Black Lens series debuts at 2014 Milwaukee Film Fest

Hollywood Shuffle Robert Townsend Follow Me on Pinterest

(L-R) Tyrone (played by Jimmy Woodard) and Speed (played by Robert Townsend) in scene from Robert Townsend’s film ‘Hollywood Shuffle’

Inspired by the confluence of a sold out and diverse crowd at last year’s screening of “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete” at Milwaukee Film Festival (MFF), it became clear that there was an interest in the festival featuring more films by black filmmakers and focused on topics affecting the black community. The end result was the launch of the Black Lens series at the 2014 MFF. The series is spearheaded by Geraud Blanks, a strong fixture in the Milwaukee’s community through his work with Sojourner Family Peace Center, written contributions to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and music promotion.

An affiliate with each film in the Black Lens series will be in attendance including director/writer/actor Robert Townsend who has been an integral part of the American Black Film Festival held annually in Miami. In honor of Townsend’s work with and support of black film, his 1987 classic “Hollywood Shuffle” is one of eight films selected to be screened under MFF’s Black Lens series.

Below are the eight films that are a part of the 2014 Black Lens series at MFF (source: MFF press release). I’ve placed a red asterisk next to the films that are my top picks.

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“25 to Life” *

(USA / 2014 / Director: Alton Glass)

Showtimes & Locations: Oct 4 / 7pm / Times Cinema, Oct 7 / 11am / Oriental Theatre

****

25toLifeTrailer from 25 To Life on Vimeo.

****

SYNOPSIS: William Brawner, infected as a child with HIV and sworn to secrecy by his mother, is finally coming clean. A bracingly fresh look at life with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., 25 to Life chronicles Brawner’s attempts at redemption after a life spent hiding from himself. He reaches out to those with whom he had sexual contact in the past in search of redemption for his promiscuity and in the hopes of starting a new life (with his HIV-negative wife) predicated on openness and honesty. A powerful testament to the human spirit, this American Black Film Festival Best Documentary winner examines the lengths we will go to start anew.

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“Evolution of a Criminal”

(USA / 2014 / Director: Darius Clark Monroe)

Showtimes & Locations: Sep 30 / 3pm / Oriental Theatre, Oct 3 / 9:30pm / Fox Bay Cinema

****

****

SYNOPSIS: In 1997, 16-year-old Darius Monroe and two friends robbed a suburban Houston bank, only to be caught and spend three years in prison. Nearly 15 years later, Darius returns home in an attempt to heal the lasting emotional scars that his decision wrought and seek forgiveness from those whose lives he irrevocably altered. Through a blend of candid interviews and unflinching reenactments of that fateful day, Monroe has made a powerful and brave piece of filmmaking (winner of the Grand Jury award from Full Frame Documentary Film Festival) that seeks to explain how an honors student could make such a choice and the process of making amends with the victims of that unforgettable day.

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“Freedom Summer” *

(USA / 2014 / Director: Stanley Nelson)

Showtimes & Locations: Sep 26 / 4:15pm / Oriental Theatre, Sep 29 / 7pm / Fox Bay Cinema

****

Freedom Summer – SFIFF57 Trailer from San Francisco Film Society on Vimeo.

****

SYNOPSIS: A portrait of a tipping point in our country’s history from MFF alum Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders, 2010), Freedom Summer places us in the middle of 1964 Mississippi, the most segregated state in the Union at that point in time, and provides a penetrating glimpse into the social unrest and far-reaching effects of that fateful summer. Rare archival footage and interviews with participants on both sides of the conflict bring to life the influx of over 700 student activists into Mississippi working tirelessly to register African-American voters and form Freedom Schools and Freedom Houses to teach and aid the community while helping to spark the flame that ignited the national rise of the civil rights movement.

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“Hollywood Shuffle” *

(USA / 1987 / Director: Robert Townsend)

Showtime & Location: Oct 3 / 7pm / Oriental Theatre, Oct 2 /1pm / Oriental Theatre

****

****

SYNOPSIS: Robert Townsend inspired an entire generation of filmmakers with this classic Hollywood satire (co-written by and co-starring Keenan Ivory Wayans), a semi-autobiographical portrait of a young black actor attempting to break through in an industry that only seeks to cast him as a criminal, slave, or gangster. Townsend’s DIY independent filmmaking exposes the lack of substantive roles for African Americans in the film industry (a problem still plaguing us today) through a series of hilarious sketches where he fantasizes himself as the lead in a number of different genres while facing the grim reality of hustling for a role in the decidedly nonprogressive “Jivetime Jimmy’s Revenge.”

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“Things Never Said” *

(USA / 2013 / Director: Charles Murray)

Showtimes & Locations: Oct 1 / 7:30pm / Oriental Theatre

****

Things Never Said Teaser Trailer from TNSCM on Vimeo.

****

SYNOPSIS: Spoken-word poet Kal longs to have her voice heard, with aspirations to perform on the biggest stage for spoken-word poetry in New York City. Haunted by a past miscarriage and troubled by an abusive and controlling marriage, she seeks an outlet for the words that need to pour out of her. She finally finds such a source for her creativity in fellow troubled poet Curtis. A tentative relationship is struck with the specter of her jealous husband hanging over the proceedings in this moving romantic drama filled with electric spoken-word poetry and powerfully relatable performances.

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“Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People” *

(USA / 2014 / Director: Thomas Allen Harris)

Showtimes & Locations: Oct 2 / 2pm / Fox-Bay Cinema, Oct 7 / 2pm / Times Cinema, Oct 9 / 7:30pm / Oriental Theatre

****

****

SYNOPSIS: Since its invention more than 175 years ago, photography has played an important role in documenting and shaping the African-American experience. It’s been used as both an instrument of oppression and a tool for social change, all the while defining and shaping images of “black” or “blackness” in American popular culture. Thomas Allen Harris’ film exposes hidden histories in these photographs, with contributions from Carrie Mae Weems, Anthony Barboza, and many others, showing the medium’s prevalence in chronicling a history from slavery all the way to the White House.

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“‘Til Infinity: Celebrating 20 Years of the Souls of Mischief”

(USA / 2014 / Director: Shomari Smith)

Showtime & Location: Sep 27 / 9pm / Oriental Theatre

****

SYNOPSIS: Twenty years after its release, Souls of Mischief’s 93 ’til Infinity remains a critically acclaimed release in the annals of rap music, a game-changer whose reverberations can still be felt in the music industry to this day. A veritable who’s who of the hip-hop world (Mos Def, Del, and Questlove, to name but a few) is on hand to testify to the lasting power of Souls of Mischief’s work (including their legendary demo tape), along with an in-depth examination into the creative process and personal stories of these members of the Hieroglyphics crew, highlighting their business model that proved far ahead of its time (eschewing record label support to instead forge their own path).

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