Milwaukee Short Film Festival Gains Worldwide Appreciation
The Milwaukee Short Film Festival (MSFF) has morphed considerably since its 1994 debut as a virtual festival with a half-dozen films aired on Milwaukee cable access. But according to Bigley, “The mission hasn’t changed. We’re all about supporting local filmmakers. We have added to the mission, hosting workshops and seminars throughout the year to make it a more full-scale service to the community.”
Perhaps it’s ironic, then, that the majority of submissions to MSFF come not from Milwaukee but from around the world. After being named by MovieMaker magazine as the “Best Local Film Festival” a few years back, barriers lifted and boundaries dissolved. Among the foreign movies on the 2012 program is a film by Iranian director Navid Nikkhah Azad, who apparently discovered the festival while searching the Internet.
“The emphasis remains on Milwaukee,” Bigley insists. “Our opening night is a salute to Milwaukee filmmakers. But we’re more well known outside Wisconsin than inside.”
Bigley needed several years of successful trials and a few errors before finding the format that has worked so well for the past several years: two nights at the Milwaukee Art Museum. For a while, the festival was screened at the now-defunct Bean Head coffeehouse. After outgrowing the hipster hangout, it shifted to the Times Cinema and even tried multiple venues for one year. “We were at the Oriental one year against a Packers-Bears game,” Bigley says. “We learned not to schedule on a Packer Sunday.
“We are always trying new things,” he continues. “If you do the same thing every year, people will expect the same thing and attendance will start to suffer. We’re consistently trying to shake things up.”
Regardless of its name, the Milwaukee Short Film Festival has expanded to embrace feature-length movies, including this year’s world premiere of Dan Wilson and Brooke Maroldi’s White Wind. As ambiguous as its title, White Wind’s plot can be summarized simply: A man named Sam roams a marshland on a late fall day with his camera, photographing nature. His ramble through the countryside is occasionally disturbed by a couple of intrusive men who address him with inane, slightly unsettling questions. As for the film’s title, it could refer to the gleaming blades of the wind turbines whoosh-whooshing in the backdrop of many scenes.
Wilson and Maroldi decided to make White Wind in a 48-hour time frame. Of course, it took a little longer, but as Maroldi recalls, “We did over half of it in one weekend.” Because of the hurry, Maroldi returned to the marsh to re-record the prominent ambient sounds of bugs, birds and the wind through the tall grass and bare branches. And because it was filmed in the peculiar golden light of early November, the filmmakers had to return to the project one year later to fill in a few blank spots.
A beautiful exercise in sound and cinematography, White Wind was shot in languid takes for $6,000, according to Wilson and Maroldi. The elements were simple: one camera on a tripod, one star in the laconic Sam (Brian James McGuire) and recurring cameos by the mysterious men who seem to pursue him (Rick Fresca, Jay Hoard). “There was a time when you took a picture and waited for it to be processed. I wanted to explore that time of uncertainty,” Wilson explains, drawing comparisons to that classic of photographic mystery, Blow-Up. “It’s a good film for sparking discussion. People who’ve seen it aren’t sure what it means, but they’re extremely moved by it, even if they can’t put their finger on why.”
White Wind will screen 9:15 p.m. Nov. 9. The Milwaukee Short Film Festival runs Nov. 9-10 at the Lubar Auditorium in the Milwaukee Art Museum. For the full lineup, go to festival.milwaukeeindependentfilmsociety.org.
Home Movies/DVD & Blu-ray
A Cat in Paris
This Oscar-nominated feature is a sweet story of a lonely girl, her overworked mom and her tomcat, Dino, whose double-life involves aiding a nighttime cat burglar. The hand-drawn animation by French directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol is charmingly reminiscent of ’60s cartoons, and the story plays with the conventions of contemporary heist pictures. The film is dubbed in English.
“American Restoration, Volume Two”
The appeal of this fast-paced “reality show” is its nostalgia for a blue-collar America where “things were made by hand and people took pride in their work.” The setting, Rick’s Restorations in Las Vegas, is a fix-it shop for the Industrial Age, retooling the broken mechanisms of rusty slot machines, cracked fiberglass toy boats and busted arcade games.“Upstairs Downstairs: Season Two”
War is on the horizon and servants and masters alike are bracing for the Nazi Blitz at the start of Season Two. Fans of the original, 1970s British television saga may be put off by the glossy production and Hollywood-style drama, but the sets are gorgeous and the characters are interesting as the world’s larger problems put them to the test.