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UWM’s Film Forward Union Theatre

by Eryn Moris / photo by Peter DiAntoni

When I ask Luke Sieczek, “What’s the last film you saw for pure pleasure?” he steeples his fingers over the bridge of his nose and contemplates. Seated behind a desk in the warm, orange glow of freshly painted walls in his office, he struggles for a minute. “Well, the last thing I really, really liked was ‘Camp’ at the Oriental.” As the program manager for UW-Milwaukee’s film-forward Union Theatre, Sieczek rarely screens films as a casual observer. “I’m always looking at programming ideas,” he says, “Whenever a new film comes out, whenever there’s a festival, and there’s always a festival every month somewhere, I kind of see what’s out there and I slowly start to accumulate titles and lists of films.” Now in its 31st year, the 325-seat Theatre, on the second level of the Student Union at Kenwood Boulevard and Maryland Avenue, boasts the most consistently diverse film calendar of any Theatre in Milwaukee. Each week Theatregoers have a cornucopia of film fare to choose, from world cinema to independent premieres to documentary and experimental work. In addition to regular programming, the Theatre hosts a number of film festivals each semester. Sieczek began working in the Theatre as a projectionist after moving to Milwaukee from New York City to attend grad school. Part of his graduate studies included putting together programs of work for the classes he was teaching, and he was soon approached to begin organizing programming for the Union Theatre. “Programming is, in a way, kind of like writing,” says Sieczek. “You create these lists and you create this kind of story for yourself of how the program is going to start and end, what the films connect to, how they connect to each other during the week.” On Mondays this semester, the Union Theatre aims to attract students with cheaper admission, free popcorn, and campy superhero films such as “The Toxic Avenger” and the original “Batman” movie. Tuesdays are split between experimental programs, which are free, and documentary films. Wednesdays and Thursdays feature new and restored cinema classics, and weekends showcase premieres of new independent work. The Union Theatre’s shows are a perfect compliment to Theatres like the Times, the Downer, and the Oriental, at half the price. Considered a “non-theatrical” venue, the Theatre is able to show films that would show in larger cities but aren’t chosen for exhibition at other cinemas. “In combination with the kinds of films that the Oriental or the Downer present, it creates a great spectrum of work that falls in line with the kind of work I was watching in New York City,” says Sieczek. Some of the highlights of this semester’s program are this month’s LGBT and Reel American Indian Film Festivals. The LGBT festival runs for two weekends, October 3-5 and 9-12. (See page 25 for more info.) On October 17, the Theatre hosts the Reel American Indian Film Festival featuring films that won the first annual Indian Summer Film and Video Image Awards at this year’s Indian Summer Festival. In November the Theatre will host the first ever Milwaukee International Film Festival in conjunction with the Oriental, the Downer, and the Times. This festival will showcase films from around the globe and feature a competition for filmmakers in the Midwest. According to Sieczek, Milwaukee may have some serious contenders. “There is a lot of potential here,” he says, “particularly in Riverwest. There is a really active, really kind of provocative film community. There’s a lot of places where you can show your work and be exposed to great work.” Listings for the Union Theatre can be found in our Community Calendar, on the UWM Campus, or online at www.aux.uwm.edu/UnionTheatre.