The pandemic has forced the Milwaukee International Short Film Festival to go virtual since 2020. This year, the Short Festival is returning to the big screen, but for one day only and at a new venue, the Avalon Atmospheric Theatre.
“There were successes and things that didn’t work out as well as I thought – at the end of the day, we should be in person,” says Ross Bigley, founder and director of the festival. Plans for 2022 began after the end of last year’s virtual festival. “COVID might still be around, we thought, but with people starting to go to the movies, it might be nice to do it live. We’ve hedged our bets by making it a one-day festival.
Bigley and his team were happy with the previous venue, the Fox Bay Cinema in Whitefish Bay, but the theater has remained closed since the start of the pandemic. When he learned that the Twisted Dreams Film Festival, Milwaukee‘s showcase for cinematic horror, had chosen the Avalon, Bigley decided to do the same. Open since 1929 and located in the heart of Milwaukee’s trendy Bay View neighborhood, the Avalon is one of Milwaukee’s two movie palaces from the Silent Age.
At one point, 80% of the shorts at the festival were of foreign origin and the rest from Wisconsin. These percentages have been reversed. “I’ve seen an increase in filmmakers in Milwaukee in recent years. More people want to be filmmakers in this state and there’s been an increase in filmmakers and filmmakers of color in Wisconsin,” Bigley says. .
The demographics of its contributors have changed dramatically since the festival began. “Twenty years ago it was mostly white people from UWM film school,” he says of the local directors. “Today it opened up. Everyone feels like they have a story to tell and the cameras are more accessible than ever.”
This year’s Short Film Festival features 34 entries, including many directors who have submitted to the festival in the past. Some of this year’s filmmakers come with significant resumes. Milwaukee host Owen Klatte, whose In wood took five years to complete, worked on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Actor Mtume Gant (“Oz”, “Hurricane Streets”) becomes a director with Malachi mold. The festival’s Voices Heard program focuses on the work of Milwaukee filmmakers of color. Yungsnag is an Erin Hastings documentary that spotlights up-and-coming Milwaukee rapper Sanjiv Chheda, AKA Yungsnag.
There remains one virtual item: a recorded panel discussion on Wisconsin’s film tax incentives (or lack thereof). In order to give it the widest visibility, the discussion will be available on the festival’s YouTube channel.
The Milwaukee International Short Film Festival is scheduled to begin with screenings at 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 10 at the Avalon Atmospheric Theater, 2473 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Tickets are available at avalonmke.com. For more information, visit filmfreeway.com.