Anticipating MIFF

The Milwaukee International Film Festival runs from September 20-30, and tickets will go on sale tomorrow. This is the fest's fifth year, and although I have lived in Milwaukee for all that time, I have never seen any films at the fest. This is partly a product of my dislike of film festivals, which I find tend to inflate people's estimations and evaluations of films in their atmosphere of appreciative discovery. I don't like large crowds, and I've seen too much crap that festival guides touted as essential viewing. I would rather catch the films that will have theatrical releases on my own schedule, and I resent paying inflated admission prices to see things I might not rent if Hollywood Video carried them and I had all night to watch movies. I admit that this is a little eccentric and silly, and that there are many great films that one can only see at festivals. Partly this avoidance is also a product of my formative years in Toronto, a town with a truly great festival next to which Milwaukee's looks pretty rinky-dink. Anyhow, I have decided to throw myself into this year's festival, to give it a real chance, and catch up with some of the international cinema that has been touring the circuit. Now the hard part: choosing what to see.

There are good and bad things about going to a fest like this one. There will be no discoveries here, certainly not of major American independents or foreign auteurs. Most of the films here have screened already at more important events. Lots of the MIFF entrants were on the slate in Toronto a year ago, and many of the American ones that didn't were at last winter's Sundance. European films that didn't play at the TIFF might have been at Berlin, Rotterdam, or Karlovy Vary. This means that a large number of the films screening here have been reviewed fairly widely. I have been collecting these in my del.icio.us, under the tag miff. Of the major festival circuit names, the best known here are probably Hang Sang-soo and Lars von Trier. Local boy Chris Smith will be here with his new film, his feature debut, The Pool. The fest guide describes it a "neorealist tale" shot in India. Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep will be showing, as will The Whole Shootin' Match, a 1979 American indie that is credited with inspiring Robert Redford to make Sundance into a showcase for American regional cinema. There are docs, shorts, local films, and a small series in tribute to Willem Dafoe, a Wisconsin native who went to UW-Milwaukee before dropping out to join an avant-garde theater group, and then going on to his career in movies. Unfortunately, none of these mumblecore films we have been reading about in blogs and newspapers seem to be turning up here this year. I have seen some of them on video, and think I want to save my judgment until I have seen some in the theater. The small screen might not be their ideal format. (I assume Hannah Takes the Stairs will be here before long, given the amount of publicity it has had.)

More MIFF blogging is to come, I hope. Stay tuned.


Some other items:

-A new semester has begun. I am teaching one course, Principles of Media Studies. This is my third semester at it, and for this installment I have added a day on Facebook. I was thinking of replacing the group class blog with a discussion board in a Facebook group but sort of chickened out. It's still not clear to me how students and teachers will interact in the online social-networking environment, and I don't want any students feeling like I have invaded their space. I also didn't want to compel any of them who might be reluctant to get on Facebook to participate there. Some of them are trying to protect their time by avoiding that stuff, and I applaud them for trying, I guess.

-The summer television offerings have been so good that our usual habit of catching up on shows we have missed on DVD has been put aside. (Last summer's discovery was BSG.) I'm working out some ideas about Mad Men, my favorite of the season by far. It's worth watching its credit sequence if nothing else, clearly in the Bass tradition but very contemporary at the same time. I also like the psychological machinations of Damages, and its superb acting by Glenn Close. And The Hills and Newport Harbor amaze in every installment with their gorgeous mise en scene, classic soapy plotting, and vapid characters. One cannot turn away.

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