Once again drawing a sold out crowd, the aptly-named Milwaukee Show continuously proves to be one of the highlights of the Milwaukee Film Festival. A two-hour anthology of shorts by local Milwaukee filmmakers, the Milwaukee Show is an insight into the city’s growing cinematic community with a wide range of genre, themes, and styles.
A total of 12 shorts were showcased this year, which I describe below. The order that the films are listed in is the order in which they played during the show to the best of memory. Please note that it is not based on rank or personal merit.
Spectacle! (dir. Andrew Swant, WC Tank, Erik Ljung, John Roberts, Kurt Raether, Carol Brandt)
Originally commissioned as a gallery piece, the film follows a love-struck butler on his quest to win over a starry-eyed socialite as they jump through multiple cinematic worlds. The film is told in six parts, with each part stylized in a different format (silent film, sci-fi, film noir, fantasy, musical, and indie film) with six different directors for each segment. While an interesting concept that works for the first few portions, as a whole it becomes disjointed as the interweaving story loses its traction and certain technical aspects unevenly outweigh others. Though it’s still an enjoyable experiment that resulted in an interesting…um, spectacle.
The Quiet City (dir. Brian McGuire)
The Quiet City is an experimental piece that follows a woman and her journey through a city. Similar to McGuire’s film from last year’s show, She Leaves the City, it is presented through a peculiar flash and blurry juxtaposition of images and movement that—though disassociating—is also eerily attractive.
Pluto and the Vessel (dir. Harrison Browning)
This is a stop-motion animated short that features a bearded arctic dweller who journeys to a dark cavern to gain sustenance from the mysterious artifact known as the Vessel. However, the cavern itself holds a dark secret that the man may not be able to escape. Eerie, atmospheric, and even a bit trippy, this is a fantastic animation and terrific shorts experience. Pluto and the Vessel is definitely one of the show’s highlights.
Before You (dir. Michael T. Vollman)
A delightful short that, though not quite a documentary, feels like a cinematic poem written by Vollman to his daughter’s future self (though she is portrayed as a baby in the film). Prolific black-and-white cinematography, touching music, and lyrical writing make Before You one of the more charming entries.
Love You Still (dir. Michael Viers)
This year’s entry from Milwaukee Film’s Collaborative Cinema program (which also happens to be their final entry, as the program concluded this past summer) is definitely a dramatic step up from The Vampire Formerly Known As Dracula, their short from last year’s show. Love You Still documents an old fisherman ruminating on his regrets of failed romance and wondering just how he’ll keep himself moving on. Though a particular special effect at the end makes the audience question the protagonist’s sanity, it’s a simple and touching story that has a great set design.
Margaret Hue Would Like To Go To Mars (dir. Anna Sampers)
Shot in the style of an audition tape and narrated by a monotonous feminine voice, this video portrays a woman named Margaret Hue as she lists off all her perceived qualifications for being a candidate for the colonization of Mars. While it did have some chuckle-worthy moments it’s nothing particularly remarkable or memorable.
Cinders (dir. Andrew Gralton)
A short documentary about filmmaker Andrew Gralton’s mother who was diagnosed with dementia in her late 40s and how she and her family have been coping with it since. While at first it felt like the filmmaker was simply using the medium to tell an offbeat story, it quickly became something much more as Gralton uses old home videos combined with new footage of his mother to produce a cinematic memoir of sorts. The film showcases who Gralton’s mother is and who she used to be as well as her continued importance in his life. It’s an emotional documentary that tugs at the heartstrings.
USPS (dir. Jessica Farrell)
USPS is a brief peak into what happens behind the scenes at a local post office warehouse. While working within a very short running time, Farrell gives us a look at the hidden world of the postal service that is more fascinating than one would think.
Begong Ava, Begong Hele (dir. Heather Hass)
This is an animated music video of sorts set to the music of Altos and against a fantasy-ridden, sea-faring landscape. The music and animation was decent, but nothing much beyond that.
Within A Stone’s Throw (dir. Cecelia Condit)
Originally displayed as a gallery piece, this experimental film follows Cecelia Condit on a journey through Ireland’s west coast, offering a peculiar juxtaposition of three separate screens to create a combined and sometimes succinct view of the landscape. I enjoyed how the three screens did seem to “synch up” every now and then and create what seemed to be one conglomerate image.
Water, Ice, Snow (dir. Karim Raoul)
Water, Ice, Snow is a documentary about photographer Sasha Sicurella and her travels to Mongolia as part of her I AM project which allows children to explore self-expression through photography. This is a heartwarming tale of cross-cultural connections and childhood happiness, both found through art and expression.
The Glitch (dir. Zijian Yan)
The Glitch centers on a female-bodied robot designed for physical pleasure that is sentenced to be decommissioned after gaining sentience and attacking a human male who raped her. During her last few moments being online, she tries to convince a technician to let her live. Containing threads from Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the execution of the short may be heavy-handed but benefits from an intriguing production design and creative editing techniques.