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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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In Movies & TV

Jack Turner's career takes him many places, but he's stuck on Milwaukee - the subject of his latest documentary.

Milwaukee Talks: Jack Turner


Jack Turner takes pride in being Milwaukee's goodwill ambassador - but he finds that he often has to battle what he calls the city's "caricature."

"I live in New York and I love Milwaukee; I talk about it a lot with my friends," he said. "They think of Wisconsin as the stereotypical Midwestern state and Milwaukee as the stereotypical Midwestern city. And they don't know anything, really, about the city other than beer, cheese and 'Happy Days.'"

Turner has a successful career as a producer and many of his documentaries are critically-acclaimed. His resume includes films such as "Me at the Zoo," "Jeff" and "Modus Operandi." He resided in Whitefish Bay as a teenager and his parents and sister still live in the city.

For Jack Turner, if anywhere is home, it's Milwaukee.

"I am constantly surprised and inspired by this city," he said. "I find that some of my closest friends that live here have a great life and they are doing things that I would not be able to do living in New York. It's not something that you can quite define. But it's something that should be shared, should be put on display."

To that end, Turner is teaming up with VISIT Milwaukee, AboutFace Media and others to produce "Dear MKE," a love letter to the city written by those who know it best. The film will premier at the Milwaukee Film Festival later this month.

Turner sat down with OnMilwaukee.com to talk about the film and how he is enlisting the help of Milwaukee residents to help him tell the city's story.

OnMilwaukee.com: So how did the concept for "Dear MKE" come about?

Jack Turner: Basically we wanted to tell the story of Milwaukee and why it's a great place to live, start a business, work and pursue creative endeavors by telling the stories of people that live here and call Milwaukee their home. And do it in a way that would be kind of creating a case study or documenting these original people and telling their stories in a straightforward and honest way. We felt like that was a much better way to promote this city and to give it a different perspective than it's had in recent years. The idea is to give Milwaukee a little bit of swagger and put a mirror up and let the city see itself and really be proud of the way that we represent it, and by proxy that will resonate with other cities and other markets and people will be more interested to come visit.

OMC: What's behind the idea of having people come to your website, DearMKE.com, and submit their own stories and photographs?

JT: It's impossible for us to cover all the various groups of people ourselves. So we're reaching out to people in Milwaukee to share who they think we should feature or aspects in Milwaukee that they love so that we'll get more ideas and we can work with them to tell these stories. The life I lead allows me - as passionate and as interested in the city as I am - to only have access to certain elements. Someone else who I've never met is going to have a different perspective.

OMC: Who are you looking to profile?

JT: We're not only looking for stories of people who are well-known. It could be anybody. It could be someone who's a parent, someone who's a teacher, someone who works the night shift. Anybody who is passionate about the city and has a story that will resonate with other people.

OMC: What's your personal history with Milwaukee?

JT: I lived here during my teenage years. I went to high school at Whitefish Bay and Cumberland for eighth grade. I participated in the arts satellite program at the Milwaukee Art Museum. My parents still live in Milwaukee and I am constantly coming home to visit them; I also have a sister who lives in Milwaukee. Over the past four or five years I've been working more closely with the film community and creative community to do projects in Milwaukee and I've become very involved in the film festival; I'm on the advisory board. It's important to me to promote the film industry within city and in state.

OMC: What new things have you learned about Milwaukee through this endeavor?

JT: I don't want to get into specific submissions of the "Dear MKE" campaign because we haven't selected our winners. But I will say that the type of submissions we've gotten have been totally diverse and really interesting. Someone recently submitted a poem comparing the city of Milwaukee to a house that they grew up in. And that's so cool. People are already getting into the spirit of it by sending us photos, videos, poems and letters. It's been really fun - everything that people turn in is public so people can go to the website and learn more about the city by reading what was submitted. It's a community-building concept. We hope that the campaign goes on for the next year or even beyond. This could be just a way for the city to just make it so that people are able to share what they think is most interesting. And hopefully people like what we've done.

Interest in submitting personal stories to "Dear MKE" has been so high that the film's producers have decided to extend the submission deadline to October 12, 2012.

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