Wisconsin film fests: Entertainment is one part of their value


The worth of a well-crafted film goes way beyond entertainment, in little and large ways.

A good movie helps us walk in somebody else’s shoes. Or helps us temporarily escape the tribulations of life. Or lets us know we are not alone. Or inspires us to make a change. Or widens our world through global exposure.

Gotten absorbed by a big-screen story lately? What most of us experience is Hollywood-style movie making, designed with big budgets and celebrities to please the masses. but many, many other filmmakers work under the radar to share slivers of life, fantasy and altered reality worldwide.

The film festival – many short to full-length features shown in one city during consecutive days – is one way to ponder moods and mysteries as you do and don’t know them. Such immersions happen from Appleton to Weyauwega, but big things are brewing in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee native John Ridley, who won a 2014 Academy Award for his adapted screenplay “12 Years a Slave,” recently decided to turn 40,000 square feet of the former Pabst brewing campus into No Studios, a place for artists to create and show their work.

The first tenant, moving in this spring, is Milwaukee Film, which produces the Milwaukee Film Festival. “Having someone of John Ridley’s caliber investing in our filmmaking community provides the opportunity to spotlight Milwaukee’s thriving film culture and incredible local talent,” says Emily Foster, press manager for the nonprofit company.

There’s more. Milwaukee Film in summer takes over operation of the 1927 Oriental Theatre, a three-screen theater best known for its lavish décor and large, still-operating pipe organ. No other U.S. theater has shown “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” longer; regular showings began in 1978 and continue at midnight on the second Saturday of the month. Show up in costume and with props for the cult classic.

Year-round operation of the Oriental puts Milwaukee Film “one step closer to our organization’s vision: to make Milwaukee a center of film culture,” says Foster, who describes the theater as “the most important venue and revenue source for the Milwaukee Film Festival.” Now documentaries, international films and artistic fare can be shown there all year.

That is in addition to a citywide saturation of independently made films during the 10th Milwaukee Film Festival, Oct. 18 to Nov. 1, shown at multiple locations. The deadline for submitting film entries is June 5. mkefilm.org

Opening April 5 is the 20th annual Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison. The University of Wisconsin endeavor is the nation’s largest film fest produced by a university.

Hot tickets include “RBG,” a documentary about the life of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. “Wisconsin’s Own” is a competition for films that have Badger State connections. Another subset, “Big Screens, Little Folks,” includes online study guides for children and their teachers.

Nearly 150 films – many international and unconventional – are shown at these Madison venues: AMC Madison 6 theaters, 430 N. Midvale Blvd.; Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave.; the Cinematheque in Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave.; Shannon Hall, Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St.; and Union South Marquee, 1308 W. Dayton St.

To learn more and buy tickets: 2018.wifilmfest.org. The fest ends April 12.

Festival partners include the Concourse Hotel, which offers 20 percent food, beverage and lodging discounts to overnight guests who arrive April 5-8. The hotel offers free shuttle rides to film venues. Mention “Wisconsin Film Festival Package” when booking.

Other annual film festivals in Wisconsin include:

Midwest Weirdfest, Eau Claire – Horror, sci-fi, underground and documentary films are shown at Micon Cinemas downtown, March 9-11. midwestweirdfest.com

Milwaukee Underground Film Festival – UW-Milwaukee’s student-run event is “an attempt to amplify unheard voices” and organized through Peck School of the Arts, April 19-22. milwaukeeundergroundfilm.org

Flyway Film Festival, Pepin – Expect an eclectic menu of both films and music, Oct. 19-21. flywayfilmfestival.org

Weyauwega International Film Festival – The event showcases filmmakers “who are finding or at least listening for their own voice,” at Gerold Opera House, Nov. 7-10. wegafilm.com

Driftless Film Festival, Mineral Point – The November screenings happen at Mineral Point Opera House. driftlessfilmfest.org

Green Bay Film Festival – Screenings were January to early March this year and include the Wisconsin Future Filmmakers Competition, for high schoolers and younger. gbfilmfestival.org

Beloit International Film Festival – The 10-day festival with 100-plus films and multiple locations (most within a walk downtown) has gained national attention and typically begins in late February. beloitfilmfest.org

Wildwood Film Festival, Appleton – Two-day winter event at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center focuses on films with some kind of association to Wisconsin. That might pertain to the film location or the people involved in the production. wildwoodfilmfestival.com

Tales From Planet Earth: Festival of Environmental Films, Madison – Every other year, three days of free films in November contemplate global social justice issues. The next is 2019. nelson.wisc.edu/tales