Tag Archives: Milwaukee Film Festival

Wisconsin Sound #6



At the beginning of 2015 two of the most buzzed about Milwaukee bands were fronted by females. GGOOLLDD’s feel good earworm single “Gold” quickly made its way on local airwaves, while Whips put out arguably the best Wisconsin record of 2014, Turn It On, which garnered heaps of critical acclaim.

Before Margaret Butler of GGOOLLDD (GG) and Ashley Smith of Whips came on the scene the leading ladies of Milwaukee music were the sister duo of Vic and Gab (Victoriah Banuelos and Hannah Gabriela Banuelos). Vic and Gab’s catchy indie pop landed them a showcase at South by Southwest (SXSW), as well as a gig opening for President Obama.

GG headed into 2016 hot on the heels of a successful EP and a string of summer festival appearances. They would become one of two local bands to sell out Turner Hall Ballroom in the last decade. Whips mostly went on hiatus, as members focused on other projects and businesses. Meanwhile, the Banuelos sisters reinvented themselves as synth pop trio Reyna, taking a few pages out of GG’s playbook.

Whips at AM/FM.
Whips at AM/FM.

All three bands in question were at the center of a storm of local music these past few weeks. On September 16 my girlfriend and I went to Madison to see UK/US rock band The Kills play Live on King Street, a free summer concert series outside the Majestic Theatre. The Kills combine the hard-driving guitar of Jamie Hince and the beautifully brash vocals of Alison Mosshart, who reminded me of Whips’ Smith during her badass performance.

Though Whips and The Kills are far more similar, GG was the first opener at Live on King Street. It’s a testament to GG’s consistency, whereas Whips has only played a handful of shows over the past year. To their credit, Whips have been working on a new record.

Scottish electro-pop trio CHVRCHES was scheduled to play The Riverside Theater on September 25 and an opener wasn’t announced until the week of the show. I figured GG was a shoe-in, but Reyna ended up taking the guest spot. Coincidentally, GG played a surprise show the night before at the old Hotel Foster space, sharing a bill with non other than Whips.

The AM/FM pop-up event at the old Hotel Foster space was a huge success. The crowd was well beyond capacity. Whips ran through a tight set that included new songs, which I’m happy to report are really good. Later in the night GG kept the party going. They played a song that I mistook for a cover of The Kills. Turns out it was their new single “Undercovers.”

Reyna at The Riverside (Courtesy of the Pabst Theater Group).
Reyna at The Riverside (Courtesy of the Pabst Theater Group).

The CHVRCHES show was my first time seeing any iteration of the Banuelos sisters live. When I first heard Reyna’s debut single “Spill Your Colors,” I mistook it for a new CHVRCHES song, so it was fitting that they opened. But their set left me unimpressed. Their cover of “Flesh Without Blood” by Grimes was a noble effort in an otherwise mediocre performance. They seem to be copying GG’s sound and style, as one of the sisters wore a glittery green jacket. What’s next? If Whips’ new album thrusts them to the forefront of local music, will the third Banuelos sister band be hard rocking?

Whips will headline the Beet Street Harvest Festival at Cactus Club in Milwaukee on October 15.

GGOOLLDD will headline Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee on December 2 and The Frequency in Madison on December 9.


Speaking of the AM/FM pop-up event, one of the many cool aspects of that night was the Video Villains. The Milwaukee-based visual art projection duo of Michael Britton and Adam Kuhnen have made a name for themselves by creating dynamic backdrops for live music performances. Originally working as DJs and promoters, the duo switched over to video projection after attending an eye-opening party in Minneapolis.

Ad Rock Music Series (PHOTO - Bigshot Robot).
Ad Rock Music Series (PHOTO – Bigshot Robot).

When indie pop rockers Dream Attics made their live debut in May 2015 at Mad Planet Video Villains created a beautiful set with synchronized table lamps, smoke machines and back-projected visuals. That summer they brought their brand of sensory art to the open waters of Lake Michigan on the Noh Life Cruise.

