News Column

2013 Milwaukee Film Festival aims to please and succeed

September 6, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 06--The style of a film is often determined by the subject matter. The same is true of a film festival.

Its identity is not just the number or types of films shown, but the context in and intent with which they are presented.

The 2013 Milwaukee Film Festival is opting for films that audiences may not have heard of but which are the cream of the crop on the festival circuit, said artistic and executive director Jonathan Jackson.

Many of them were audience favorites at other festivals, he said.

"We do a ton of research ...and go through a curatorial process to find the best fits for Milwaukee," Jackson said.

In this, the festival is taking an "if-it's-not-broken-don't-fix-it" approach. And surveys show that the audience concurs.

Last year's attendance of more than 50,000 was a 40% increase over 2011. By June, pre-festival ticket sales were already more than double last year's pre-sales, and festival membership has more than doubled to 1,300. In the past year, the festival has added three full-time positions -- marketing, development and operations -- for a total of 10.

"This year is about understanding the numbers, building the structure and maximizing the experience," Jackson said.

The 2013 festival's opening-night film, on Sept. 26, is the U.S. premiere of the German comedy "Break Up Man (Schlussmacher)" about a man who works for an agency that will end your relationship for you, co-directed by co-star Matthias Schweighofer. It won the German Film Awards' Audience Award in 2013.

Jackson called it "laugh out loud funny, with heart" and said it was in the crowd-pleasing tradition of last year's French-language opening-night comedy "Starbuck."

It will be followed by an opening-night party at Discovery World, 500 N. Harbor Drive.

The closing-night film "Blood Brother," on Oct. 10, won the audience and jury awards at the Sundance Film Festival. The documentary, about a man caring for women and children with HIV and AIDS in India, was made by his best friend, Steve Hoover, making his feature film debut. The centerpiece film on Oct. 4 is the 1930 Ukrainian film "Earth," called a "lyrical tale of agrarian utopianism" that was "an act of political provocation in its time." The film, directed by Aleksandr Dovzhenko, will feature live accompaniment by the 18-piece Milwaukee orchestra Altos.

All three films will be shown at the Oriental Theatre, 2230 N. Farwell Ave. During the 15-day festival, 240 films, including 103 features and 137 shorts, will be shown on five screens: at the Downer Theatre, 2589 N. Downer Ave.; the Oriental; and the Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, 334 E. Silver Spring Drive. This year, the festival will have use of the main Oriental auditorium, which seats 1,070, with 540 seats on the main floor; and there will be daytime screenings throughout the 15-day event.

The festival budget is $1.45million in cash, plus $800,000 of in-kind services.

Spotlight documentary films include: "After Tiller," about four doctors performing third-trimester abortions; "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," about the octogenarian actress; and "Free the Mind," about cutting-edge brain research into post-traumatic stress disorder and attention-deficit disorder by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson.

Spotlight fiction films include: "Angels' Share," a Ken Loach caper comedy about a man who steals rare distillery spirits; a one-day showing of the Hollywood adaptation of the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play "August: Osage County," with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts; and "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete," by Milwaukee native George Tillman Jr., who will appear at the screening on Sept. 28 as part of a career tribute.

The festival also is paying tribute to Paul Attanasio, screenwriter of "Quiz Show" and "Donnie Brasco," on Oct. 5. He is the brother of Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio.

The eight films in competition include "The Act of Killing," in which perpetrators of an Indonesian genocide rec-reate their deeds; "Stories We Tell," a family biography by actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley; "Beyond the Hills" by Romanian New Wave director Cristian Mungiu; and "War Witch," a foreign-language Oscar nominee in 2013.

The winner of the competition receives a $10,000 cash award from the Herzfeld Foundation, quadruple last year's award.

The Cream City Cinema program of local films and filmmakers includes Brad Lichtenstein's "Penelope," about the staging of a story from Homer's "Odyssey" at the Luther Manor retirement community; Faythe Levine's documentary "Sign Painters"; "Date America," about a local man's nationwide search for a mate; and "The Milwaukee Show" program of 12 short films.

The $5,000 local film prize, double last year's figure, is courtesy of former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher John Axford, who personally donated $25,000 to the festival. Before he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals last week, Axford had been scheduled to introduce "2001: A Space Odyssey" and read from his high school paper on the film on Oct. 5.

The festival also will present an award to County Executive Chris Abele and the Argosy Foundation, co-founders of the festival with the Herzfeld Foundation. The award will be named the Abele Catalyst Award in subsequent years.

The festival already announced a German film program, a late-night series called Cinema Hooligante, a music film series, a children's series and a nightly live music series.

Other films include "Citizen Koch," about the budget protests in Madison; "Band of Sisters," about activist nuns; "Closed Curtain," the second film by Iranian director Jafar Panahi since his government imposed a 20-year ban; "Blancanieves," a Goya Award-winning silent-film retelling of Snow White; Sebastian Junger's documentary "Which Way Is the Front From Here? The Life and Times of Tim Hetherington"; and "Brothers Hypnotic," about the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, eight sons of legendary trumpeter Phil Cohran. The band will perform at the festival's opening-night party at Discovery World.

Tickets for the opening-night film are $20, but general-admission tickets for other films are $10, with senior, member and children discounts. Tickets can be purchased at mkefilm.org, or at theater box offices, starting Sept. 11 for members and Sept. 12 for the public.

The festival program book will be released Saturday at the Cathedral Square Park farmers market.

The Journal Sentinel is a presenting sponsor of the 2013 Milwaukee Film Festival.

Email: http://ddudek@journalsentinel.com

Twitter: @TheDudekAbides

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(c)2013 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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