The 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival starts Thursday, and while the weather this week might be unseasonably warm for all-day moviegoing, the festival’s tantalizing lineup of Oscar-contender premieres, foreign films, kid-friendly flicks, special guests and other goodies make it hard to resist. Plus, the festival lasts two weeks, until Thursday, Oct. 9, so there’s got to be a couple of cold, rainy days coming between now and then, right?
I’m planning to head up I-94 to the festival at least twice, starting with the first full day of programming this Friday. But if I could just live in the lobby of the Oriental Theatre, here’s all the stuff I’d like to catch. Visit mkefilm.org for tickets and more details.
“1971” (Thursday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 27, 1:45 p.m, Oriental Theatre) — The opening night film at the festival is usually a fun crowd-pleaser in the vein of “Natural Selection” a couple of years ago. But this year’s kickoff is a little more serious, a thrilling documentary about eight Vietnam War activists who broke into an FBI office in 1971 and uncovered evidence of government surveillance.
“Time Lapse” (Friday, Sept, 26, 9:30 p.m., Times Cinema, and Sunday, Oct. 5, 9:45 p.m. Downer Theatre) — I am a complete sucker for low budget indie sci-fi movies like “Coherence” and “Primer,” and “Time Lapse” fits right into this ideas-over-effects genre, as three friends discover a camera that can photograph events 24 hours in the future.
“Ernest and Celestine” (Saturday, Sept. 27, 11:30 a.m., Oriental Theatre, Saturday, Oct. 4, 11 a.m., Fox Bay Cinema Grill, Sunday, Oct. 5, 11:15 a.m., Times Cinema) — One of the smart things the Milwaukee Film Festival has done (which the Wisconsin Film Festival would be wise to think about) is having a robust kids’ film program each year. The one I want to see is the Oscar-nominated animated film “Ernest & Celestine,” about the unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse.
Wesley Morris: State of Cinema (Saturday, Sept. 27, noon, Colectivo Coffee, 2211 N. Prospect) — One of the big names at this year’s festival is Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe and Grantland. He’s doing several events, including this “keynote address” of sorts on film in 2014 at a coffee shop near the Oriental.
“Finding Fela” (Monday, Sept. 29, 1:15 p.m., Oriental Theatre, Friday, Oct. 3, 7:30 p.m., Oriental Theatre, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 9:30 p.m., Fox Bay Cinema Grill) — Oscar winner Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) explores the life and times of the influential African musician and activist Fela Kuti in this powerful documentary.
“Man With a Movie Camera” (Tuesday, Sept. 30, 7 p.m., Oriental Theatre) — Dziga Vertov’s silent document of a day in the life of Russia was voted the best documentary ever by the BFI, and it gets a special showcase here with live musical accompaniment from the Alloy Orchestra.
“Jimi: All Is By My Side” (Saturday, Oct. 4, 8 p.m., Oriental Theatre) — The festival just announced that writer-director John Ridley, a Mequon native and recent Oscar winner for writing “12 Years a Slave,” will attend this screening. It stars Andre Benjamin of Outkast in an uncanny performance as Jimi Hendrix, following him in the year leading up to his breakthrough performance in 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival.
“Stop Making Sense” (Saturday, Oct. 4, 10:30 p.m., Oriental Theatre) — It’s enough that Jonathan Demme’s wonderful 1982 Talking Heads concert film will be up on the big screen in all its booty-shaking glory. But Talking Head Jerry Harrison, a Milwaukee native, will be there for the screening.
“The Imitation Game” (Sunday, Oct. 5, 1:30 p.m., Oriental Theatre) — Benedict Cumberbatch is getting serious Oscar buzz for his performance as Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician who worked feverishly to crack the Nazi codes during World War II. Turing was also a closeted gay man, and found himself persecuted by the British government after basically saving it. This was the first sellout of the festival, but a few rush tickets will be available if you’re early and patient.
“The Surface” (Thursday, Oct. 9, 8 p.m., Oriental Theatre) — Stars Sean Astin and Chris Mulkey will be on hand for this Milwaukee-made thriller about two men stranded in the middle of Lake Michigan who must work together to make it back to shore.