Milwaukee Film Festival brings diversity to light

Returning back to in-theater screenings for the first time since 2019, the Milwaukee Film Festival celebrated its successful 14th annual event during the weeks of April 21 to May 5. What started off as a way to promote locally made films back in 2008 quickly became an essential piece of the Milwaukee community. 

Screenings this year differed from years prior, as Milwaukee Film was excited to try a hybrid option, hoping to honor the comfort of all audiences. Films this year were presented both in-theater and online, and the majority of movies were available for virtual viewers. Although limited to three venues compared to the usual eight, The Oriental Theatre, Avalon Theater and Times Cinema saw a total of 18,734 attendees in-person out of the overall 99,131 viewers. This year, there was no shortage of important films to present. Options consisted of 135 feature films, along with 150 short films representing 43 different countries. Those who chose to view virtually had access to around 80% of all content, while having a large selection of feature films and shorts.

Tom Fuchs has been Digital Manager for Milwaukee Film for five years and supported the hybrid decision, along with putting the comfort of viewers first.

“It was all about trying to meet everyone where they are in the pandemic, and making sure we aren’t denying accessibility to anyone who wants to be a part of it,” Fuchs said. 

There was newfound value in the hybrid option, as it proved beneficial to everyone, especially for those whom going to the theater wasn’t an easy option in previous years. This new way of viewing may not be limited to this year, as it was a popular decision for the time and amplified the overall comfort and success of the event. 

“It is hard to put that genie back in the bottle,” Fuchs said. “So I’d imagine that component going forward, though it is hard to predict how the next few years will look.”

Although there was a shortage of venues, options included in the Film Festival were far from limited. Categories included heavy highlights on locally made films, called Cream City Cinema, which is its own event due to popularity and importance within the community. Cine Sin Fronteras and Black Lens are recurring categories, giving recognition to films that are focused on, or made by, people of color. Genrequeer and Teen Screen are new additions to the many categories and programs offered through Milwaukee Film that aim to represent everyone.

We are all united in the goal of bringing the diversity of voices and experiences to the community.

— Tom Fuchs, Digital Manager for MKE Film

To make the sizable variety of options simple, Cara Ogburn, Artistic Director for Milwaukee Film, likes to compare the decision of picking what to present to the streaming service Netflix.

“You’ll start scrolling, looking for something to watch and you’re like ‘eh, nevermind,’ so you don’t want [too many options],” said Ogburn. “You want to feel like you have [a good amount of choice], but not to a point where it can be overwhelming and more than you might want.”

Over the years, members of Milwaukee Film noticed the lack of teenage recognition within the Festival’s films, and wanted to amplify the voices of teens around the city. Teen Screen, a relatively new program to the world of Milwaukee Film, gives teens the chance to decide and promote their representation, and to make their voices heard and recognized. Teenagers from around the community who are interested in taking part of the process get to watch hundreds of films, and collectively decide what to put their stamp on and present to the public.

“This year teens expressed wanting to find more unconventional narratives about ‘coming of age’,” Ogburn said. “[They wanted] to continue to push what matters; what matters to young people today, and what they want to see on screen both to represent in front of, and behind the camera.”

Along with having a lasting impact on teenagers around Milwaukee, the Film Festival centers itself on tying in current events occurring within the community with hopes of influencing important conversations.

“We try to reach out to as many different audiences as possible. The more people that get involved and have different perspectives and experiences, the better it is and the more [viewers and filmmakers] can potentially be changed by it,” Fuchs said. 

One of the many goals of the Film Festival is to give wider audiences the chance to experience the viewpoint of those around them, and spark influential change and understanding within the people. 

“[Cinema] is a popular art form that everybody interacts with in one way or another, so what we like to do is expand people’s horizons beyond traditional [movies] that you might just see when you go to a multiplex,” Fuchs said. “We are all united in the goal of bringing the diversity of voices and experiences to the community.”

Both Tom Fuchs and Cara Ogburn encourage youth participation in Milwaukee Film, as there are many opportunities for high school students all year round. If you have an interest in joining in the many programs and courses Milwaukee Film has to offer, tune into or @mkefilm on all forms of Social Media and check in with the monthly newsletter for updates.