This summer I noticed that I wasn’t seeing their name on local shows as much. That’s because the duo has expanded their vision, collaborating on larger scale events and some that aren’t music related. I emailed Britton to see what the guys have been up to over the past year.

“We still do local shows but have switched our focus to more well thought out events that can help facilitate our creative vision. We are doing Planned Parenthood’s 80th Anniversary party at Potawatomi Casino this Fall, along with the infamous Zombie Pub Crawl in Minneapolis.”

“Some of the highlights of our summer include teaming up with Beauty Bar and Red Bull for an awesome Lollapalooza after party with LCD Soundsystem. We also teamed up with Visit Milwaukee for national tourism week for a two-night projection mapped building installation downtown on the Marcus Performing Arts Center.”

On September 2 my girlfriend and I went to the newly-opened Adventure Rock indoor climbing center/condominiums on Milwaukee’s East Side for the first Ad Rock Music Series event. Having already been involved with the Brookfield location, the Villains created an installation for the Milwaukee site’s grand opening. After that, Adventure Rock was all ears for the prospect of a music series.

“The Ad Rock Music Series is something we have wanted to tackle for a while now. We are always looking for opportunities to host concerts in a non-traditional setting and the climbing gym was the perfect chance for us to transform a space into something Milwaukee has never seen before.”

And indeed it was something unique for not only Milwaukee but Wisconsin. During sets by Boom Boom Klap, Chris Siegel, Strehlow x Ian Ewing, and Win + Woo, the Villains projected custom visuals on an off-white, forty-foot climbing wall. With the padded floor below the climbing walls and the huge open space, it was an awesome environment to experience live music. The Villains are currently planning the second Ad Rock Music event and promise more surprises and bigger names.


The bustling crowds at the 8th installment of the Milwaukee Film Festival put our cinephile tendencies on full display. Though the largest local film fest has wrapped, another beloved celebration of cinema is just around the corner. The 31st Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival officially kicks off October 12. Before previewing some of those films, let’s take a look at some highlights from the MFF.

On Friday September 23 local music and filmmaking luminaries gathered for the second Milwaukee Music Video Show. A few videos made their debut at the festival including Maritime’s cheeky “Roaming Empire,” Fox Face’s eerie “Teenage Wiccan,” and the touching “Doctor My Own Patience” by Serengeti. The entries were cinematic, silly, trippy, haunting, and overall impressive.

Menomonee Falls-native Richard Riehle of Office Space fame appears in Trapper Schoepp’s video for “Settlin’ or Sleepin’ Around.” During the Q & A Schoepp told the crowd how he landed this Hollywood actorby following him into Comet Cafe one afternoon and asking him politely.

Canopies “Getting Older” utilizes infrared structured light imaging. During the Q & A we learned that this technique was achieved by hacking an Xbox Kinect camera and using open-source hardware and custom software. In Fabian James & Treyy G’s “See You” the dynamic moves of breakdancer Andrei Duka Antipov were captured by a homemade camera rig that spun around Antipov. Interestingly, director Quinn Hester randomly met the singer during a visit to an Apple Store.

The first time I saw Group of the Altos’ video for “Coplights” it was an emotional experience. The texture and imagery are both beautiful and bleak, perfectly matching the song. All dozen-plus members of the group appear in the video. Seeing “Coplights” on the big screen at the Oriental was ten times as emotional, considering the band is currently on hiatus. Whether GOTA returns or not, the video stands as a testament to one of the greatest ensembles in Wisconsin music history.

Throughout the Milwaukee Music Video Show two camps emerged as the premier local music video makers: Sane Crew and Cody LaPlant/Damien Klaven, each with three entries. While the Sane Crew video for WC Tank’s “27th & National” was a worthy contender for best video, LaPlant/Klaven took home the award for their work on WebsterX’s “Lately.”

The Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival will unspool at the UWM Union Cinema next week, save for the Opening Night film, which will be at the Oriental Theatre. Kiki (October 12, 7 p.m., Oriental) kicks off the festival by revisiting the NYC scene where LGBTQ youth-of-color found agency and inspiration in the Kiki balls profiled in the landmark 1990 documentary Paris is Burning.

