Early May typically marks the exciting start of the summer movie season – and at least for Milwaukee, even in these strange times, that's still the case as the 2021 Milwaukee Film Festival moved up to the spring, running now through May 20.
While the dates may be different this year, a lot of what you loved about last year's Milwaukee Film Festival is back. For one thing, while the Oriental Theatre is still closed due to the pandemic and repairs, the festival is going virtual once again, with almost all of the films ready to watch whenever you want (no pesky showtimes to hit!) with the help of the easy-to-use Milwaukee Film app – available on Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV and Android TV. (For a quick refresher course, click here for a how-to.) And as always, the festival will journey off-script for some virtual Q&As, nightcaps, panels and more to make sure your movie experiences don't end with the end credits.
Another thing that hasn't changed? Milwaukee Film's compiled an incredible lineup of movies for you to watch – more than 200 options, ranging from shorts to feature films, recent Oscar nominees to kooky comedies, animated adventures and intense horror flicks, and even a documentary starring a pig. (Your move, "Octopus Teacher.") There's so much film to feast upon this month – and speaking of feasts, there's also a locally made documentary about the process of making a pizza! As always, if you can't find something in this new batch of binge-worthy movies, you just might not like movies.
To help you schedule your May cinema extravaganza, we've compiled the entire lineup right here in one place – complete with descriptions courtesy of Milwaukee Film. (For a glossier guide, check out the official PDF version here.) For more information – and to purchase individual tickets or festival passes – visit Milwaukee Film's website. And stay tuned to OnMilwaukee for much more Milwaukee Film Festival coverage to come – from picks to reviews, interviews and much more!
"Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free" – Combining never-before-seen 16mm archival footage and new interviews with colleagues, director Mary Wharton assembles a deep study of Tom Petty as an artist, tracing the creative process for his seminal album, Wildflowers. Fueled by all the hits you know and love, this unvarnished and intimate tribute to an artist gone before his time is not overly mournful but serves as a powerful testament to and document of his creative process.
"Summer of Soul (... Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)" – In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. "Summer of Soul" shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present.
The rest of the lineup
"25 Weeks: A Wisconsin Pizza Harvest" – Watch as farmer, filmmaker, and general Renaissance man Charlie Tennessen takes archival wheat seeds from planting to harvest with the help of his trusty barncats and three lovely donkeys. This meditative journey across 25 weeks (winter to autumn 2020) of weather, hard work, and persistence will make you appreciate food on a whole new level. Come for the pizza, but stay for the bucolic slice of life lived at a deliberate pace.
"Adam" – Abla and her daughter Warda lead a quiet life running their Casablanca bakery. Their lives are shaken up when they take in Samia, a young pregnant woman looking for shelter. Abla's icy facade slowly starts to melt as it becomes clear to her that she needs Samia's companionship as much as Samia needs a place to stay. Through baking delectable pastries, sing-alongs, and not-so-subtle matchmaking, Abla, Warda, and Samia all grow to become stronger women together.
"Anatomy of Wings" – This documentary chronicles the 12-year journey of a program in Baltimore who meet regularly for a video production class. An opportunity for the girls in the community to use media technology to document their lives and surroundings ultimately leads to learning the lessons of collaboration and unity to address issues of racial justice, gender identity, educational access, and socioeconomic inequality. Preceded by "Thoughts That Come to Mind" (Dir. Keyana Robinson)
"Baby" – "Baby" is a dark fairytale about an addict mother who, in desperation, sells her newborn to traffickers. She quickly regrets the decision and ventures into an eerie forest to get him back. Inspired by Guillermo del Toro and the Brothers Grimm, Basque filmmaker Juanma Bajo Ulloa constructs a world that is equal parts grotesque and beautiful. This macabre tale is told entirely without dialogue and stars Rosie Day ("Outlander"), Harriet Sansom Harris ("Desperate Housewives") and Natalia Tena ("Game of Thrones," Harry Potter).
"Beans" – Based on true events, "Beans" chronicles the 78-day standoff between two Mohawk communities and government forces in 1990 Quebec through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl played by up-and-coming actress Kiawentiio. Director Tracey Deer uses the coming of age genre to bring this little known piece of Canadian history to the foreground in a time when it is still all too relevant.
