After a successful launch at the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival, the Black Lens series returns in 2015 for a second year. Co-program coordinators Geraud Blanks and Donte McFadden have set unique criteria for the series in that the films selected must be both relevant to the African-American experience and produced by black filmmakers. “I wanted to present films that not only expose viewers to black filmmakers they might not already know but also films that explore issues and raise questions that are often not addressed by other filmmakers,” explains Blanks. This year, eight films by emerging and established filmmakers were selected. The Black Lens series kicks off with screenings of “A Girl Like Grace” and “In a Perfect World” on Saturday, September 26 and closes with “Little White Lie” on Wednesday, October 7. Nelson George’s “A Ballerina’s Tale” and Malik Vitthal’s “Imperial Dreams” already have sold out screenings as announced by Blanks at the Black Lens reception on September 17.
In addition, this year the festival will honor Stanley Nelson, Jr. with a Tribute Award. This award winning documentary filmmaker is no newcomer to the Milwaukee Film Festival or its Black Lens series. Nelson’s documentary “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” was one of this year’s selections; and “Freedom Summer” and “Freedom Riders” have screened at past Milwaukee Film Festivals.
Below is a list of all eight films from 2015 Milwaukee Film Festival Black Lens series along with summaries (as written in the press release), trailers, and screen dates/times/locations. I’ve listed my personal picks first. As information is released, I will update this post with any film crew and/or film subjects expected to be in attendance at a particular screening. The sold out screenings noted are for those I am aware of at the time of this post. Even if a film is showing as sold out, there is still a chance that tickets will be released on the day of the screening as long as seats are available.
2015 MILWAUKEE FILM FESTIVAL BLACK LENS SERIES
|Affrodite’s Top Picks|
(Documentary / USA / 2015 / Directed by Paul Hill and April Martin)
|Tue, Sep 29, 2015||10:00 PM||Oriental Theatre|
|Thu, Oct 1, 2015||4:00 PM||Times Cinema|
|Mon, Oct 5, 2015||9:30 PM||Oriental Theater|
It’s a story that has become all too familiar — young, unarmed black men killed by law enforcement agents who have sworn to protect them, followed by protests-turned-riots sparked by the men’s untimely demise. But before Michael Brown and Ferguson, there was Timothy Thomas, Roger Owensby and Cincinnati. A powerful examination of a moment preceding the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the documentary Cincinnati Goddamn presents a chilling and revealing look into what one academic calls “urban genocide” — a volatile cocktail of systemic racism, widespread poverty and unchecked police brutality — and the grassroots activism that took to the streets to challenge it.
* * * *
“In a Perfect World”
(Documentary / USA / 2015 / Directed by Daphne McWilliams)
|Sat, Sep 26, 2015||1:15 PM||Oriental Theatre|
|Tues, Oct 6, 2015||4:15 PM||Times Cinema|
Note: Sojourner Family Peace Center will facilitate a discussion after each screening of this film.
Documentarian Daphne McWilliams was looking to craft a film about young men raised by single mothers, so she turned to the strongest source she knows — her son. This courageous examination into modern family life, with McWilliams grounding her sociological study through extraordinarily intimate interviews with her son, Chase, as well as other men raised without a father figure, is revelatory. A story of boys becoming men despite the absence of a male presence and the utterly unique relationships they forge with their mothers, In a Perfect World is stirring, relevant filmmaking.
* * * *
“The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution”
(Documentary / USA / 2015 / Directed by Stanley Nelson, Jr.)
|Mon, Sep 28, 2015||6:15 PM||Oriental Theatre|
|Mon, Oct 5, 2015||7:00 PM||Times Cinema|
Note: Stanley Nelson, Jr. will be honored and in attendance at the Sep 28 screening.
Into today’s era still struggling with police brutality, racial discrimination and extreme poverty comes master documentarian Stanley Nelson’s stirring portrait of the Black Panther Party. Following the party from its inception in the early ’60s to its bitter dissolution a decade later, Milwaukee Film Festival alumnus Nelson captures the essential history of the movement, elegantly mixing archival footage alongside interviews with FBI informants, journalists, supporters, detractors and lower-level members of the party. This is a profoundly resonant portrait of a period of time when impatience bred revolution and a vibrant group rose up to bring civil rights issues to the forefront.
* * * *
“Little White Lie”
(Documentary / 2014 / Directed by Lacey Schwartz)
|Sun, Sep 27, 2015||7:00 PM||Times Cinema|
|Sun, Oct 4, 2015||11:30 AM||Fox-Bay Cinema|
|Wed, Oct 7, 2015||9:00 PM||Oriental Theatre|
A documentary released at a perfect point in our culture when knotty intersections of race and identity are making headlines, “Little White Lie” tells one woman’s remarkably intimate story of a life spent between two worlds. Raised white with her dark skin color and curly hair explained away as an inheritance from her Sicilian grandfather, the director Lacey Schwartz can’t fight the nagging feeling that her upper-middle-class Jewish upbringing is hiding something, only to find she was the product of her mother’s affair with a black man. After her biological father’s passing, she cannot hold back this family secret any longer.
|Affrodite’s Honorable Mentions|
Honorable mentions are films that I would like to see if I have time, but are not my top picks.
