In Movies & TV

It's the familiar people that make Ron Faiola's documentaries so engaging. (PHOTO: Ron Faiola)

Faiola turns his lens toward Milwaukee's classic church festivals

After documentary films tracing Milwaukee and Wisconsin traditions like Friday night fish fries and the classic Sconnie supper club, local musician and filmmaker Ron Faiola is preparing to launch a new one.

The 30-minute "Tilt-A-Whirls, Cowbells and Beer" visits a number of Milwaukee area church festivals and gets the inside scoop on the history, the logistics and the people behind this summer Brew City institution.

As always, it's the interesting folks that Faiola puts on screen that makes the documentary so engaging and so charming for Milwaukeeans, who recognize these folks as their friends, their family, their neighbors.

The documentary premieres on Milwaukee Public Television, Channels 10.1 and 36.2, on Monday, July 27 at 9 p.m.

We asked Faiola about the movie... How do you choose the subjects for your films? And, more specificially, how did you decide to do church festivals?

Ron Faiola: I like attending church festivals and it happened that John Prudlow, a guy I've worked with on some video projects in the past was telling me about church festival drink cards he and his girlfriend used to buy from MPTV's auction. As we talked I thought a documentary on church festivals would be a great idea. John lined up the interviews and permission from the festivals and I did the filming and editing.

OMC: The subjects are all great Milwaukee traditions – surely that's no coincidence. Is it also a clue to your next theme?

RF: The subjects of my films have featured food, which wasn't really planned that way but just happened, so as far as a new project it will probably be something along those lines. But that wouldn't happen until I finish my second "Wisconsin Supper Clubs" book which will be out in the spring of 2016. More food!

OMC: What is it about church festivals that is so Milwaukee; that people here love so much?

RF: We like to celebrate in Milwaukee and church festivals are a big part of that, because they are scheduled pretty much every weekend from May to September and there's something for everyone to enjoy – beer, games, rides, music, food. It's a relaxed, friendly environment, plus there's no admission charge.

OMC: Did you learn anything surprising about the festivals that you didn't already know?

RF: During production, I was surprised to see the Drinking For Jesus T-shirt. It happened during the very first interview. Originally I was going to call the film "Drinking For Jesus" but came up with a less controversial title after giving it some thought.

OMC: Tell me a bit about making the films. Have they gotten easier as you've made more of them?

RF: For me, making a documentary hasn't necessarily gotten any easier, I'm self-funded and don't have money to pay for a crew. However, I have learned to ask questions that move the story along or link to another segment, which makes editing much easier. When I did "Fish Fry Night Milwaukee" in 2009, during editing I realized I didn't ask enough questions and ended up having to write a script which filled in the gaps between segments. I hired Dewey Gill from WMSE to do the narration and he did a great job, plus had the perfect name to go along with a fish fry movie.

OMC: Since you're now a fish fry and church festival expert, which fest has the best fish fry, according to you?

RF: I prefer breading over batter for my fish fry so as far as church festival fish frys go, I would say Divine Mercy has the best, which is made by the South Milwaukee Knights of Columbus. Russ Miller and his crew from St. Florian's are a close second.

OMC: If they miss the TV premiere, how else can folks see the film?

RF: DVDs are being printed now and should be available in mid-July. We'll also try to set up a theatrical screening this fall.

Learn more about "Tilt-A-Whirls, Cowbells and Beer" at


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