Another loosely music-related film is Spa Night (October 15, 7 p.m.), about a first generation Korean-American young man struggling with homosexual desires, set principally in the nocturnal world of spas and karaoke bars in LA’s Koreatown. Actor Joe Seo won the Special Jury Award for breakthrough performance at Sundance.

The legacy of the oldest Black owned disco in America is featured in Jewel’s Catch One (October 17, 7 p.m.). The film is rich with music from the last forty years, plus exclusive interviews with the likes of Madonna, Sandra Bernhard and more, as it chronicles Jewel-Thais Williams’ four decades of music, fashion, celebrity and activism. Williams and director C. Fitz will be in attendance.

As part of the Closing Night program Who Wants Cake?: An Evening of Community Shorts (October 23, 7 p.m.) there will be a short about the first and only gay-themed country music album. Forty years after its release Patrick Heggerty’s Lavender Country (1973) is being heralded as “resonant and wonderful…a rare act of bravery and honesty.” The short documentary (These C*cksucking Tears) explores Heggerty’s unlikely personal journey.


In the last issue of WiG I wrote about the ladies of New Boyz Club, who celebrated their debut EP release on September 30 at Company Brewing. For that performance they put together a lineup of supporting acts featuring talented females, including Sista Strings, Hello Death and the power punk quartet of Fox Face, the only band on the bill I hadn’t yet seen.

Hot off the release of their first vinyl pressingthe Teenage Wiccan 7-inchand the debut of their video for “Teenage Wiccan” at the Milwaukee Music Video Show, Fox Face thoroughly impressed in a live setting.

Back in April during the Arte Para Todos festival I heard that Fox Face’s abrasive volume elicited noise complaints from a neighbor of Brenner Brewing Company, where the show was being held. Allegedly, the neighbor had a decibel level App on his iPhone that he used to prove how deafening the sound was.

Indeed, Fox Face plays loud and fast, but with plenty of skill and charisma to back up the big decibels. During their set Fox Face did an awesome cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” which they hadn’t performed since PrideFest. “We’ve got a wiccan set up by our merch table,” bassist Mary-Jo mentioned. “Stop by and we’ll have a séance.” Their witchy sounds and style have made Fox Face one of the best punk bands in Wisconsin.


"Priestess" artwork by Janice Vogt.
“Priestess” artwork by Janice Vogt.

Since taking the city by storm last year with their rapturous live performances, the New Age Narcissism collective has put out some of the best music in Wisconsin. Q the Sun released two excellent projects with WebsterX (KidX) and Lorde Fredd33 (Dead Man’s View), while Lex Allen put out the Social Me Duh EP and the excellent single “Cream and Sugar (ft. WebsterX).” Though she often steals the live show with her magnetic voice and presence, Siren has only released a few songs, including “Queen Medusa.” There have long been talks of an EP, but so far nothing has stuck. That is, until now. “Priestess” (produced by Mic Kellogg) is the first single from Siren’s forthcoming project. Fingers crossed.

Siren will perform live in support of Gosh Pith on October 7 in the Back Room at Colectivo in Milwaukee. Also sharing the bill will be NO/NO and Liquid City Motors.

El-Shareef, the author of one my top six Wisconsin hip-hop projects of the year, is back with an uncharacteristically upbeat Derelle Rideout produced joint called “Uniform Souls.” It’s the first single off Reef’s forthcoming debut album that will be released on vinyl through Germany’s Radio Juicy. Give it a listen here.

img_7552Two weeks after they rocked a packed house at the old Hotel Foster space for the AM/FM event (mentioned above), synthpop heavyweights GGOOLLDD dropped a new song and announced they’ll be returning to headline Turner Hall Ballroom on December 2 with Har Mar Superstar and Flint Eastwood. The new track, “Undercovers,” marks a turning point in the writing process for the group, as all five members provided input. It was recorded with Ben H. Allen in his Atlanta recording studio in August. It is GG’s best use of guitar to date and another banger for their repertoire. Listen to it here.


