Milwaukee Film has signed a 31-year lease to operate the Oriental Theatre beginning July 1, 2018, signaling tremendous future growth for the organization and ensuring that the Milwaukee Film Festival will be a part of the community for years to come.
“The Oriental Theatre is a treasure. I have visited hundreds of cinemas worldwide and the Oriental Theatre is my favorite. It is magical to see 1,000 of our members fill the main house at our monthly screenings,” says Jonathan Jackson, Artistic & Executive Director of the nonprofit Milwaukee Film. “Our nine-year-old organization securing long-term control of this cinema is a momentous occasion. We have cemented our permanence in Milwaukee and intend to greatly expand our cultural, economic, and educational impact on our community.”
Opened in 1927 as a “movie palace,” the Oriental Theatre is not only a beloved local landmark, but has also been recognized nationally as a top ten movie theater by Entertainment Weekly and USA Today. 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. While designs have yet to be completed, the organization is committed to maintaining the existing aesthetics and character of this iconic Milwaukee building.
In order to support the growth of the organization and successfully meet the demands of running a world class film institution, a fundraising initiative has already begun. A total of $3 million of a $10 million goal has been raised so far, with Chris Abele, Milwaukee County Executive and Milwaukee Film Co-Founder and past Board Chair, making a personal contribution of $2 million.
“From day one, every person involved in Milwaukee Film – from staff, to volunteers, to the Board, to our dedicated 3,600 members – has been driven by the goal of not simply creating a film festival, but creating one of the best and biggest film festivals in the world,” states Chris Abele. “This announcement brings us closer to that goal. It isn’t the culmination or an end point, it’s the start of the next chapter.”
In addition to Abele, Milwaukee Film Co-Founders, the Herzfeld Foundation, led by Herzfeld Foundation President and past Milwaukee Film Board Chair Bill Haberman and Herzfeld Foundation Vice President and Milwaukee Film Board Member Carmen Haberman, has committed $1 million to the initiative.
Milwaukee Film deeply appreciates its sustained nine-year relationship with Landmark Theatres, noting that the organization’s remarkable growth could not have happened without renting the Oriental Theatre for its monthly member screenings and the annual film festival.
Beginning with Jackson’s vision of the enormous opportunity that would be provided by Milwaukee Film operating the Oriental Theatre, over the last five years Milwaukee Film’s Board of Directors and staff thoroughly vetted the idea and financials of operating a year-round, non-profit cinema, developing a business plan one year ago that was unanimously approved by its now 32-person Board of Directors.
In 2004, Boris Gohkman, father of Tim Gohkman, Director of New Land Enterprises, purchased the Oriental Theatre building after a several year pursuit. The trust and faith of Tim Gohkman in Milwaukee Film’s vision has been unparalleled.
“We are excited to partner with Milwaukee Film because it presents a truly unique opportunity to fuel Milwaukee’s cultural renaissance,” states Tim Gohkman. “As a key Milwaukee institution, Milwaukee Film is uniquely positioned to energize North Ave., Farwell Ave., and the entire city with year-round programming. For years, I have considered the Milwaukee Film Festival my favorite annual event in Milwaukee, I just can’t wait to see what they do next.”
At the Oriental Theatre, Milwaukee Film intends to 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 as well as the annual flagship Milwaukee Film Festival.