"Best Summer Ever" – We have the shot in the arm you've been waiting for and it's not even a vaccine! "Best Summer Ever" is part "Grease," part "Glee" and 100% unadulterated fun. Featuring eight infectious original songs and a fully integrated cast and crew of people with and without disabilities, "Best Summer Ever" is the perfect way to shake off quarantine doldrums. Audio description version available.
"Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts" – Born into slavery in 1853, Bill Traylor witnessed profound social and political change during his life - spanning slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Great Migration. In his late 80s, despite living homeless, he poured this wealth of experience and emotion into more than 1,000 pieces of art and would eventually become one of the most celebrated American, self-taught artists. Balancing interviews with Traylor's family, visual art, and music, this film is a must-see for any art lover.
"Black Lens Shorts: Facing Uncertainty"
- "In Sudden Darkness"
- "The Clearing"
- "The Pandemic Chronicles"
- "White Wedding"
- "Drip Like Coffee"
"Black Lens Shorts: We Change the Narrative"
- "The Beckoning"
- "Don't Go Tellin' Your Momma"
- "Black Bodies"
- "The Heartland"
- "A Concerto is a Conversation"
"Bleeding Audio" – "Bleeding Audio" follows the Bay Area punk band The Matches from high school garage origins to their national breakout (touring with the Plain White Ts and signing to Epitaph), through their painful break up, and culminates in their inspiring reunion all through the shifts of the music industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Propelled by the intense love of their fans throughout, this documentary reveals that "success" in the music industry might not be as obvious as one thinks.
"Call Me Human" – In Joséphine Bacon’s language, Innu means “human,” and there is no word for “poet.” But Bacon has traversed and redefined these paradoxical identifiers exquisitely throughout her life, which we get to follow intimately in Kim O’Bomsawin’s "Call Me Human." In this enchanting portrait of the legendary septuagenarian author, songwriter, and documentary filmmaker, Bacon tours the tremendous landscapes that have shaped her people’s language, culture, and traditions, whose preservation has been her life’s work.
"Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters" – Filmmakers Rosalynde LeBlanc and Tom Hurwitz illustrate the way in which dance addresses the toll of the AIDS epidemic, particularly on the LGBTQ community. Featuring legendary choreographer Bill T. Jones, original performers of the production, and LeBlanc’s dance class at Loyola Marymount University this film offers an intricate immersion into the history and legacy of this production honoring the memories of dancers Arnie Zane and Demian Acquavella.
- "At Last"
- "When You Clean a Stranger's Home"
- "For Rosa"
- "The Name of the Son"
- "Since You Arrived My Heart Stopped Belonging to Me"
"Cocoon" – Teenager Nora experiences first love and self-acceptance during a scorching Berlin summer. Forced to play third wheel to her boy-crazy older sister and her best friend, Nora’s life is transformed when the unconventional Romy shows up. As Nora begins to find herself and assert her own identity, she is pressured to choose between her sister and the enigmatic Romy. Gorgeously photographed, "Cocoon" stands among the very best queer coming of age films.
"Coming Home in the Dark" – Hoaggie and his family are having a delightful trip in the stunning New Zealand wilderness when they're approached by two mysterious strangers. It quickly becomes apparent this duo has malicious intent. While Hoaggie claims to have no idea why, he has a sneaking suspicion that his unsavory past has come back to haunt him. The brutality and terror that unfolds will have you second guessing that summer road trip you have planned.
"Cowboys" – "Cowboys" stars the always great Steve Zahn as a troubled dad who goes on the lam with his trans son Joe after they realize their rural Montana hometown will never let Joe live as his authentic self. Filled with musings on identity, responsibility, and gorgeous Montana landscapes, "Cowboys" will leave audiences with lots to think about after the credits roll.
"Days" – Master of slow cinema, Tsai Ming-liang returns to form with this almost wordless meditation on loneliness and intimacy through the quotidien routines of Kang and Non. Enduring the pain of illness and treatment, Kang finds himself adrift, meeting Non in a foreign land. Their quiet connection provides a moment of bliss before they must part ways and resume their daily lives. "Days" is a must-see for cinephiles.
"Death of Nintendo" – In 1990s Manila, Paolo and his small crew of friends come of age as Mount Pinatubo gets ready to erupt. When frequent blackouts interrupt their Nintendo games, they set off on new adventures. Seen through the singular lens of Raya Martin, who was named one of the 50 most important filmmakers under 50 by Cinema Scope, "Death of Nintendo" is a charming tribute to puberty a-la "Stand By Me" … but with circumcision.
