Mulrooney shoots film featuring cherished cocktail lounge
Sometimes, going out for a drink is just that. But other times, it's more than that. A trip to Angelo's Piano Lounge, 1686 N. Van Buren St., is always the latter. It's a full-on experience.
Filmmaker Kara Mulrooney felt this way the first time she went to the 30-year-old lounge – and every time after.
"It was unlike any place I'd ever been and yet there was something very familiar about it," says Mulrooney. "I felt like I was stepping into another time, a different world and yet into a family's living room."
Smitten with the space and the people inside, Mulrooney crafted a 13-minute documentary, "An Evening At Angelo's" that will premiere at the Milwaukee Film Festival on Monday, Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. in "The Milwaukee Show 1" (there are two this year) that features a collection of locally-produced short films.
Tickets for the Film Festival, including "The Milwaukee Show 1," go on sale Thursday, Sept. 11.
"Making a film about Angelo's made sense to me for a variety of reasons," says Mulrooney. "For one, it's home to an amazing – and very sincere – group of musicians."
The short film focuses primarily on owner Angelo Mortellaro and features regular performers Ginni Smith, John Hefter, Jerry Grillo, Joe Kral, Danny Keegan and Bobby Baker. Bartender Mario Crivello also makes an on-screen appearance.
Mulrooney says she was not the first person to ask to film the lounge, but she was the only one to be granted permission.
"To this day, I'm not exactly sure why," she says.
After Mulorooney's initial inquiry, Montellaro and Grillo granted her one filming session and then asked to see the footage. Mulrooney shared with them a rough edit of her night's work and apparently, they were comfortable with what they saw because they gave her permission to continue her project.
Mulrooney started shooting with regularity inside the lounge in the fall of 2013 and finished up in early 2014. At first, she says she appreciated what she saw on the surface, but eventually, fell deeper in love with the less obvious.
"My initial point of interest was the decor, like the photos on the walls – especially the giant photo of Angelo with Tom Jones – but then it was the sincerity of the performers and the relationships between the customers, staff and performers," she says. "Some of these people have known each other for 30 years or more."
Every time that Mulrooney filmed the bar, at least one person walked up to her and thanked her for documenting Angelo's.
"This is an important place to a lot of people," she says.
It took a few attempts for Mulrooney to get an interview with Montellaro. At first, she thought he was uninterested in participating – which she would have been OK with – but eventually, he sat down with her at the end of the bar and told story after story.
"Mario (Crivello) made one of his famous flaming martinis and Angelo treated me to stories about the places and the people who have shaped Angelo's," she says.
Mulrooney is an independent filmmaker, commercial producer, production designer and UW-Milwaukee instructor. She grew up in Hartland and now lives in Riverwest and recently became engaged. Another of her short films, "One Block Away," screened in the 2014 Cannes Film Festival's Short Film Corner.
In 2010 she co-founded Gal Friday Films, a company aimed at increasing opportunities for women in the film industry, with filmmaker Susan Kerns. Mulrooney and Kerns collaborated on a film called "Missed Connections" that's about the missed connections section on Craig's List. It was shot inside The Gobbler.
After the Milwaukee debut, "Angelo's" will screen at the Driftless Film Festival taking place in November in Mineral Point.
"The Milwaukee Film Festival is the launch pad for this film," says Mulrooney. "I am so thankful to everyone who let me do this. It was an honor."
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