Here’s the best local stuff coming to the Milwaukee Short Film Festival

Milwaukee Short Film Festival 2016

Familiar titles and a number of promising area premieres make up the best of the best at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival, which celebrates its 18th year of programming this Fri and Sat.

The Milwaukee Short Film Festival begins again this Fri, and 2016’s lineup features a number of familiar entries.

We’ve already written about Milwaukee 48 Hour film Project winner Screen: Righter, and the The Forbidden Fable of Papa L’s .38 Special stood out from other Madison entries with crisp, visceral visual style. Melonie Gartner’s 2014 black-and-white mini-drama Two Rivers is a brutally honest back-and-forth between a woman (Gartner) and her abusive husband (American Movie‘s Mark Borchardt). Of course, we presented Spencer Ortega’s primal horror short Kodama at LakeFrontRow Cinema this past spring.

On the “Wisconsin’s Own” front, 3 dAys will throw its audience on a time-traveling tailspin, Ryan Fox hopes to once again provoke and disorient with the surreally hilarious The Life and Times of Thomas Thumb, Jr., and Eric Nelson will bring his bite-sized, handcrafted forest origami to the festival.

The Milwaukee Short Film Festival is also a springboard for newer projects, too. RJ Baxter’s Swagnificent Odyssey (from director Michael Sapieja) calls out film school cliches in its “let’s just be friends” romance, featuring a self-deprecating author as a narrator and what’s guaranteed to be the ballsiest long take you’ll see at the entire festival.

And speaking of compelling long takes, Act II begins its whodunit with a muscular one-shot, exploring the Atrium Theater as its camera bounces between stage hands and understudies. Trouble starts with the theater’s fly system goes haywire and almost kills a hammy, Nathan Fillion-channeling leading man. (Jeff Kosharek.) Kosharek’s prima donna pairs up with an intrepid reporter (Angie Campbell) to learn much more than they wanted. The long-gestating results of the UW-Milwaukee Production Club’s crowdfunding campaignAct II is an unapologetic love letter to the theater and is all the better for it.

Milwaukee Short Film Festival

Shot inside Milwaukee’s Haggerty Museum of Art, Closed Mondays is heartwarming comfort food, growing a sweet friendship between a museum guard (Matt Nichols) and a curious little girl. A mutual appreciation for a certain painting eventually blossoms into an open-armed embrace of the arts in this confident premiere from Marquette University’s Henry Willette.

Snow Bird recalls a flurried fairy tale about a wayward bird. If Sangsun Choi’s source text is flowery, the UW-Milwaukee alum chooses a route that’s anything but, combining stark, balletic images of choreographer and sole performer Mina Na with Na’s solemn narration. Think “Under the Skin on Ice.”

Milwaukee Short Film Festival

If you can only make one program this weekend, Modern Age Amour makes Sat evening’s juried section worth the price alone. Prefaced by a woman recalling the memory of a distant dream, Casey T. Malone’s short begins with an eerie phone call before going down a suffocating rabbit hole of richly colored sequences and a cacophonous, string-laden score. Malone turns The House on the Rock from a waking dream into a suffocating nightmare, expanding the distances and barriers between our selves through an oblique, Carrollian pathway.

Others worth mentioning include, the 8mm-shot Cartolinawhich recalls the dream logic and grimy voyeurism of Lost Highway. Ken Lawrence’s ThreeSixFive tags a cathartic spoken word epilogue on the end of a sexual assault. Liquor & Blood seems tailor-fitted for Tarantino fetishists, from its wise guy liquor store stand-off down to the Jackie Brown-inspired title card. And The Last Day, from festival coordinator Ross Bigley, features a novel use of on-screen texting to kick off its showdown between a prostitute (Anieya Walker) and a customer who isn’t who he appears to be. (Louis Sather.)

  • The Milwaukee Short Film Festival celebrates its 18th year of programming this Fri and Sat at Comedy Sportz.
    (420 S 1st St.). Complete program details and ticket information are available on the festival’s website.