"The Djinn" – Dylan and his dad have just moved to start a new life after the tragic loss of his mother. Dylan finds a mysterious book in a closet and reads about the Djinn, a magical beast that can grant wishes. Dylan is mute, so he wishes for a voice, but he fails to realize that he has to survive the night at the mercy of the monster.
"Downstream to Kinshasa" – An unflinching yet empathetic portrait of a group of disabled survivors of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Six Day War as they travel to Kinshasa seeking reparations that have been delayed over 20 years. Through the journey, we bear witness to the unwavering tenacity of spirit to persist in speaking truth to power no matter what it takes. With this film Dieudo Hamadi cements his firm placement amongst the most important documentarians working today.
"The Dry" – Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, "The Dry" follows Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) as he returns home for the funeral of a friend. The small town is reeling from what looks like a murder suicide, but Aaron employs his detective skills to find out what really happened. Haunted by another mysterious death from his youth, Aaron has to reconcile his present with his past as he is confronted with suspects around every corner.
"The End of Us" – Nick and Leah have just broken up. Leah feels good about the decision until she pulls into her deserted work parking lot and finds out that everyone is working from home indefinitely. Why? Because it's March 2020 and they broke up the day before quarantine. "The End of Us" is a time capsule filled with humor and pathos, that's sure to make audiences feel validated about whatever 2020 may have thrown at them.
"Freeland" – Krisha Fairchild returns to MFF as Devi, an aging flower child who gets pulled down to earth after her under-the-table California weed farm is caught without a legal permit. Time is against her as she races to salvage her harvest before her business and way of life becomes a thing of the past. This refreshing character study plays as a companion piece to "Nomadland," through both spirit and dreamy cinematography.
"Fruits of Labor" – Fifteen-year-old Ashley rises early to work the fields, while also working the night shift at the processing plant. During the day she attends high school and dreams of being the first in her family to graduate, all while the threat of ICE and deportation looms overhead. In this documentary, Emily Cohen Ibañez crafts a lyrical portrait of a young Latina that, like so many, forms the backbone of her family all while torn between familial responsibilities and personal fulfillment.
- "Self Story"
- "Drip Like Coffee"
- "The Name of the Son"
- "In France Michelle Is a Man's Name"
- "The Men Who Wait"
"Gunda" – Executive produced by Joaquin Phoenix, "Gunda" follows the daily life of animals on a Norwegian farm. Gunda the pig raises her piglets alongside two cows and a one-legged chicken. As the film progresses, you can see why Paul Thomas Anderson calls it "pure cinema... jaw dropping images and sound put together with the best ensemble cast and you have something more like a potion than a movie."
"Hijo de Monarcas" – Having grown up in Michoacán, Mexico enchanted by the monarch butterfly, Mendel is now a biologist living in New York, studying the insects. Returning to Mexico after the death of his grandmother he confronts his past and reflects on his new identity. Like the butterfly, he undergoes his own metamorphosis. "Hijo de Monarcas" blends science, nature, and folk religion into a narrative that manages to be both grand and personal at the same time.
"Holy Frit" – A Kansas megachurch commissions the world's largest stained-glass window. An L.A. based artist wows them with his complex design, elevating the small family-owned stained-glass studio he works for. The only problem is he has no idea how to actually complete the work. Enter world-famous, Italian glass maestro Narcissus Quagliata. Juggling the church's timeline, a tight budget, and loud personalities, these artists have the difficult challenge of bringing the impossible to light.
"How It Feels to Be Free" – Yoruba Richen’s latest documentary showcases six Black women entertainers (Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, Pam Grier) whose talent and activism propel them into transformative figures in popular culture. Based on the book by Ruth Feldstein, the film chronicles the defiant way in which each woman challenged an entertainment industry that sought to reduce them to marginalized roles and racist stereotypes.
"I Blame Society" – Stretching the 'fake it 'til you make it' ethos to its breaking point, "I Blame Society" is a whip-smart satire that takes a machete to the vacuous Hollywood machine. Director Gillian Wallace Horvat plays struggling filmmaker ... Gillian Wallace Horvat, who in the process of fleshing out her mockumentary about committing the perfect murder accrues a very real body count, warping her vision into something more madness than method.
