Previewing the deep and often very dark roads of MKE Film Fest’s “Milwaukee Show II”

More previews of the Milwaukee Film Festival’s locally-sourced short film lineup

The Milwaukee Film Festival is hosting not one but two “Milwaukee Shows” this year, the second of which runs on Sun, Oct 2 at the Oriental Theatre. As with Grant Phipps’ first preview, we look ahead to the assorted array of featured shorts coming out of the “Cream City Cinema” program.

Once again, in alphabetical order:


@Me (dir. Kristin Peterson)

In its depiction of its mayoral hopeful’s self-ascribed downfall, Weiner is as fine an example as one will see of putting yourself out there. If you’re not up for stomaching Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg dick-fueled documentary though, here’s your micro-fictional version. @Me is no less informed by social media’s draw and the cold (literal) loneliness that comes from fleeting connections made with it and the lasting connections missed from it. Media Schmedia founder Kristin Peterson’s follow-up to the misanthropic DOG*WALK looks inward, leaving its hyper-connected stand-up comedian (Andrea Guzzetta) hanging. Literally.


American Zombies (dir. Joe Bowes)

In the tradition of Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s climax, American Zombies’ nuclear family sits down to devour a meal of freshly captured warm bodies, complete with an eyeball side dish and plenty of watery blood for refreshment. Believe it or not, banal conversation ensues when the breadwinner father arrives home. His stressed-out stay-at-home wife grunts out a nervous breakdown at the table while their teenage son screeches the news that he’s going vegetarian. In 2016, zombies don’t just seem bad for humanity but for pop culture as a whole, and yet Bowes finds a hilarious (and gory) spin on the genre.


Fixing the Dog (dir. Miles O’Neil)

Miles O’Neil turns Paul J. Ruggieri’s careworn punching bag into a Christ-like figure in what is far and away the most mean-spirited of the bunch here.  Audiences are welcome to read Fixing the Dog as a Christian allegory, and the Milwaukee Film guide welcomes it, but there’s more fun to be had in soaking in its hiccuped pacing and casually antagonistic tone. The sight of two boys spitting water at Ruggieri (opaquely credited as “Flotsam”) is rotten on face value until one learn to roll with Julio Pabon’s “Low Rider”-styled grooves playing underneath.


Jáaji Approx. (dir. Sky Hopinka)

Jáaji translates to “father” in Hocąk, although as both the opening card and title tell you, that’s only an approximation. Sky Hopinka is less concerned with exactitude than process when it comes to his subject, his father. Patching together recordings of his father sourced over a 10-year span, Hopinka overturns scenic vistas and mashes them onto one another, with the native Ho-Chunk language typed out on screen. Jáaji zeroes in on understanding someone else through culture, language, memory and at its most primal, through image itself.

milwaukee show ii

Northfound (dir. Dana Shihadah)

“Do you want to get a hot dog?” isn’t the best response to finding out your loved one has a terminal illness, but the well-meaning Finn (Erika Sorenson) definitely understands the therapeutic value of the little things. Northfound opens with her sister Iris (Angie Campbell) processing the crushing news that she’s going to die. Soon. What follows is a tragicomic fumbling through life between the two, including plans to see the Northern Lights in person and whether it’s okay to find Balto sexually attractive. Effortlessly referential, Northfound‘s sisters are racing to reconnect but not entirely sure of how to do so. When life feels completely bug nuts, why not turn to processed meats?

Recycle (dir. Spencer Ortega)

Years after losing his mother to a sudden act of vengeance as a child, Nathan (Jordan Larson) has dedicated his adult life to law enforcement. When armed goons outnumber his SWAT team’s assault on a warehouse though, Nathan must revert back to an old lesson about recycling to save his skim. Miraculously, Spencer Ortega has one-upped the indulgent heights of Dinosaur, a short film that, mind you, features a grown man pretending to be a T-Rex. In Recycle, Ortega climbs to insane production value heights before leaping from the top with an insane surprise and hitting every tonal branch on the way down. Brutal and hilarious with smash-mouth action, this is The Raid as told by the Dalai Lama. Truly an entry that must be seen to be believed


The Seed in the Sky (dir. David Kiehl)

Rife with paradox, The Seed in the Sky is a vibrant conundrum where muted pastels of nature morph sinews into mechanized tidiness. The animation style is a draw all by itself, too. Ostensibly animating with paper, Kiehl actually recreated the effect in Photoshop, blending photography of leaves with select watercolors. Neither too garish nor too wholesome, Seed in the Sky gets a thorough lift from Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7.”


Sterile (dir. Matthew Klein)

When Donna Rider looks into her past, she dusts off a repressed truth that’s both horrific and, thanks to Va Lynda Robinson’s performance, deeply rooted in her composure as a woman. Matthew Klein presents this sterilization program as matter-of-fact, not a stunning revelation, a choice assuredly informed by the thousands of American women actually subjected to such horrors. Cross-cuts between Robinson’s present-day adult and her younger, frightened self (Dora Winifred) are nimbly handled and turned into a fluid and immediate history.

  • “The Milwaukee Show II” plays on Sun, Oct 2 at 7:30p at the Oriental Theatre. Complete ticket information can be found at