The Milwaukee Short Film Festival has always been about bringing attention to the underdog. Founded to promote emerging film artists – especially those in Wisconsin and the Midwest – its goals have always been focused on giving exposure to talented filmmakers who aren't always privy to the benefits of a larger market.
This year's 14th annual festival continues that tradition of support, showcasing more work from new and returning directors in addition to including new programs and features to attract even more interest.
"We like to shake it up and we like to do different things," said Ross Bigley, president of the festival-organizing Milwaukee Independent Film Society. "My feeling is that if you put on the same event every year, people will start losing interest."
With that mindset, Bigley and the film society introduced a couple of new elements to the 2012 festival, which screens Friday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 10. These include the "Best of the 48-Hour Film Project," plus special film seminars tacked onto the festival Sunday.
"I was the person running the 48 this year, and I thought it would be a good idea to showcase them again so that people who missed out could see them," Bigley said.
"The winning film of the 48 actually was awarded a slot in the Juried Selection, so it has the chance of winning more awards. We also have seminars on Sunday after the films. (Funny or Die's Jack Packard) is teaching a seminar on how to bring components together to make a viral video that will get attention. Right after that we're running a seminar on film financing and forming your LLC."
It's a change that will definitely broaden the scope of the festival, but it's not altogether uncharted territory for its organizers.
"The film society has workshops and seminars throughout the year. This year I thought we'll just put it all in that one weekend, that way it brings everything together in a much more compact time frame and gives people a lot more options to do that weekend," explained Bigley. "We're trying it out and seeing if it works. If it works, we'll do some more the following year."
Festival-goers can also look forward to a long lineup of Milwaukee- and world-premiere films from over 23 countries.
"We usually get a lot of films from people who come back to us regularly, who like working with us, who like dealing with us one-on-one. We have a situation where we feel like we become friends and family with the filmmakers," said Bigley. "This year we have a few new filmmakers in the festival."
Some notable entries include Navid Nikkhah Azad's "Naagahaan, Zinat" ("Suddenly Zinat"), an Iranian short film about the struggle between a biological and adoptive mother for custody of their daughter, and "Johnny & Die Leichtigkeit" ("Johnny & The Lightness"), about a German man and his trouble with a young, attractive woman.
Besides being quality films, these entries (and others) also helped shape the festival's programming.
"We try to give the film festival its own identity," he explained. "When we program the festival, we see what themes are emerging. It just seems to take on a life of its own when you're watching the films, like 'Oh, that one was good, and this one kind of complements that one,' and then your program starts building. This year it happens to be relationships."
The theme also extends to the festival's local entries.
"We have some fantastic local films as well, so there's a nice balance of local and international," said Bigley. "Friday night we're saluting local filmmakers. We're premiering (local filmmaker/musician Mark G.E.'s) new film, 'Soul Chamber.' It's a little German Expressionism, a little feeling of the silent era in it. It's a surrealist tale of a man who betrays his daughter – again, the relationship theme."
No matter how the festival grows and changes, however, Bigley asserts that the emphasis will always remain on local film.
"I don't want to make people think that because it was made in Milwaukee it's not high quality. Given today's technology, given today's affordability, it can be," he said. "These films can have high production values, and they're very entertaining, as well."
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.