"I Was a Simple Man" – A haunting meditation on death, "I Was a Simple Man" follows the final days of Masao as he reflects on his life spent on the north shore of Oahu. He is cared for by his estranged grandchildren and comforted by the specter of his dearly departed wife, played with care by the always wonderful Constance Wu. Director Christopher Makoto Yogi cements himself as a promising voice in American independent cinema with his poetic and lush filmmaking style.
"In Silico" – Attracted by a neuroscientist's bold claim of building a computer simulation of the entire human brain in just 10 years, Noah Hutton ("Lapsis," MFF2020) decides to document the process, checking in every year as the global excitement surrounding the project grows along with its funding. But a chorus of scientists express their skepticism as the project becomes increasingly influenced by ego and ambition. A fascinating documentary that shows the humanity behind the science.
"The Inheritance" – Filmmaker Ephraim Asili references his own experiences in a Black liberation collective to offer this story about a community of young Black artists and activists in a West Philadelphia house. He combines fiction and documentary conventions in the tradition of Jean-Luc Godard's "La Chinoise" to show how the history of the MOVE organization and the poetry of Sonia Sanchez and Ursula Rucker inform what they seek to accomplish in this space.
"Jacinta" – A sympathetic and sustained exploration of the hereditary nature of trauma, "Jacinta" follows the lives of three generations of women struggling to find stability amid years of dependency. Jessica Earnshaw's debut reveals heartbreak and hope at every turn, considering the complexities of addiction and recidivism among women and the impacts of the carceral cycle on generations of mothers and daughters.
"Jackie & Oopjen" – When Oopjen steps out of a Rembrandt painting to find her sister, 12-year-old Jackie is determined to help this conspicuously dressed new arrival, taking her in as a houseguest without her museum curator-mom’s knowledge. Will these BFF’s be able to navigate their tweens and teens in 21st Century Amsterdam and keep Oopjen’s identity secret long enough to reunite Oopjen and her sister? Boisterous, stylish, and sweet, "Jackie & Oopjen" will delight the entire family.
- "Matilda and the Spare Head"
- "OTANIMM/ONNIMM (Father/Daughter)"
- "The Promise"
- "Mother Didn't Know"
- "Ice Breakers"
- "The Last Supper"
- "Louis's Shoes"
- "Matilda and the Spare Head"
- "Kiri and Lou – Shine Your Light"
- "a film by m+m"
- "Kiko and the Animals"
- "Cracks in the Pavement"
- "The Boy and the Owl"
- "Kiri and Lou – Air"
- "Kenya's Symphony"
- "Running Up That Hill"
"The Last Matinee" – Giallo is alive and well in Uruguay. A murderer is stalking the audience of a rundown movie theatre in Montevideo. As the viewers are savagely picked off one by one, the heroic projectionist decides to save the day and face this deranged killer. A movie made for movie lovers, you'll have a blast finding references to filmmakers like Dario Argento and Bigas Luna. Bathed in blood and neon, "The Last Matinee" never pulls a punch.
"Love Like Winter" – Dr. Artel Great’s debut film is a romantic drama set in Chicago that focuses on two former lovers who cross paths and reconnect for the first time in a decade. Over the course of a magical winter afternoon, they relive old memories that open the path to rediscover the chemistry they once shared. This is the first installment in "The Love Cycle" series, a contemporary take on romance and what it really means to fall in love.
"Luchadoras" – Ciudad Juárez is home to some of the highest rates of femicide in the world. Against this backdrop we meet three courageous women, luchadoras (female wrestlers) who fight both in and out of the ring. They fight against the drug violence and misogyny to redefine what it means to be a woman in Mexico. Filmmakers Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim give us a portrait that is raw, defiant and unflinching, just like the women who make up its heart. Preceded by "Blackfeet Boxing: Not Invisible (Dirs. Kristen Lappas, Tom Rinaldi)
"Ludi" – With an understated performance by Shein Mompremier, "Ludi" is about a woman pushed to her physical and emotional limits as she chases the American Dream in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. Working as a nurse, she receives regular updates (and requests for money) from her family while battling coworkers for extra overtime. Writer/director Edson Jean draws from his mother’s immigration experience to tell a tale that is personal, amusing, and inspiring.
"Luzzu" – Jesmark is proud to follow in his father's footsteps as a fisherman on the Mediterranean, but his dream job becomes untenable when his newborn son requires special medical treatments. The tension between heritage and consumerism could not be more apparent as he chooses between working on his heirloom luzzu boat or a polluting, gas guzzling ship. A rare window into the Maltese way of life, "Luzzu" is a sun-soaked, neo-realist story about tradition versus progress.
