Monday, September 27, 2010
The 2nd Annual Milwaukee Film Festival is finally here and, after experiencing some minor (though major when trying to deal with it!) technical difficulties, I'm pleased to share some of my experiences and film reviews of the films I am seeing.
I am spending the majority of my time at the Marcus North Shore Theater, a large multiplex in Mequon, WI that has been one of the two major homes of the festival since its reboot last year. The other major venue is the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee, and this year they added a third venue, the Marcus Ridge Cinema in New Berlin. By sticking around one primary venue I am not able to experience all of the films offered, but I discovered last year that I can see a larger amount of films this way, and that the programmers of the festival do a great job of showing films more than once at other venues so there are only a couple of films I feel like I'm really missing.
It seems that, despite the fact that I have more time off from work now than ever for the MFF, I feel a little discombobulated; maybe I just need to get back into the swing of things since I haven't been spending a lot of time the past year going to the movies as much as I used to. Part of that is a result of having a connection at the Times and Rosebud cinemas, my local neighborhood theaters, part of it is that there hasn't been a whole lot released that I've wanted to see, and also, there's so many other movies to watch that could be so much better than what's offered in the local multiplex. I've never been a fan of the multiplex to begin with and always feel a bit of a culture shock when I go based on the sheer volume of people and shiny things to look at, so I guess my initial unsettled feeling doesn't surprise me too terribly much.
I AM pleased, however, that I managed (barely) to meet my goal of seeing 100 films in the year 2010 before the MFF started. Some friends and I made a goal of seeing 100 movies in 2010, but I had set the bar a little higher for myself because I'm a huge nerd.
Opening night was held in the theater's Ultrascreen auditorium, which is really not my favorite way to see a film, but it certainly accommodates a large audience, which is what turned out for the MFF's opening film, Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
As a press pass holder, despite the fact that I am granted immediate access to the theater and my choice of seats, I tend to try to not abuse the privilege and often choose a less desirable seat (what do I care, I just want to be able to see the screen clearly and have a little elbow room in order to write in my steno pad), but sitting in my seat waiting for the film to start, I came to two horrible realizations. First, that I'm completely addicted to my cell phone and I never had realized it. I was meeting Chris for dinner after the film and when I realized that I didn't have my Blackberry "just in case" I actually started to sweat a little, which was really depressing. Secondly, I realized that regardless of venue or event, there are always going to be people who endlessly bitch about things they know nothing about. In this case, a woman in front of me was loudly castigating her companion for suggesting to sit in the upper level of seats because "they're for the people with better tickets!" despite the fact that there were actually just a few reserved seats up there, presumably for major festival sponsors. Now, part of this was the fault of the MFF because while I was in the lobby I overheard a misinformed volunteer tell a crowd of about 300 that they can sit anywhere but the reserved seats since they "only had general admission tickets" which of course begged the question of how they could have gotten better tickets on the web site when it said all tickets were $10, etc. It was a really frustrating conversation to overhear, especially when she started involving other (already seated) theater patrons who started to go into a tizzy about how it was unfair, etc. All of this because someone was misinformed. I just wanted to throw my steno at her, but instead of just documented the situation, which, in the long run, was probably the best course of action to take.
The film drew a really good crowd; except for a few seats here and there in the upper and lower section, the only available seats were the really crappy ground floor ones. The spotlight came on the stage and the big cheese, Artistic Director Jonathan Jackson stepped up to the microphone to introduce some people. It seems like forever ago when we would run into me at the Oriental during the Milwaukee International Film Festival and he would call me "popcorn" (I was writing for a web site called Smart-Popcorn at the time) and I think it's so great that he's in the position he's in. This is clearly a guy who has made films his life and his passion for sharing foreign and independent cinema with Milwaukee is huge. Before introducing Greg Marcus, CEO of the Marcus Corporation, he said, "Welcome to the 2nd Annual Milwaukee Film Festival. I've been waiting 352 days to say that." Greg Marcus was gracious and said "We believe small films need a voice. Budget doesn't depict quality." Which was nice to hear from a guy who makes a substantial living off of showing mostly crappy big budget films. After, Chris Abele, another major sponsor and head honcho for the festival said, "I'm passionate about art and Milwaukee Film does great art."
Meanwhile, there's this really strange guy sitting in the front who is clapping for everything and answering rhetorical questions really loudly. I know that there's always someone like that at things like this, but it never fails to amuse the hell out of me.
In his introduction of Blue Valentine, Jackson said, "I was under pressure to screen a good follow up to last year's closing film, Precious. I think we did this with Blue Valentine and we are only the 3rd or 4th festival to screen it."
The sponsor trailer this year is pretty ingenious, and though I'm sure I'll be sick of it after viewing 12 or so, I think it's their best one ever - a black and white send-up of a 40's era fast talking advertising guy pitching the beauty of logos to a table of executives. There are more than 90 sponsors this year for the MFF (always good to know who the sponsors are because I feel good about patronizing their businesses if I can) and I think their businesses are given their due with this clever short.
Before leaving the stage, Jackson said, "We have 192 other films screening at the festival. You must see them all", which got a chuckle from the audience and made me feel like my predicted film count of 32 or so was not as great of an accomplishment as I thought it was. Who am I kidding, by day 3 my ass is going to be begging for mercy and I'm going to be longing for a big comfort food meal after subsisting on granola bars and Twizzlers, so if I can make it past 30 films I'll be fine with myself. Obviously, the challenge is to maintain the writing, because for every 2 hours of film I watch, there's about 2 hours of writing/posting/blogging involved. I think with a little patience and a lot of hard work, I'll