Recently, The Milwaukee Short Film Festival wrapped up its 17th annual session. This year, the featured spotlight was the Voices Heard! session Friday night. The fest was filled with an eclectic variety of films from talented film makers from all corners of the Earth. Each year, the festival hands out a Pacesetter award to a local who is involved in the advancement of filmmaking in Wisconsin. This year's honoree was Jared Stepp, a 48 hour film project veteran.
The fest, divided into sessions began with hostess Natasha Nafrini introducing session 1. Featuring 9 short films, session 1 started with "Space Cadet" A rousing comedy by Colin Perkins, featuring witty humor and fantastic day dreams. The first film in a fest usually sets the mood, this was a great pick to kick off the night. Next up was "Dream Trip" by Vito Valenti. By contrast, this was a very different film from "Space Cadet", changing gears this was a wildly imaginative trip through the mind's eye. "Hi Neighbor" was the third film in the session. This was my pick of the session, my favorite. The film by T.C. De Witt and Kris Schulz was nothing short of hilarious. The film told an age old story of an annoying neighbor and, the fantasy of killing him of out of frustration. A comical romp, "Hi Neighbor" featured local talent Chad Halvorsen as "Gordon" the annoying neighbor with a Mohawk and a passion for his neighbors. With a twist ending, "Hi Neighbor" was the standout in my opinion. Next up, "Rocket Science" from Dirk Van Sloten was a quirky look at technology and the frustration we all share when it doesn't work. The last man on earth is close to the evacuation ships that are about to launch into space. Trailing the others, he calls the automated service number to hold the launch. Only to be frustrated, the man learns his fate is tied to a less than perfect computer. Next up was "Quack" by Joan Van Slyke featuring local favorite Robert WC Kennedy. Set in a bar, "Quack" was about a man who looses his seat to another when he fails to call "quack quack seat back" when leaving to use the bathroom. This was a small film but, the humor and irony were potent. "The Map Of Maps" was next. a fascinating documentary from Sangsun Choi about an old map of Korea that found it's way to Milwaukee, it followed immigrant families and their visit to the map. Touching and poignant, This was a heart warming short documentary. "A Dubious Night" followed from director Tony Oliveras. Filmed in black and white, the film was a story of a group of people in a local tavern. Each with their own story, each with their own problems. Little did they know, their world is not what it seems. The film reminded the viewer of "The Outer Limits" or "Twilight Zone". "The Survivor" followed up next. A very short film, it reminded us that life can go on even in the worst circumstances. Finally "Excising The Heart", the last film of session 1. From director Samuel Karow, the film was a visual voyage through man's relationship with mother nature.
"Voices Heard!" was next up for the fest. This is a new program spearheded by local film maker Rubin Whitmore II. The goal is to feature multi-cultural local films. This was the featured program for the fest this year and, was a sold out crowd. First up was Whitmore's film "Death After Life", a powerfully effective look at the current hot topic of black lives and police shootings. This was my favorite short of the session, the film was told from a unique angle with masterful execution. Next up was another favorite "Fight Night Legacy" from Hisonni. A boxing film with a slick look, the film engulfed the viewer. "Something Under The Christmas Tree" was a horror short brought to us by Danny Villanueva Jr. Yet another favorite of mine, the film was a creepy look at Santa and his evil elf. "Redemption" had it's world debut, from director Jezse Galan. A dramatic story about a man, redeeming himself after a prison sentence. Darren Cole's "Adolescence" followed the dramatic theme. Told from a deceased child's perspective. The film warns against the use of drugs and alcohol. Audience favorite "Spare Change" was next. From director Kenny Lawrence, a woman wakes up in the streets without memory of who she is. With the help of a homeless man with a good heart, she survives. "D Is For Dezire" was another dramatic journey for the viewers. Bonnie Janelle's film was about a young boy who channels his emotions and energy into drumming, shutting out the painful world around him. "Modern Romance VI: from director Sergio Espino followed. Lighting up the mood, this was a romantic comedy about a looser named Dave who is looking for love. Finally, the session ended with the film "Grass Between My Lips". Amardeep Kalexa delivered a very impressive film. Telling the story of an African woman faced with the custom of female circumcision, the tense drama was another audience favorite. Overall, the opening night was an extremely stimulating collection of film.
