2017 Milwaukee Film Festival

Sept. 28 - Oct. 12



Milwaukee Film is proud to announce that beginning July 1, 2018, we will officially operate Milwaukee's historic Oriental Theatre. This is a key part of our official vision to make this city a center of film culture, and will help us grow both the Milwaukee Film Festival, and to expand our cultural institution's reach by providing great cinema year-round.

You probably have a lot of questions. Luckily, we have a lot of answers. Take a look at our FAQ below. If you need more answers or would like to discuss this further, please contact Communications & Press Manager Emily Foster at emily@mkefilm.org or (414) 755-1965 ex. 216.

Oriental Theatre FAQ

When does Milwaukee Film begin operating the Oriental Theatre?
July 1, 2018

Is this cool?
Yes. Milwaukee Film is going to program, enliven, and invest in a theater consistently listed among the nation’s top ten, (Entertainment Weekly, 2005; USA Today, 2001). We believe the Oriental Theatre is a treasure and that its main screen provides a magical viewing experience. We will do everything in our power to make it one of the great cinema palaces in the world.

Additionally, as a nonprofit based in Milwaukee, we are in a great position to maximize the potential of the Oriental Theatre as a catalyst for our community by investing significantly into the infrastructure of the cinematic experience while also forging local partnerships to utilize film to its fullest extent as a tool for entertainment, education, engagement, and community building.

Why did Milwaukee Film pursue the lease of the Oriental Theatre?
Operating the Oriental Theatre year-round takes us one step closer to our organization’s vision: to make Milwaukee a center of film culture. This move will ensure the sustainability of Milwaukee Film and the Milwaukee Film Festival by allowing us to control the most important venue and revenue source for the Milwaukee Film Festival. In addition, we now have the opportunity to grow the prominence of the organization and festival, expanding our cultural institution's reach by providing 365 days of great cinema, education programs, and community building each year.

How can I support this initiative?
Become a Milwaukee Film Member today. Already a member? Consider upgrading, or make a one-time donation!

Does this mean Milwaukee Film owns the Oriental Theatre?
No. Milwaukee Film signed a 31-year lease to operate the Oriental Theatre. The building is owned by New Land Enterprises. The lease was negotiated with Tim Gokhman and this unique arrangement for Milwaukee Film would never have happened without Tim’s father Boris first purchasing the building (in 2004) and then Tim having the vision to work with us.

What does this mean for the Milwaukee Film Festival?
Bigger and better. In the short term, Milwaukee Film plans to maintain the same festival venues as the past two years. Long term, we intend to have the Oriental Theatre become the home base of the festival, using all three of its screens while striving to maintain our current venues and eventually expanding geographically to serve even more of Milwaukee.

What about Landmark Theatres?
We would not be where we are today without Landmark Theatres. We greatly appreciate our relationship over the past nine years. We intend to do our best to work with them so this can be a smooth transition and provide as little financial disruption as possible for them. We pursued this lease because we felt it was the key factor to Milwaukee Film becoming sustainable.

What will happen to the current Oriental Theatre staff?
Who better to help Milwaukee Film run the Oriental Theatre than those who know the building best already? While we cannot guarantee a transition entirely free from employee turnover, strong consideration will be given to current Oriental Theatre staff members who wish to pursue positions at the venue under Milwaukee Film’s operation.

What will this mean for the size of the Milwaukee Film staff?
The number of year-round employees will inevitably grow to accommodate the demands of running a year-round cinema.

What does this mean for other cinemas in Milwaukee?
As a local operator for the Oriental Theatre, we hope to work together with other local cinemas to create as strong a film culture and community as possible in Milwaukee and increase viewership and celebrate film at all of the city’s cinemas.

How else will Milwaukee Film programs be affected?
They’ll grow! Milwaukee Film will be able to serve even more students, educators, filmmakers, and other audiences through education programs year-round. We expect to expand these programs easily, as many of them are at capacity during the festival. Having a year-round space will also allow us to deepen the experience we offer, as audiences can return multiple times to take their thinking further. Our Membership Program will also be able to expand, serving more members with great perks.

Are there other examples of a film festival operating a year-round cinema?
There are nearly ten, with the Seattle International Film Festival, California Film Institute, and Denver Film Society being our closest peers as three non-profit organizations that operate a large film festival, as well as multiple cinema screens and significant education programs year-round.

Are there other non-profit cinemas nationally?
Yes, more than a hundred. It is a significant non-profit industry, one which is more financially stable, well-aligned, and well-structured than that of film festivals. As preparation for this initiative we have been attending an annual conference, called the Art House Convergence for several years, this organization has grown to convene and serve this industry year-round.

Will the theater be renamed?
Milwaukee Film intends to keep the building’s iconic name, the “Oriental Theatre.”

What physical changes will be made to the Oriental Theatre?
Milwaukee Film seeks to revitalize the space through investments in the infrastructure and upgrades to the projection and sound, creating a superior customer experience and making the Oriental Theatre a state of the art historic cinema. But don’t worry - while design details have yet to be determined, maintaining the character and aesthetics of the beautiful building will be a priority. It is likely that we will not make physical changes until 2019 or later.

Are you raising money for this effort?
To position itself for success, Milwaukee Film has already raised $3 million of a $10 million goal to allow us to invest in the infrastructure of the Oriental Theatre, create a cash reserve for Milwaukee Film, and hire the necessary staff to run this new business line.

Who committed the $3 million?
Our Founders. Milwaukee Film Co-Founder and Milwaukee County Executive, Chris Abele, personally made a leading contribution of $2 million to support this effort. Milwaukee Film Co-Founders, the Herzfeld Foundation, led by Bill and Carmen Haberman, have also committed $1 million to the initiative.

What kind of movies will Milwaukee Film screen at the Oriental Theatre?
Milwaukee Film will program the best of international and American independent fiction and documentary films, including traditional weekly releases mixed with repertory selections, event cinema engagements, programming for families, and various themed film festivals and series throughout the year. Programming year-round will allow us to share films that otherwise miss Milwaukee’s theater screens and extend them with the kind of conversations and community we’ve become known for during our festival. Basically, our audience can expect to be able to see a festival-quality film on any given day!

Will Milwaukee Film still show The Rocky Horror Picture Show?!?
We hope so! The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a rich Milwaukee tradition that we would like to continue at the Oriental Theatre.

How old is the Oriental Theatre?
The Oriental Theatre opened in 1927 and will be celebrating its 90th birthday this July. While it has hosted many forms of entertainment, from stand-up comedians to legendary musicians (including Bob Dylan), it has primarily operated as a cinema since its opening.

What is the future of movie-going?
We at Milwaukee Film believe in and treasure the communal viewing experience. Cinema has the rare power to inspire, transport, educate, and inform. In our opinion there is no better place for that communal cinema experience than the magical space of the Oriental Theatre. It is so important and powerful for us as human beings to share experiences together, especially in today’s world where our media and information bubbles are shrinking. Film can be something that allows an individual viewer to experience new points of view, global culture, and, when presented in a community, can connect people who may never have been connected before. After all, how big is the screen at your house?

Remind me again how I can support this initiative?
Become a Milwaukee Film Member today. Already a member? Consider upgrading, or make a one-time donation!