"M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity" – Featuring the Dutch graphic artist's own words (narrated by Stephen Fry), this illuminating documentary explores his well-known works through a less-well-known lens. Using animation to help us see these pieces again in a new way, audiences are asked to consider anew the celebrity of Escher, layered here with the philosophical power and profundity of his scientific thinking and biographical details that inform his worldview.
"Ma Belle, My Beauty" – Musicians Bertie and Fred are settling into their new life in provincial France when a blast from their past arrives to shake things up: their former polyamorous partner, Lane. The arrival of Lane reignites old passions and opens up old wounds as the three try to find themselves in the gorgeous French countryside. Featuring a mesmerizing soundtrack, "Ma Belle, My Beauty" is a refreshing take on the complexities and dramas of polyamorous relationships.
"Mama Gloria" – Luchina Fisher’s documentary is an empathic and engaging portrait of Gloria Allen. Once a mainstay in the drag ball culture on Chicago’s South Side in the 1960s, Gloria would persevere through traumatic violence to emerge as a leader and matriarch in her community that gives unconditional love. Her creation of a charm school for young transgender people would inspire a hit play, "Charm," chronicling her journey as a Black, septuagenarian, trans icon and elder.
"Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust" – Tracing the rivers and trails (and, now, roads) of the valley of Payahuunadü, “the land of flowing water," nestled between the Sierras, "Manzanar, Diverted" weaves together the human and geographic histories of these landscapes. Director Ann Kaneko uplifts the voices of an intergenerational group of women representing Indigenous, environmentalist, and Japanese-American WWII incarcerees who form an unexpected alliance to defend these lands and waters against the looming metropolis of Los Angeles and industrial creep.
"The Meaning of Hitler" – Taking inspiration from Sebastian Haffner's titular book, in "The Meaning of Hitler" Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker set out to explore what Hitler means in the current waves of white nationalism and antisemitism. Featuring interviews with historians and scholars like Martin Amis and Saul Friedlander coupled with time spent with Nazi hunters, microphone technologists, and the curator of the US Army's confiscated art collection, this Herzogian documentary offers an unexpected, refreshing yet sobering journey to help us know why this history remains urgent.
- "Zhauzhee Xiong"
- "The Women and the Sea"
- Spaidez – "Justice Overdue"
- "Perennial Pilot"
- Fuzzysurf – "She Was Crying Sugar"
- "The Beckoning"
- Puzzle – "Scenes Like This"
- Beth Lipman – "House Album"
- "Wiggle Room"
- "Visit Milwaukee"
- "Hmong Woman"
- "The Service"
- "How I Write Stories"
- "If You Need Me"
- "Dangerous Days"
- "The Guardian"
- "Table for Two"
- "MiMi's Bakery"
- "Olympic Dolls"
- "Crimson & Lilacs"
"Misha and the Wolves" – Misha Defonseca's story sounds too good to be true - an orphan escaping the Holocaust by hiding in the woods and living amongst wolves - but Misha inspires all she encounters. When her memoir's publisher starts to peel back one corner of this narrative, however, it turns into a detective story with twists and turns you'll never see coming. Hobkinson's film ultimately asks us to examine truth, belief, and trauma in the most tangled of stories.
"My Donkey, My Lover and I" – School teacher Antoinette is thrown for a loop when she finds out her vacation plans with her secret lover Vladimir have been foiled by his wife surprising him with a trip to Cévennes National Park. In a harebrained scheme, Antoinette books the same trip to the Cévennes for herself and embarks on an expedition filled with misadventures, scenic vistas, and her trusty hiking partner, Patrick the scene-stealing donkey.
"My Heart Goes Boom!" – "Mamma Mia" fans rejoice! Maria is a young dancer who wants to bring color and joy to the drab, oppressive world of '70s Spain. She dreams of becoming a TV star but her sensual, provocative dancing is too much for the rigid, prudish censors. Inspired by "Mamma Mia" and "Hairspray," director Nacho Álvarez crafts a musical comedy of forbidden love that features gorgeous production design and the hit songs of Italian singer Raffaella Carrà.
"My Name is Baghdad" – Baghdad isn’t like other girls; she wears her hair short and pants high while skateboarding through the working-class favelas of São Paulo. She lives in a house populated with equally strong-willed and free-spirited women and her world is torn asunder when she runs into a group of female skaters. Caru Alves de Souza’s film won Berlin's Crystal Bear for its story of strength, sisterhood and love that doesn’t shy away from violence, sexism and discrimination.