**UPDATE Sep 21, 2015** Originally, I placed “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution” in this category. Howver, after reading an article in the Baltimore Sun that was posted on the Morgan State University Facebook page about Stanley Nelson, Jr. being a film professor at Morgan, I’ve changed my original position. As a Morgan alum, it is important that I support my alma mater and am placing it under my Top Picks. That means I have to bump something down. “A Ballerina’s Tale” is the film I’m moving to my Honorable Mentions section in place of Nelson’s documentary. I am interested in the story of Misty Copeland, but I do not follow ballet so I’m not necessarily passionate about her journey.
The other film I would classify as Honorable Mention is “A Girl Like Grace.” Raven-Symoné is one of the stars and is scheduled to be in attendance at the two weekend screenings. Her celebrity status will certainly fill seats for what otherwise strikes me as an all too common, B-movie about high school. My gut can’t be completely off since Geoff Birkshire’s review in “Variety” says it “comes on strong but lacks the experience or perspective to fully convince.”
* * * *
“A Ballerina’s Tale”
(Documentary / 2015 / Directed by Nelson George)
|Fri, Oct 2, 2015||7:00 PM||Fox-Bay Cinema *sold out*|
|Sun, Oct 4, 2015||4:15 PM||Downer Theatre *sold out*|
|Mon, Oct 5, 2015||1:15 PM||Avalon Theater *newly added*|
Misty Copeland, the first African-American female soloist at New York’s American Ballet Theatre, would be the first to tell you that, based on body type, pedigree and background, she shouldn’t be a part of one of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies. But her inspirational story of dogged determination (overcoming a debilitating shin injury, eating disorders and racial issues), filmed here in a raw, cinéma vérité documentary, will leave no doubt as to how this trailblazer shot her way up the ranks and overcame all obstacles to turn in breathtaking performances in Firebird and Swan Lake.
* * * *
“A Girl Like Grace”
(Drama / USA / 2015 / Directed by Ty Hodges)
|Sat, Sep 26, 2015||6:45 PM||Downer Theatre|
|Sun, Sep 27, 2015||1:00 PM||Times Cinema|
|Wed, Sep 30, 2015||3:45 PM||Oriental Theatre|
Note: Film subject Raven-Symoné will be in attendance for the Sat, Sep 26 and Sun, Sep 27 screenings.
Seventeen-year-old Haitian-American Grace (newcomer Ryan Destiny, in a spirited breakout performance) finds her dysfunctional existence thrown further into upheaval following the suicide of her best friend, Andrea. Grace is already a social pariah tormented by a clique of bullies (led by Raven-Symoné), and her desire to understand her friend’s decision leads to Andrea’s older sister Share (Meagan Good), who encourages Grace to embrace her sexuality, leading her down a rocky road of discovery. This sensitive coming-of-age story anchored by a stunning lead performance captures the social hardship inherent in a young woman coming to terms with herself.
|Affrodite’s Probably Will Skip|
Everyone’s film palates differ. The remaining two films didn’t make my shortlist. “Imperial Dreams” just isn’t my kind of flick. Regardless, it was selected for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival so I’m sure it’s a good film in its own right. “Last Night” feels like a film I’d watch at home on a rainy afternoon with hot cocoa and a blanket but not go out to see in a theater. I am a fan of it being set in one of my age old stomping grounds of DC, but that’s neither here nor there. The film won Best Screenplay at the 2015 American Black Film Festival so, again, this is still a film worthy in its own right.
* * * *
(Drama / USA / 2014 / Directed by Malik Vitthal)
|Thu, Oct 1, 2015||7:00 PM||Avalon Theater|
|Sat, Oct 3, 2015||7:00 PM||Downer Theatre|
|Mon, Oct 5, 2015||4:30 PM||Times Cinema|
A redemption tale anchored by an amazing lead performance from John Boyega (star of the upcoming “Star Wars” film), “Imperial Dreams” is a family drama with an astonishingly realized father/son relationship at its core. Bambi (Boyega) is coming home to Watts; recently released from prison, he has designs on earning a living as a writer (having been published while incarcerated) to provide for his young son Day. But he quickly realizes the deck is stacked against him and it’s going to take everything he has to achieve his dreams in this stunning, multiple award-winning drama.
* * * *
(Comedy, Drama, Romance / USA / 2014 / Directed by Harold Jackson, III)
|Tue, Sep 29, 2015||3:45 PM||Oriental Theatre|
|Sat, Oct 3, 2015||10:00 PM||Downer Theatre|
|Sun, Oct 4, 2015||9:30 PM||Times Cinema|
A whirlwind romantic encounter perfect for fans of the “Before Sunrise” trilogy, “Last Night” pairs its mismatched strangers on a night of soul-baring disclosures and verbal sparring on the streets of Washington, D.C. Gorgeous fashion model Sky is escorted on an unexpected evening-long adventure with impulsive businessman Jon — the only catch being that this is Sky’s final night in D.C. before moving to North Carolina to live with her boyfriend. The film is a warmly shot, exquisitely performed look at romantic longing between two people who realize they may only ever have this extended moment between one another.
* * * *
Stay up to date with the Milwaukee Film Festival’s Black Lens series on Twitter @BlackLensMKE and by searching/using the hashtag #BlackLensMKE on social media.
The 2015 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from September 24 to October 8. A full listing of films being screened at the festival may be found on mkefilm.org.
6-Packs of tickets and festival passes may be purchased at mkefilm.org/tickets. Individual tickets may be purchased online via the Tickets and Showtimes section of the Milwaukee Film Festival’s website mkefilm.org/calendar/?v=guide-list, by phone (414) 727-8468, or in person at one of the festival box offices. For more information, visit mkefilm.org.
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