“We got to where we are because we never once negotiated down with ourselves about what we were aiming at. And we were united in one common belief that in Milwaukee, we are world-class whenever we want to be.” – Chris Abele

Milwaukee County Executive and co-founder of the Milwaukee Film Festival Chris Abele welcomed the opening night audience for the 2018 Festival on October 18, with a recap of the past decade that saw an impossible idea transform into one of the nation’s largest cinematic events.

Running from October 18 to November 1, the annual two-week celebration of Hollywood’s storytelling features a wide variety of both local and international movies. More than 300 films are scheduled for viewing this year.

“Ten years ago I had the privilege of standing on this stage on opening night, at the very first film of the very first film festival. We started the Milwaukee Film Festival in the middle of the worst recession the country has seen in decades,” said Abele. “But something I knew about Milwaukee, when we decide as a community that we want to do something, we don’t shoot for second. We shoot for being the best in the world. Our goal was not just to create a film festival so Milwaukee could check off that it had one. It was not even to be a Top 10 or well-known film festival. The goal was to create the best film festival on the planet.”

The festival is headed by the local nonprofit Milwaukee Film. Last year the organization launched the Milwaukee Filmmakers Alliance, a new group aimed at supporting filmmaking in the city. Milwaukee Film also last year signed a 31-year lease to operate the historic Oriental Theatre, closing it temporarily in July to complete the first phase of its $10 million plan to revitalize the building. The theater reopened in August with expanded first floor bathrooms, and upgraded concessions equipment and projection systems.

“Our friends down at Summerfest are known as the biggest music festival on the planet, but they got there because no one gave them the memo that said just because you are in Milwaukee you have to settle for being only second-best. And they have been looking at people in the rearview mirror for a long time,” added Abele.

Before the program began, Milwaukee Film CEO and Artistic Director, Jonathan Jackson, announced the Take A Seat campaign. The public fundraising drive aims to restore the historic Oriental Theatre and ensure the organization’s long term stability.

Audiences have the opportunity for their name to become a permanent part of the Oriental Theatre’s future by sponsoring a seat. For a gift of $2,500, a seat in the Oriental Theatre Main House can be sponsored. Seats in the Oriental Theatre East, West, and Main House Balcony can be sponsored for $1,000. New seats with the engraved names are planned to be installed during the last phases of the theater’s ambitious restoration plans, with a target date of late 2019.

Since securing the lease of the Oriental Theatre, Milwaukee Film has been quietly fundraising through private donors, with lead contributions made by Chris Abele, Donald and Donna Baumgartner, The Herzfeld Foundation, and Sheldon and Marianne Lubar Charitable Fund. The organization has so far raised more than $7 million dollars. Milwaukee Film Festival last year drew 84,072 attendees, which was a 9% increase from attendance the previous year.

These photos offer a look at the opening night festivities. They show highlights of the gathering movie fans, the welcome by Milwaukee Film leaders Sara Meaney, Chris Abele, and Jonathan Jackson, the introduction to the screening of “Science Fair,” which was co-directed by Milwaukee’s own Cristina Costantini, and the afterparty hosted by Good City Brewing.

Lee Matz