Though it’s a couple months later than I originally reported in my feature on heavy surf pop rockers Soul Low, their new video for “Be Like You” has finally been released. As they mentioned in our interview, it’s “like Pee Wee Herman suburban insanity,” and a nice example of the Soul boys tendency to perform in drag at house shows. Also, it’s somewhat of a preview for their Gloss Records presents: Halloween Spooktacular show at Cactus Club on October 28. Last year on Halloween they performed in full KISS costumes. What will the boys be this year?

Milwaukee Film Festival embraces variety, volume and diversity

Cream City cinephiles and film fans, prepare! This year’s Milwaukee Film Festival features the largest and most diverse selection of films in its eight-year history, as well as a brand new celebrity board member.

The 15-day festival, founded in 2008, will unspool more than 300 films in five different venues Sept. 22 through Oct. 6. The lineup of features and shorts, documentaries and animated films, offers some of the best film-festival fare currently being screened across the country, according to festival artistic and executive director Jonathan Jackson.

“This is a ‘best of’-oriented festival, not a premiere-oriented festival,” Jackson says. “We try to present the best types of films that are screening heavily, winning awards and have become critical favorites.”

The festival offers a diverse array of films from mainstream to experimental. The selections are grouped into multiple thematic sections, and there are special lineups highlighting the work of Latino and African-American filmmakers.

Milwaukee native and film writer/director John Ridley, who won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, recently joined the MFF board. Ridley was instrumental in securing screening rights for Walt Disney Pictures/ESPN Film’s Queen of Katwe about Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi. according to Jackson.

MFF also boasts an extensive slate of locally produced films from throughout Wisconsin. The category attracted some 246 entries from which 58 films were chosen to premiere. The entries represent a 56 percent increase over 2015.

“The category serves the Milwaukee filmmaking community,” says Cara Ogburn, MFF’s programming and education manager. “Both the quality and quantity of locally made films is increasing.”

The films in the various categories are recommended by an aggregate screening committee of some 50 people, led by lead programmers for each of the categories. Most of those committee members are volunteers, Ogburn says.

Women He's Undressed
Women He’s Undressed

“For film fans, it’s a sweet assignment because you get to watch and evaluate a lot of movies,” Ogburn adds. “In this case, it really does take a village to put on a film festival.”

In addition to MFF’s 15 year-around staff and 115 seasonal workers, that village also includes 3,500 MFF paying members, 125 sponsor organizations and 300 community partners that, like MFF itself, are largely not-for-profit groups.

“We’re striving to one day become a true cultural leader for Milwaukee and a world-class film festival” Jackson says. “The core of the festival is the great, great films we screen, but that’s just a part of it. Audience members tell us that because of the conversation among festival-goers in and around the showings, the city takes on a special vibrancy during festival time.”

Jackson, Ogburn and Megan Benedict, MFF’s communications and press manager, each picked out three must-see films as personal favorites. Here is their insider’s guide, in their own words.

Jonathan Jackson

Mom and Me (Ireland/USA, 2015)

This funny, emotional and smart documentary looks at the relationship between men and their mothers. This subtle, but exquisitely crafted film centers around a radio call-in show in Oklahoma City, “the manliest city in the United States,” and allows us to experience the bonds between mothers and their sons. It was the only time I cried watching a movie this year.

Cameraperson (USA, 2016)

Acclaimed documentary cinematographer Kristen Johnson (Citizenfour, Happy Valley, Fahrenheit 9/11, and The Invisible War) created this meditation on the relationship between storytelling, truth and the camera frame. This very personal exploration of an artist’s work had me transfixed from the very first frames through the credits.

Morris from America
Morris from America

Morris from America (Germany, 2016)

One of the most enjoyable films I have seen all year, this is a smart and well-acted comedy/drama from MFF 2013 alum Chad Hartigan (This is Martin Bonner). A star-making turn from Craig Robinson (The Office) highlights this coming of age/fish out-of-water tale set in Germany that both moved me and had me laughing throughout.

