You’ve heard of sing-along movies, but what about the dance-along?
Milwaukee Film Festival patrons are encouraged to unlock their bodies Saturday night during “Stop Making Sense” (Oriental Theatre, 11 p.m.), Jonathan Demme’s euphoric 1984 concert film about the Talking Heads and the ever-expanding big suit worn by frontman David Byrne. Playing for the third consecutive year, the movie has become an unlikely yet popular fixture at MFF, largely because the late-night partying in the aisles adds an idiosyncratic dimension to the viewing experience. While such “event” screenings are customary at festivals, I’m unconvinced they have much to do with movie watching. After all, they function to amplify the presence of the spectator while reducing the presence of the film. Their real subject is ourselves, which perhaps explains why they transform into such joyful occasions.
If impromptu conga lines are your thing, put on shiny pants for “Stop Making Sense.” You won’t regret it. But some works of cinema intensely insist upon our full concentration, asking us to get lost in an idea rather than a moment. If that’s rather your thing, try one of the following suggestions for each remaining day of the fest.
Friday, Oct. 2
Winner of Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival, “My Love, Don’t Cross That River” (Oriental Theatre, 1 p.m.) travels to the South Korean countryside to hang out with two lovebirds who, after 76 years of marriage, remain devoted and warmly affectionate. But what does commitment mean in its waning days? Hugely popular in its homeland, this slice-of-life portrait promises to send couples out holding hands and pondering their own permanence.
Saturday, Oct. 3
Existing as a series of 62 one-minute films, “Station to Station” (Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, 10:15 p.m.) defies traditional notions about what a movie looks like, which is precisely what’s exciting about it. It’s an unusual work about unusual talent: While traveling via train across North America, director Doug Aitken recorded iconoclasts like Beck and Patti Smith as they created music, galleries, and art pieces. Will Aitken be able to sustain his formal experiment? I’m eager to find out.
Sunday, Oct. 4
Hubert Sauper’s “We Come as Friends” (Oriental Theatre, 1 p.m.) tries to illuminate the convoluted tensions currently afflicting Africa—oil, war, tribalism, religion—but a companion documentary could probably be made about how the director sneaked into the Sudan by constructing a small, lightweight aircraft that enabled him to snoop around military-controlled regions. There will also be a moderated small group discussion after the screening, as part of the festival’s Conversations series.
Monday, Oct. 5
India’s justice system is excoriated in “Court” (Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, 4 p.m.), which concerns a folk singer charged with performing an inflammatory protest lyric that may have triggered the suicide of a city worker. The courtroom drama arrives in Milwaukee garlanded with nearly 20 awards from around the globe, including a special jury prize at the Mumbai Film Festival for best ensemble—quite a feat, given how rookie director Chaitanya Tamhane cast many non-professional actors.
Tuesday, Oct. 6
Based on the true story of a mute, feral boy found living in woodlands and sent to a Belgrade orphanage, “No One’s Child” (Downer Theatre, 4:15 p.m.) might remind MFF patrons of last year’s conversation piece “The Tribe,” about a boarding school for the deaf and shot entirely in sign language. Like that film, this Balkan drama promises to convert into political allegory, especially after Yugoslavia splinters and the orphanage becomes choked with refugees, ethnic clashes, and savagery.
Wednesday, Oct. 7
Screening as part of the festival’s Black Lens division, “Little White Lie” (Oriental Theatre, 9 p.m.) unravels the family secret that explains why director Lacey Schwartz, raised as a privileged Jewish white girl, now identifies as African-American. When it comes to issues of race and identity, the documentary only skims the surface, but there’s a compelling friction between Schwartz’s mother, who is all-too-willing to describe her affair with a black man, and Schwartz’s non-biological father, who hesitates to even acknowledge the facts of the case.
Thursday, Oct. 8
It’s become de rigueur to link “Theeb” (Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, 4 p.m.) to “Lawrence of Arabia,” since both World War I pictures feature British officers visiting Bedouin clans and were shot in Jordan on the same majestic desert locations. Still, that comparison misses how “Theeb” is more ethnographic than geopolitical, more interested in the Arabian perspective than in using regional squabbles as the backdrop for the ambitions of one European interloper. Tribal loyalty and revenge take center stage, making the story closer in spirit to an Anthony Mann Western than a David Lean epic.
The full festival lineup can be accessed online at mkefilm.org.
Venues include the Fox-Bay Cinema Grill; the Times Cinema; the Avalon Theater; and the historic Oriental and Downer Theatres. Tickets are $12, but discounts are available for seniors, students, and children. They can be purchased online, by phone, or in person at each theater box-office. Many screenings reach capacity, so buy your tickets now.