"Night of the Kings" – La Maca is a prison in Côte d'Ivoire run by its prisoners. When a newcomer arrives on the night of the red moon rising, he is entered into a storytelling ritual to become the new king of the prison, known as the "Roman." Rolling Stone calls it "a film steeped in myth and ritual, besotted with secrets, history, and imagination – with a clear eye on the Ivory Coast's politics."
"No Ordinary Man" – Billy Tipton (1914-1989) was one of the great jazz bandleaders and since his death has become a trans icon. This unconventional documentary follows a group of young trans artists as they reconstruct Billy’s life and work. Through music, performance, and interviews, Tipton’s legacy is reclaimed as one of the great trans icons of the 20th century. "No Ordinary Man" is one of the must-see documentaries of the year.
"Not Going Quietly" – When grassroots lawyer and activist Ady Barkan is diagnosed with ALS just as he's welcomed his first child, he initially turns inward. But a chance encounter with Sen. Jeff Flake on a plane helps him find his voice anew, and this inspiring tear-jerking documentary follows his literal and figurative journey to become a staunch advocate for health care access for all.
"Nudo Mixteco" – The annual patron saint festival in a small Mexican village serves as the backdrop for three intertwined stories. María comes home to bury her father and rekindles an old flame. Esteban returns only to find that his wife has moved on. Toña relives her own trauma when confronted with her daughter’s abuse. Writer/director Ángeles Cruz weaves a powerful drama of three Indigenous women dealing with upheavals caused by homecomings.
"Once Upon a Time in Venezuela" – At the edge of Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo is the small floating village of Congo Mirador. Now sinking into sediment, this once-prosperous fishing community is unraveling after years of ecological and economic neglect. Focusing on two powerful women representing diverse views amidst this story, Anabel Rodríguez Ríos’s sensitive and bold Oscar submission immerses us in the human realities of this battle to safeguard cultural heritage and retain political relevancy.
"Operation Wolf Patrol" – Meet Rod Coronado. Once jailed for ecoterrorism, he has since dedicated his life to Wolf Patrol – legal observation and documentation of hunters to reduce the use of problematic practices (bear baiting, unsupervised dogs) which exacerbate conflicts between wolves, humans and dogs. Set primarily in Northern Wisconsin, this film goes beyond Coronado as celebrity and asks us to consider the complex tensions of Indigenous and governmental land use, and wildlife management.
"The Pink Cloud" – A mysterious and toxic pink cloud has enveloped the Earth and everyone is forced to hide indoors. Giovana ends up hunkering down with a one-night-stand, but little does she know that he will be her companion for years to come. Taking the quarantine lifestyle to the extreme, you'll laugh and cry at all-too familiar situations. This dystopian drama hits so close to home, you won't believe it was filmed in 2019.
"Playing with Sharks" – Sally Aitken's adventure-rich documentary uses incredible underwater photography to tell the story of Valerie Taylor, a living legend and icon. From a glamorous career as a diver and hunter in the 1950s to a no less glamorous role as a shark conservationist (landing her on the set of "Jaws!"), Valerie's story will leave you with a better understanding of how sharks matter to our oceanic ecosystems and how you can help preserve them.
"Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliche" – As the frontwoman of X-Ray Spex (and the first woman of color in the UK to lead such a successful band), Poly Styrene introduced a new sound of rebellion. Using punk as a vehicle for social commentary, her work was a key inspiration for the riot grrl and Afropunk movements. Following her death, her daughter sets out to understand her legacy, disentangle their own fraught relationship, and, ultimately, grieve.
"Potato Dreams of America" – This autobiographical tale from writer-director Wes Hurley follows a single mother and her young gay son living in the Soviet Union. Their obsession with pirated Hollywood movies leads them to emigrate to the US through a mail-order bride service, but when they arrive things do not go as expected. Featuring a vividly artificial style, "Potato Dreams of America" is a hilarious coming out film unlike anything you’ve seen.
"Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time" – Márta meets the love of her life while attending a neurosurgery residency in America. They make a pact to reunite in Budapest in one year to start their lives together, but when Márta arrives, her would-be soulmate claims he doesn't know her. Drawing from Krzysztof Kieslowski and Claire Denis, director Lili Horvát has established herself as a newcomer with a strong vision within the European filmmaking scene with this mysterious romance.
