flagship Milwaukee Film Festival.

The Milwaukee Film Festival, in just eight festivals, has transformed into one of the largest festivals of its kind in the country, ranking in the top ten amongst its peers for number of films shown, budget size, and number of attendees. There are fewer than ten organizations in the country that operate multiple year-round film screens and present a major film festival.

Milwaukee Film receives annual financial support from nearly 4,000 individuals and organizations. Without Milwaukee Film’s members, donors, sponsors, community partners, and volunteers none of this would have been possible.

To support Milwaukee Film’s expansion, join the nonprofit’s membership program by visiting The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival will be held September 28 – October 12. Discounted passes and ticket 6-packs are available online now for the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival at

About Milwaukee Film

Milwaukee Film is a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to entertaining, educating, and engaging our community through cinematic experiences. In addition to our annual 15-day Milwaukee Film Festival (Sept.28 – Oct.12, 2017), Milwaukee Film provides a number of year-round opportunities for film lovers, filmmakers, and educators. For more information, visit us online:

Web: | Facebook: | Twitter: @mkefilm | Instagram: @mkefilm

About the Milwaukee Film Board of Directors

Milwaukee Film’s independent board is made up of the following members: Chris Abele (Past President); John P. Bania; Donna Baumgartner; Karen Ellenbecker; Jeff Fitzsimmons; Alexander P. Fraser (President); Cecelia Gore; Bill Haberman (Past President); Carmen Haberman; Susan Haise; Katie Heil; Patti Keating Kahn; Michael G. Klein; Michael J. Koss Jr.; Tracey L. Klein (Immediate Past President); Kenneth C. Krei; Mary Ann LaBahn; Alexander Lasry; Steve Laughlin (Past President); Emilia Layden; Marianne Lubar; Sara Meaney; Steve Mech; Barry Poltermann; Bob Pothier; John Ridley; Joseph A. Rock; Ramona Rogers-Windsor; Lacey Sadoff; Dave Stamm; Julia Taylor; John Utz. Emeritus members: Tom Barrett, Jacqueline Strayer.

NOTE: This press release was submitted to Urban Milwaukee and was not written by an Urban Milwaukee writer. While it is believed to be reliable, Urban Milwaukee does not guarantee its accuracy or completeness.

Recent Press Releases by Milwaukee Film

Celebrate Pride and Prep for Paris Olympics with Milwaukee Film Programming this Summer!

Milwaukee Film invites audiences to celebrate LGBTQIA+ stories for a packed weekend of Pride programming, and to prep for the 2024 Summer Olympics with a week of classic sports films

The 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival Wraps Up with Exciting News and Numbers: Unveiling Festival Award Winners and a Significant Leadership Update

Anne Reed to become full-time CEO of Milwaukee Film; $35,000 in awards to be delivered to filmmakers near and far

Milwaukee Film Brings Unique Series to the Historic Oriental Theatre This Spring

The Alfred Hitchcock Retrospective returns to the Oriental Theatre, accompanied by “Cool Moms” in May and “Hot Dads” in June

2 thoughts on “Milwaukee Film Announces Dramatic Expansion, Leases Oriental Theatre for 31 Years”

  1. leah says:

    New Land Enterprises deserves accolades for keeping this Milwaukee treasure (and the Landmark) operating for the past 20 years in a very tough movie industry, however this is a mixed blessing for Milwaukee and the East Side. The lease with the Milwaukee Film Festival is a great win, but it most certainly means that Landmark Theater Corp will pull out of the Milwaukee market and the Downer Theater will be shuttered in the near future. They will not stay in this market to operate only 2 screens. With the Marcus Corporation completely abandoning the City of Milwaukee, the states most populous city and home to it’s corporate headquarters (hmmm, I wonder why they’ve chosen to expand in the white low-density suburbs rather than the inter-racial, high density city???) Landmark Theater Corp was the only game in town. Even more frustrating was that we had a chance to save the Downer Theater and the city’s shortsightedness (and that of the editor of this site – doomed the Downer into future darkness. I think the resounding answer to Murphy’s question is “YES !!” Downer did need a subsidy if the community wanted the theater saved. A $2million TIF on a $30 million hotel/retail and apartment development was a damn good deal. Instead Downer continues to die on the vine while Shorewood and the 3rd Ward and the Wauawatosa Village and Oak Creek’s Drexel Town Center all thrive with gobs of TIF money. Short sighted indeed Mr. Marceaux and Alderman Kovac. How’s the implementation of that plan you promised the neighborhood going?? At least now we’ll know where to point the finger when the Downer Theater is converted into a new Walgreens.
    Congratulations again to New Land and The Milwaukee Film Festival for thinking creatively to save an icon. Perhaps the same team can get together and undo the city’s damage on Downer.

  2. Vincent Hanna says:

    Not having a Landmark Theater in Milwaukee will indeed be a sad day. Losing the Downer would also be a major loss. I worried about those things when I read this in yesterday’s paper.

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