Milwaukee Film - which runs the annual Milwaukee Film Festival - recently announced it had acquired a 31-year lease for the Oriental Theater that begins in July, 2018. Milwaukee Film’s executive director, Jonathan Jackson, couldn't be happier.
“To be able to screen films year-round and to do unique programming year-round as well as just traditional weekly releases of cinema – I think that’s really how you build a film culture and a film community,” says Jackson. And he thinks there’s no better place to encourage this culture than at the Oriental Theater.
“[It] has been such a pivotal piece of the Milwaukee film festival," he says. "We’re kind of branded around it even. And that 1,100 seat main house is such an amazing, magical movie going experience. We couldn’t be more excited or proud to now be the custodian of, what I think is, one of the best cinemas in the country or the world."
The work to acquire the space began five years ago. “Basically it was an exploratory conversation about some of the challenges we had as an organization operating in the Oriental Theater," Jackson explains. "But then [it became] the bigger potential of what that space could be for Milwaukee if invested in and if programmed with sort of a festival mentality year-round."
Once Milwaukee Film begins running the Oriental next year, Jackson says they'll focus on screening documentaries, foreign films, and American independent films on weekly or longer runs. That's in addition to using all three screens for the yearly film festival. And Jackson doesn't rule out screening other, smaller festivals throughout the year as well.
And what about the Downer Avenue Theater, a smaller but still important venue for the Film Festival? Landmark Theatres still has the lease there for the next few years. But Jackson says it's on their radar too: "No matter what, we'll never let it go dark."