The ninth annual Milwaukee Film Festival, which closed Oct. 12, hosted a record-breaking 84,000 attendees, 101 sold-out screenings, and nearly 200 filmmakers and guests participating in talkbacks. The conversation continues below, as Critic Speak contributor Eric Beltmann and The Cinemaphile blogger Shelly Sampon discuss why “The Blood Is at the Doorstep” deserved its Audience Award for best feature, why too many other documentaries stumbled, and why Haley Lu Richardson’s dancing about architecture was among the festival highlights.
Eric Beltmann: Even though I caught more movies than ever before—my final tally was 50 features and 24 shorts—I still left the Milwaukee Film Festival lamenting what I missed. Chief among my regrets are Nanfu Wang’s “I Am Another You,” John Ridley’s “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992” and Julian Rosefeldt’s “Manifesto,” which I know you loved. The fact is that it’s impossible to see everything. There has to be a whittling down, and I always start with the 10 movies that are non-negotiable and then build a schedule around them. My preferences usually steer me first to the Competition section and new works by major international figures, but I try to indulge some hunches, too. If I’ve learned anything after 14 years of covering film festivals, it’s that the “sure thing” often isn’t and the uncharted work often proves to be the little movie that could. Once my plan is printed and taped inside my trusted notebook, every other screening no longer exists—otherwise I might go mad from fear of missing out. Shelly, how do you choose what to see? And do you think you made the right choices this year?
Shelly Sampon: Wow, 50 features and 24 shorts—that’s incredible! I managed 35 features this year, which actually was my highest in the last couple of years. I’ll admit to being a bit behind this year—I’m normally pretty organized and get my schedule together a couple of weeks early but I didn’t get a chance to set my schedule until a few days before the festival began. That’s one blessing with having a press pass—you don’t necessarily have to worry about capacity as long as you’re there with time to spare. Once I did get my stuff together it was business as usual; one of the several program guides I use was littered with post-it notes on every page with the marginalia of a deranged person and a general idea of what’s going to happen for the next two weeks.
You are a lot more intrepid than I am, and I try to avoid chaos as much as possible. I usually stick to theaters like the Fox-Bay, Avalon and Times Cinema (which is about two minutes from my house), so I do miss some of the spotlight and high-profile films that mainly screen at the Oriental and Downer Theatres. But I’m generally okay with that because there’s usually a lot of other films to see, and there’s always Netflix in the future. I had to laugh the other day when I was going through my exhaustive Netflix queue because at least 70% of the films on it were past festival films I either never got around to seeing or want to watch again.
Did I make the right choices this year? I definitely regret missing “Lucky.” That was a film I wanted to see even before the festival slate was announced. I also wish I had seen “I, Daniel Blake,” but I was really slowing down by the time that came around and decided to just watch it after the festival on Amazon. I do try to be a little more well-rounded and see films from each slate, but I only got around to one Cine Sin Fronteras film, “Divinas Divas,” which could just as easily have been in the Documentary Favorites program.