Milwaukee Show II: Showcasing the Creativity and Range of Local Filmmakers

Oct 1, 2016

The Milwaukee Show is an integral part of the Milwaukee Film Festival. It’s a program that includes short films made by local filmmakers, and it is very popular with festival audiences.

When it came to putting together the Milwaukee Show this year, Festival organizers say they had so much good material to choose from that they couldn’t fit it into one screening. So they decided it was time for The Milwaukee Show II. The program consists of comedy, drama, documentary filmmaking, animation and even zombies.

Dana Shihadah, Dave Kiehl and Matt Klein are three of the filmmakers whose works are included in the show, with their respective works, Northfound, The Seed in the Sky, and Sterile.  The filmmakers each discuss their films’ synopses and how they were inspired to produce them.

"[Northfound] is about two sisters, the older of whom is diagnosed with a terminal illness, and the younger sister takes it upon herself to...brighten her last days by incorporating an old childhood favorite cartoon...and uplift her spirits," describes Shihadah.

"This story is kind of a retelling of my own story," she explains. "It was almost one year ago, almost exactly, that my older sister was very, very ill. This is a pretty accurate representation of how we interacted and how we handled the situation."

A scene from 'Northfound.'
Credit Dana Shihadah

One of the ways that the younger sister in Northfound handles the situation is to make conversation about the sex appeal of a certain cartoon character, Balto

"That was taken from an earlier conversation that I'd had with one of my siblings about attractive cartoon characters," Shihadeh notes. "For some reason 'Balto' always popped into my head. He is half-wolf and half-dog, and he was voiced by Kevin Bacon, which I guess my younger self thought was the most sultry voice ever."

The result is a very touching short.

"I wanted to take something that I knew from my childhood and tie that in," she says. "Not necessarily make light of something that is very heavy and very dark, but...to comfort another person."

A completely different type of filmmaker, Dave Kiehl, runs his own animation company, Harvest Motion Design, and says that his project, The Seed in the Sky, was on his mind for years. He describes it as "a cut-out animation about a flying ship that creates life from clouds." 

A scene from "The Seed in the Sky."
Credit Dave Kiehl

"The entire film was made digitally, but I really liked the shadows and the textures that traditional cut-out animation has," he says. As a result, he says that he wanted to create a cut-out feel while using digital techniques. "Everything you see in the film is actually made up of watercolor that's blended with macro photography of leaves," notes Kiehl.

"I think it's just kind of a story on how life just keeps moving along," he explains. "Even if something screws up, everything just keeps going forward."

Like Shihadah, Matt Klein also created Sterile as a senior thesis film.  "I was driving home from work and I heard an NPR story about the history of forced sterilization in North Carolina," he recalls. "In the story, they interviewed a few of the victims of the program, and it completely shocked me."

A young "Donna" (Dora Winifred) on the surgical table in 'Sterile'
Credit Matt Klein

Klein did some additional research and decided he wanted to make a movie on the subject, spending the next three years on the film. The short alternates between the past and the present day of a victim of forced sterilization.

"Once we sat down in the cutting room with my editor he was really able to do some awesome things with inter-cutting between scenes, which really tied together what was going on [between past and present]," he explains.

"There's something really powerful about getting a very small window into someone else's experience," says Klein. "Especially if you're exposing them to a new idea. I think it can have almost as strong of an impact as a feature can."