Conversation: Jonathan Jack­son and Erik Ljung on

Milwaukee Magazine - - Culture -

Though it’s less than a decade old, the Mil­wau­kee Film Fes­ti­val is al­ready one of the top five most at­tended film fes­ti­vals in the coun­try, thanks in no small part to artis­tic di­rec­tor Jonathan Jack­son’s cre­ative drive. Some 70,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to at­tend the 2017 event. Among the doc­u­men­taries be­ing shown is lo­cal film­maker Erik Ljung’s The Blood is at the Doorstep, which ex­am­ines po­lice vi­o­lence in the United States through the lens of Don­tre Hamil­ton’s tragic death in 2014. Jack­son and Ljung met over cof­fee at Colec­tivo’s Prospect lo­ca­tion to talk Cream City cinema.

JJ: One of the things I’ve seen is that there’s a lot more cross-pol­li­na­tion to­day than 10-15 years ago. I’m see­ing more and more peo­ple work to­gether and forg­ing re­la­tion­ships and artis­tic or com­mer­cial part­ner­ships. I like to think some of that is the fes­ti­val bring­ing peo­ple to­gether.

EL: I think Mil­wau­kee Film has done a great job of cham­pi­oning film and gath­er­ing a film com­mu­nity. It’s amaz­ing to me to see a sold-out the­ater on a Wed­nes­day, to have an au­di­ence and get peo­ple ex­cited about con­tribut­ing resources. And I think it’s just the be­gin­ning of great things to come be­cause, in years past, Mil­wau­kee has lost tal­ented peo­ple, film­mak­ers go­ing else­where to get their films made, be­cause there’s been a lack of resources in arts fund­ing in Mil­wau­kee. You have the Nohl Grant, which is great, and now you have the Brico For­ward Fund.

JJ: I would echo that. When we created the Brico For­ward Fund, we wanted to spur more cre­ative en­ergy in Mil­wau­kee. And you know I think it has, as you said, a bit of a cat­a­lyst ef­fect. I’ve seen more fund­ing in the last two years than in my en­tire ten­ure at Mil­wau­kee Film, ab­so­lutely. And that feels like great mo­men­tum and a sign for the fu­ture.

EL: There are a lot of tal­ented peo­ple com­ing out of Mil­wau­kee, and re­tain­ing some of those peo­ple is go­ing to help grow the com­mu­nity.

JJ: There’s no bet­ter cat­a­lyst than see­ing work on the big screen at the Ori­en­tal Theatre for an emerg­ing, first-time film­maker. There’s noth­ing like it. It’s amaz­ing. I did that as a stu­dent. I worked at the Ori­en­tal Theatre at the con­ces­sion stand. I would screen some of my 16-milime­ter work that I did as a stu­dent on the big screen at the Ori­en­tal. It changes your per­spec­tive on things.

EL: I’ve got to say, though, hav­ing the Ori­en­tal as a back­drop for young Mil­wau­kee film­mak­ers, it’s kind of a let­down when you pre­miere your film any­where else in the coun­try. It’s like, we’re hav­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties with the film I’m work­ing on to screen other places, and it’s like, it’s just not the Ori­en­tal with 1,200 peo­ple. You’re not go­ing to get that any­where else.

JJ: It’s 1,070 seats ... Nearly eleven-hun­dred seats is what I usu­ally say.

EL: Just the ex­cite­ment in the room and to have that many peo­ple watch­ing your work is ex­cit­ing, ex­hil­a­rat­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing.

JJ: That’s how we get to keep peo­ple in Mil­wau­kee.

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