This morning, Milwaukee Film announced that the organization acquired a 31-year lease for the Oriental Theatre, with plans to begin operating the legendary local movie palace as a year-round, non-profit cinema in July of 2018.
The Oriental – which will celebrate its 90th anniversary next Sunday, June 25, with a special screening of "Casablanca" – is currently run by national theater chain Landmark Theatres.
"The Oriental Theatre is a treasure," said Jonathan Jackson, artistic and executive director at Milwaukee Film, in a press release. "I have visited hundreds of cinemas worldwide, and the Oriental Theatre is my favorite. It is magical to see 1,000 of our members fill the main house at our monthly screenings. Our nine-year-old organization securing long-term control of this cinema is a momentous occasion. We have cemented our permanence in Milwaukee and intend to greatly expand our cultural, economic and educational impact on our community."
Milwaukee Film's goal for the Oriental Theatre is to continue and emphasize its place in the city as a hub for independent cinema, programming weekly releases of notable indie releases and documentaries from across the country and the globe, as well as booking repertory selections, event-based productions, family programs and other themed film festivals – in addition to, of course, the Milwaukee Film Festival.
Milwaukee Film also plans to make improvements to the iconic locale – including upgrades to the auditoriums' projection and sound – while maintaining its almost centuries-old character and personality.
"We are excited to partner with Milwaukee Film because it presents a truly unique opportunity to fuel Milwaukee’s cultural renaissance," said Tim Gohkman, in a release. His father, Boris Gohkman, purchased the building in 2004. "As a key Milwaukee institution, Milwaukee Film is uniquely positioned to energize North Ave., Farwell Ave., and the entire city with year-round programming. For years, I have considered the Milwaukee Film Festival my favorite annual event in Milwaukee, I just can't wait to see what they do next."
To help with this new expansion – making Milwaukee Film one of less than 10 organizations in the U.S. that will operate a year-round movie theater as well as assemble a film festival – the local film nonprofit has begun a fundraising initiative, with a $10 million goal. As of today, Milwaukee Film has already raised $3 million toward that goal thanks to a $1 million donation from the Herzfeld Foundation and a $2 million personal contribution from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.
"From day one, every person involved in Milwaukee Film – from staff, to volunteers, to the Board, to our dedicated 3,600 members – has been driven by the goal of not simply creating a film festival, but creating one of the best and biggest film festivals in the world," said Abele, in the release. "This announcement brings us closer to that goal. It isn’t the culmination or an end point, it’s the start of the next chapter."
The next chapter also includes the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, which will open up Sept. 28 and run through Oct. 12. For more information on discounted six-packs and passes, as well as becoming a member and helping drive the impending expansion forward, visit Milwaukee Film's website.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.