The eighth annual Milwaukee Film Festival, which closed Oct. 6, proved to be bigger than ever. Over 15 days, nearly 77,000 attendees—an 8% increase over 2015—binged on 283 films from 51 countries presented on six screens. Among them were Critic Speak contributor Eric Beltmann and The Cinemaphile blogger Shelly Sampon. They talk here about the festival’s expansion, seeing too many movies, and why a black-and-white French-language curio was the funniest movie of the festival.
Eric Beltmann: Not counting short films, Shelly, we saw 74 movies between us at this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival. The remarkable thing is that I kept running into moviegoers who were easily outpacing us. There’s no question that the festival continues to engender a thriving a local film culture, but perhaps it has also created an ecosystem in which lunatics can flourish. Might we be a little mad? How do you survive the festival? More importantly, have you recovered yet?
Shelly Sampon: I ran into several of those marathon viewers as well, both in person and on social media. What continues to amaze me year after year, and you’re included in this group as well, Eric, are the number of people who see dozens upon dozens of films over the course of the two weeks while still maintaining their full time jobs! I definitely think we are a little mad for what we do, and truthfully I find that the number of films I’m able to digest and review each year diminishes. I watched 28 films this year (though I miscounted and thought I had actually seen 30, so that makes my face itch a bit) and though wished I could have seen more, I was okay with the slate I saw.
As far as recovering? I think I’ve pretty much recovered, though I did take a movie break for about two weeks! I finally broke the fast yesterday when I watched the documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” but even then I still had to remind myself that I was just watching “for fun” and didn’t need to sit down and review the film afterward. (For the record, it’s a really interesting film, particularly for us film geeks who have studied Truffaut’s book of the same title!) I’m curious, Eric, after seeing so many this year, did you have a “movie fast” after the festival?
Eric: I wish I could say that my first post-fest movie was “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” since the book-length interview belongs on any movie lover’s shelf and I’ve been eager to see the adaptation for more than a year. Alas, my first movie ended up being “The Birth of a Nation,” a movie that proved director Nate Parker still has a thing or two to learn from masters like, um, Hitchcock and Truffaut.
I took a break from watching movies for about a week, but only because I was writing about movies—it was a forced detox rather than a fast. For me, the challenge of the festival isn’t the glut of movies, it’s the relentless working, driving, and sleep-depriving. I have my survival schemes, including a trusted backpack that has traveled 13 festivals with me, but one thing I don’t have to pack is stamina. That’s just always in my pocket. Sure, I’m fatigued by Day 15, but give me one long nap and I’m ready to start catching more movies, especially the multiplex offerings that I missed while prepping for and covering the festival. In fact, my screening of “The Birth of a Nation” was quickly followed by “The Girl on the Train” and “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” (Who could have guessed that the Tim Burton movie would prove to be the least muddled?)
Shelly: One thing that really became apparent this year in particular were the number of people that read my reviews and wanted to know how they could see those films. Since most of them don’t receive a theatrical release, the best I can recommend is to keep checking Netflix. Do you find it frustrating, particularly when it comes to really good films, that it’s difficult to share our festival viewing experiences with people?
Eric: I’m not sure frustration is quite the right word, because while I love discussing my favorite movies from the festival, the real subject of those conversations is really enthusiasm for cinema in general, and that’s always transferable. For example, after being knocked out by “Cameraperson” at the festival, I described Kirsten Johnson’s visual essay to my high school students. My goals were to clarify that such movies exist, to model how passion for such movies has value, and to spark their own interest in works beyond the multiplex. If my students also end up specifically seeking out “Cameraperson,” that’s a bonus. Continue Reading »