Night 2 we were able to attend session 5 and 6 with session 6 being the jury selection. Session 5 opened with the Milwaukee premiere of "Super Deluxe" from director Mark Maj. "Super Deluxe" was a fun comedy featuring a cheesy lounge singer that named himself Super Deluxe and, has a lust for the ladies. Starring Robert WC Kennedy as the title character, Super Deluxe was one of the highlights and, is my pick of the session. "Jesarus Rex" from Mark Irving was next, a documentary short about an artist with a talent for ironic humor. "Winterlude" followed next, from director Gregory Bishop. An avant garde film with striking visuals. This cerebral film was one of the sharpest looking shorts of the fest. Bryce O'Boyle's "Interplanetary" followed next. An experimental film striking in its approach, "Interplanetary" was an interesting piece of film making. "Jerk Chicken", a comedy from directors Greg Kuper and Jared Crooks had some laugh out loud moments. With irony in the title, it featured a man that was both a jerk and a chicken at the same time. Next up was a short visual presentation "R.P.M. @" from director Ryan Fox. What would you see if you strapped a GoPro camera to the wheel of your car and drive around? Apparently a visual bonanza. This was a very interesting film for being so simple in execution. "I Thought I Told You To Shut Up!" no I'm not being rude, this is the catch phrase of Reid Flemming, the world's toughest milkman. Director Charlie Tyrell brings this documentary of the iconic cartoon character and his creator. A comic nerd like myself found utter fascination here. "The Great Outdoors" from Anthony Wood and Claudia Tyrell was a comedic parody that reminds the viewer of old Pink Panther films. Featuring a dim witted man who decides to go camping. Narrated with witty dry delivery, this was a delightful short film. "Random Thoughts" was next from director Eivind Landsvik. This short film from Norway made it's Milwaukee debut. A look back at memories can be a fascinating journey. The final film for session 5 was "The Birds" from JJ Sullin. A documentary featuring 3 men who collect and raise pigeons. It was an interesting look into this hobby turned into passion.
Session 6 was the closing program for the fest. This was the Juried selection. Anthony Meyers who was our host for the evening had great energy and held the crowd's focus. Session 6 was the crème de la crème of the fest, the best of the best. First up was "Modern Romance" as seen earlier, it was just as fun as it was the first time. Next up, "Little Gary's Mole" from Wil Loper and Dustin Hardy. A quirky comedy about a door to door salesman who has some troubles. This was the winner of the Milwaukee 48 Hour Film Project. Cedarburg native Dick Grunert's "The Trap" was next in line. A witty comedy about a man who built a trap for aliens. Showing off to his friend, the man has more than a few secrets. This was my pick of the session, the short film was clever and, the execution was fantastic. Milwaukee's own Van Campbell brought his film "Hero In Limbo" next. The somber film was dramatic and authentically real. Starring local actor Moe Pull who won Best Actor for his part. This film was an absolute highlight. Campbell also won best Wisconsin film, deservedly so. "Dreamers" followed up. J.J. Backes' surreal film about a man with dreams of a woman and his desire for happiness. "Test" was next, from director Jay Lifton. This film, reminiscent of David Lynch was a dystopian view of the world. Jolane Lentz and Bobby Hewitt's "Here's Jane" was a comedy about a woman who isn't the brightest but, has a good heart. With a great cast, this was an entertaining, lighthearted comedy. "Wozek" (The Cart) was next. This Polish film from director Patrik Eriksson was a dramatic telling of a girl and a cart. Leaking and heavy, the girl defies everyone by pushing it to it's destination. The final film of the evening was "Dark_Net" from director Tom Marshall in the UK. In the vein of films like Shaun Of The Dead, the film starring Johnny Vegas told the story of a hapless man who hires a hitman on the internet. Was it a good investment?
In the end, season 17 of the Milwaukee Short Film Festival was a huge success. The new venue at Comedy Sportz was a fun atmosphere. After parties were held at the bar with cast and crew members mingling with their fans. Local film maker Ross Bigley turned his passion for film and created this event for Milwaukee. Rubin Whitmore II's Voices Heard was a welcome addition to this year's line up and, I do hope it makes a return next year. Keep an eye out for more detailed reviews of selected shorts from the festival.
To recap my personal picks from each session:
Session 1 - Hi Neighbor
Session 2 - Death After Life
Session 5 - Super Deluxe
Session 6 - The Trap