The Tommy G. Thompson Youth Center in West Allis, Wisconsin was buzzing with activity on October 26th. The front foyer was filled with tables where gamers were playing Dungeons and Dragons and other roll playing games during a special gaming conference. Although this was drawing a number of visitors and curious onlookers, it was not the main event at the facility. That honor was taken by the second annual It Came From Lake Michigan Film Festival.
The festival is a gathering of independent film talent, not just from Wisconsin but from around the world. Filmmakers from as far away as Australia and as close as Milwaukee all submitted their films to the festival for the chance exhibit their hard work before a new audience. The screenings started at noon on Friday and ran with few stops until the last films started at 3pm the following Sunday. The number of films shown was staggering with over 60 films scheduled to run in the three screening rooms through out the event. These films included two features by International filmmaker Uwe Boll. Boll brought his newest films Postal & Seed to the festival and then taught a class on film financing and distribution. A number of other films even had their world premieres at the festival, including a standing room only crowd for Don Kennedy’s Wisconsin made film: Backwoods Blood Bath.
Although the films were the main attraction, there were many other exciting things happening as well. Filmmakers, actors, actresses, vendors and other special guests filled two event halls set up around the screenings. This gave fans and other filmmakers the chance to interact with them and each other. Some visitors were there for autographs and pictures, some to watch the films, but many were there to learn about the craft. “I’m interested in indy films and filmmaking, so I’m real excited about the chance to meet these guys” says college student Darren Washington as he finished speaking with the filmmakers working on The Spade County Massacre. Darren then headed for the Troma table mumbling something about a movie idea for Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman. Elsewhere, when she wasn’t volunteering her time to help out with the festival, local writer and aspiring actress Carrie Postuma was busy watching films and meeting guests “It’s a great environment here, everyone is so friendly and approachable.”
Many people came for the round table discussions and workshops held throughout the weekend. Filmmaker Mike Conway of Las Vegas, Nevada presented a class on special effects for movies. In it he showcased some of the many techniques he’d learned over 25 years in the industry. His class covered everything from prosthetics and fake blood; to the latest in CGI techniques such as cloning. Mike also had hopes of premiering his newest sci-fi film: “Exile”, but unfortunately he wasn’t done with the post production in time for the event. “Exile” star Heather Lei Guzzetta joined Mike at the festival and although the film didn’t show she took the opportunity to sell some DVD’s and photos from her other films as well as network with other guests and filmmakers.
One of the highlights of the event was the Gala Party held on Friday night. The party had a Hellfire club theme to it and many guests who attended wore costumes or formal attire that fit the occasion. Model and actress Scarlet Salem was enjoying the party and the chance to meet some of her fans in such a casual setting. “This [gala party] has been great and the Living Dead Girlz are amazing!” she commented as the main entertainment at the gala, a performance by the Living Dead Girlz zombie dance team from San Francisco concluded.
The awards ceremony on Saturday saw a number of filmmakers take home honors. Films like Edison Death Machine (best sci-fi film), Dork of the Rings (best fantasy film), and Witch’s Night (best horror film) walked away winners. “The judging was difficult” admitted festival director Wayne Clingman “You get so many good films it gets tough to decide which one deserves an award”.
By the festivals end it was clear that the second annual It Came From Lake Michigan Film Festival had been a success. Attendance was high, with many films playing to packed houses. In a press release Clingman said “Here we see what a true film festival can do for the Milwaukee area. Not only in terms of filling hotels with those who wish to see great independent films, but in bringing film makers together to see what a great place Milwaukee is to make movies. With tax credits for film production going into effect here in Wisconsin starting in January 2008, what better way for the Milwaukee area to be noticed?”
The 2007 It Came From Lake Michigan Film Festival is now just a memory. But with its offering of independent film, networking, workshops and eclectic events such as a Night of the Living Dead puppet show, it is easy to see that the It Came From Lake Michigan Film Festival was an event not to be missed. Now look to the horizon, 2008 is not so far away and It Came From Lake Michigan may rise again from the depths to visit Milwaukee once more.