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Milwaukee Film to begin operating historic Oriental Theatre next summer

The arts organization that runs the annual Milwaukee Film Festival plans to operate the Oriental Theatre for the next three decades.

On Sunday, Milwaukee Film announced it had put the finishing touches on a 31-year lease to operate the historic theater beginning in July next year. In a statement, Milwaukee Film officials said the new lease ensures that the festival, now in its ninth year, will have a home for many years to come.

“The Oriental Theatre is a treasure,” Jonathan Jackson, artistic and executive director for Milwaukee Film, said in a statement. He added, “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.”

Milwaukee Film also announced plans to raise $10 million to support its new role. Emily Foster, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit, said the money will largely go toward operating expenses and expanding its educational programming, although the theater will need some renovations.

Some likely improvements to the Oriental Theatre include work to its projection and sound systems. Foster said Milwaukee Film wouldn’t have a cost estimate for the work until it moved into the theater next year.

The group is well underway to reach its $10 million goal, thanks in no small part to a $2 million donation from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who helped found Milwaukee Film. A total of $3 million has been raised so far.

The Oriental Theatre, 2230 N. Farwell Ave., opened in 1927. Since Milwaukee Film’s founding, the group has rented space in the theater for its monthly member screenings and annual film festival.

About Alex Zank, alex.zank@dailyreporter.com

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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