Cara Ogburn

The Fits (USA, 2016)

This film has been haunting me ever since I saw it at Sundance. We follow Toni, a tomboyish ‘tween in urban Cincinnati, who is torn between the boxing-gym world of the boys and the dance-team world of the girls. An exuberant celebration of youth, it’s also a film you can’t stop rolling over in your head. I can’t wait for more of Milwaukee to see it so we can all talk about it together!

Ghostland (Germany, 2016)

This documentary gives the viewer access to some of the most remote peoples of the world, the Ju/’hoansi of Namibia. But the film turns the normal experience of quasi-touristic cinema-going on its head as the subjects travel into the modernized, Western world and comment (often very humorously) on our own cultural idiosyncrasies.

City of Gold (USA, 2015)

If you like food (and not just haute cuisine) you’ll love watching Jonathan Gold eat his way around Los Angeles’ culinary neighborhoods, from taco trucks to ramen noodles and everything in between. This film doubles as a story about the cultural and social landscape of a city.

Megan Benedict

Carmin Tropical (Mexico, 2014)

Though she has carved out a successful career as a trans nightclub singer, Mabel is quick to return home when she receives word that her best friend Daniela has been murdered. Mabel decides to take matters into her own hands, although the deeper she digs into Daniela’s past, the more she realizes it overlaps to an unnerving degree with her own. This is a moody murder mystery noir from Mexico told from a fresh perspective, with an unforgettable ending that will stick with you long after the film has concluded.

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (USA, 2015)

Pollock, Dalí, Rothko, Duchamp, Giacometti, Kandinsky, Cornell: What do all of these names have in common? Peggy Guggenheim, the unapologetic heiress, who collected lovers at a pace almost equal with her true passion — modern art. One of the most enjoyable documentaries I’ve seen in the last year, it’ll make you want to run outside, thank an artist and fill your walls with art.

The Fits
The Fits

Shorts: Surprise, Surprise! (Various)

We have a new shorts program in town this year! If you’ve never been to an MFF shorts program, this is the year to take the plunge. Surprises come in all shapes and sizes in these raucously funny, wildly inappropriate and occasionally serious shorts. This is the program that everyone will be talking about during the MFF 2016, so see it for yourself and don’t let anyone ruin the surprise!

For the complete schedule got to mkefilm.org.

Ticket prices

Festival passes are $400 (members) and $500 (nonmembers); ticket 6-packs are $60 (members) and $72 (nonmembers); individual tickets are $12 (adults), $11 (seniors and students with IDs); $10 (MFF members) and $6 (children 12 and under).

The opening night screening of Life, Animated at the Oriental Theatre is $25 for the general public and $20 for MFF members and includes the after-party at UWM Peck School of the Arts Kenilworth Building, 1925 E. Kenilworth Pl.; after-party tickets only are $15 for the general public, $13 for MFF members.

Super Secret Members-Only Screening

There’s one film during the festival that you can’t buy a ticket for. The Super Secret Members-Only Screening is 1) a secret, and 2) for Milwaukee Film Members only. You won’t know what it is until you’re in your seats and we introduce it. It’s a roll of the dice, but we always pick a winner.

Want to be a part of the event? Attend this year’s Super Secret Members-Only Screening by becoming a Milwaukee Film Member today. Sign up at any festival box office or visit mkefilm.org/membership.

The Super Secret Members-Only Screening is excluded from the Festival Pass, and tickets will not be available at the box office. Only current Milwaukee Film Members will receive an email to RSVP, and you must RSVP to attend.

Milwaukee Film Festival by the numbers

Festival dates: Sept. 22 through Oct. 6

Number of films: More than 300 films of varying lengths

Number of venues: Five unique theaters:

• Landmark Oriental Theatre, 2230 N. Farwell Ave.

• Landmark Downer Theatre, 2589 N. Downer Ave.

• Fox Bay Cinema Grill, 334 E. Silver Spring Dr.

• Times Cinema, 5906 W. Vliet St.

• Avalon Theater, 2473 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Total attendees: Past festivals have attracted upwards of 70,000 people.

Milwaukee Film Festival announces expected festival guests

Continue reading Milwaukee Film Festival announces expected festival guests