From his days programming the Union Theatre at UW-Milwaukee, through his tenure as artistic director at Milwaukee International Film Festival, straight up to now, as he leads the second annual Milwaukee Film Festival, which kicks off tomorrow and runs through Oct. 3, Jonathan Jackson has been a fixture on the local cinema stage.
Jackson has taught in the UWM film department, served on the board of the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network, curated film programs for Milwaukee Art Museum and even worked as a freelance writer.
He currently has seats on the Education Committee of the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra League.
As the Milwaukee Film Festival launches, we asked Jackson -- the fest's artistic and executive director -- about this year's event. You can find complete festival details and screening information here.
OnMilwaukee.com: Do you think people have a sense of just how much work goes into organizing the annual festival?
Jonathan Jackson: No, or I hope not. We want people to think about enjoy great cinema and talking about great cinema when they think about the annual festival. If they are thinking about our workload that means they have been distracted by our work.
OMC: What is the most enjoyable part of the job for you?
JJ: Leaning against the back wall of a cinema during the festival half watching the movie and half watching the audience reaction.
OMC: Is there a part you could live without?
JJ: Growing pains. We have such high expectations and huge ambitions for this festival and organization, but we are only going to get there through a steady process of evolution. Sometimes I forget that bad decisions and mistakes are a healthy part of that process, sometimes my brain forgets that.
OMC: Tell us a bit about what's new at this year's film festival?
JJ: Upgraded digital projection. Due to meeting our fund-raising goals this year, we have been able to hire state of the art digital projection systems and qualified, experienced operators for all the venues. As a presentation perfectionist, it is has also pained me that because of limited resources we have not been able to hire the best equipment and operators.
Marcus Ridge Cinema. Our goal is that we one day will offer screenings throughout the M7 region, well keeping an expanded, home base of operations on the East Side and hopefully, one day, Downtown. Screening at the Ridge during the final weekend is the second in our long-term effort, first was screening at the North Shore last festival, which turned out to be a huge success.
"Metropolis" and Alloy: A special collaboration and benefit with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra to not only present the cinema event of the year, but to present the restored and complete "Metropolis" with the world's best at live musical accompaniment: Alloy Orchestra.
Play hooky! We now have daytime screenings during the week.
OMC: Of all the films that are screening, do you have one absolute favorite -- or is that too hard to choose?
JJ: Incredibly hard to choose, they are all wonderful in different ways, I will say I think our opening night film "Blue Valentine" is one of the better American independent films I have seen in years and the two lead performances are astounding. Also, if you go to the festival and don't see any of the shorts programs, you are missing out on several of the festival's best films!
OMC: Is there something on your dream list that you hope to implement at a future festival?
JJ: Downtown cinema.
OMC: This year the festival is starting Take One, a kids festival within the larger event. What do you hope kids take away from the films that are being shown?
JJ: It is more the whole experience of Take One that I hope they get a takeaway from, with the films being one component of many, including the media educators speaking before and after films, a hands on craft table for them to learn about the process of making movies and take home guides for each of the films being the other elements.
The final takeaway would be that their eyes open up to looking at films and stories from different angles, and even if in a small, they begin to understand that all media they interact with is constructed to deliver a message.
Also, I think it is important that the parents and teachers have a takeaway, too, and that is that Media Literacy is a vital piece of any child's education.
OMC: Is there a thought that Take One will expand over time?
JJ: Absolutely. This year is only our pilot program of Take One and if it is successful this year we will definitely be expanding in the future.
OMC: How does the festival ensure that a good selection of local films is highlighted.
JJ: First, we don't charge entry fees for local filmmakers, which is practically unheard of on festival circuit. I feel very strongly that presenting and supporting local work is a core part of our mission, in fact the first event we ever did with Milwaukee Film was a show of shorts by Milwaukee filmmakers.
OMC: When do you start thinking about the 2011 festival -- or has that actually already started in some ways?
JJ: Already started. In fact, we already have some films selected for it. But, let's wait until the 173 screenings in this year's festival play before we talk about that.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.