"Quo Vadis, Aida?" – Aida is a translator for the United Nations in the small town of Srebrenica. When the Serbian army takes over the town, her family is among the thousands of citizens looking for shelter in the United Nations camp. She is faced with the tension between the responsibilities of her profession and her duty to protect her family. This taut thriller will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
"Rams" – The Australian remake of the Icelandic favorite (MFF2016), "Rams" follows brothers Colin (Sam Neill) and Les (Michael Caton) through their decades long feud. This sibling rivalry manifests itself through their sheep farming, until a rare illness starts to spread through the flocks and authorities are forced to purge all the sheep in the valley. This outside enemy may be just enough to bring the brothers back together, but will they be able to save their herds?
"Rebel Dykes" – A punk mash-up of archival footage, animation, and interviews, this documentary chronicles the outlaw dyke culture of the UK in the 1980s. A collective of artists, activists, sex workers, and outcasts, "Rebel Dykes" retells the pioneering struggles of sex-positive, BDSM leather dykes as they not only fought against a conservative government and religious oppression, but other lesbians who became transphobic “sex police.” This is an unapologetic history about the dykes who paved the way for our rights today.
"Rebel Hearts" – Blessed with incredible archival access, the new documentary from MFF2017 alum Pedro Kos ("Bending the Arc") offers an unprecedented look into The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who, in the 1960s, bravely stood up to the Catholic Church, challenging the unequal status of women in the church. Ultimately breaking off to create an intentional community with a dedication to education, art, and justice of all kinds, these women will inspire you with their bravery and unrelenting faith.
"Red Heaven" – This is the true story of six people, picked to live in a dome on a lava field in Hawai'i ... "Red Heaven" tells the true story of an experiment designed to inform NASA's path toward human exploration of Mars. Asking what the limits of human isolation might be, these experiences of a year in isolation will ring familiar to us in 2021, but also help us envision the lives of astronauts in fascinating ways.
"Rez Metal" – I Don’t Konform is a heavy metal band from the Navajo Nation in Arizona that uses their music to uplift a community devastated by suicide. They catch the ear of acclaimed Metallica producer Flemming Rasmussen, who joins the band in their hooghan to begin recording their next album. "Rez Metal" is a stripped-down celebration of the heavy metal spirit, and a compelling portrayal of a community channeling their raw emotions, ethics, and hope through music.
"Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided to Go For It" – She got the E.G.O.T.! Rita Moreno grew up in poverty on a Puerto Rican farm, immigrated to New York where her mother worked as a seamstress, studied dance, made her way to Broadway then the silver screen all the while blazing a trail for Latinx representation that goes unrivaled. She also managed to win every major award along the way (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) and at almost 90 she’s not slowing down!
"See You Then" – A decade after their breakup, transgender woman Kris meets up with her cisgender ex Naomi to catch-up. What begins as a casual conversation about their lives quickly becomes an unraveling of past hang-ups, unresolved issues, and personal discovery. A rare drama that examines the messiness of trans experiences from the perspective of a trans filmmaker, "See You Then" explores how transitioning is a life-saving miracle, but doesn’t magically resolve all of your problems.
- "Misery Loves Company"
- "Beyond Noh"
- "Souvenir Souvenir"
- "Coup D'etat Math"
- "O Black Hole!"
"Shorts: Stranger Than Fiction"
- "57 Days"
- "Tiger and Ox"
- "The Game"
- "Survival 101: In Case of Complete Disappearance"
- "White Wedding"
- "Found Me"
- "Mountain Cat"
- "You Wouldn't Understand"
"Shorts: The Best Damn F*#@ing Midnight Program Ever. Sh*t."
- "Ghost Dogs"
- "Each Other"
- "Don't Text Back"
- "Run That Shit"
"The Siamese Bond" – Stella (Valeria Lois, "The Sleepwalkers") takes care of her ailing mother Clota (Rita Cortese, "Wild Tales") when she learns that she’s inherited two seaside apartments at a nearby resort from her father. She sees this as her last hope for independence while Clota sees it as an end to their relationship. The two embark on a bus trip to visit the properties, a trip that may break their all-too-close bond.
"Since I Been Down" – Gilda Sheppard’s documentary looks at Tacoma, WA in the early 1990s, where elected officials responded to the increase of gang activity, escalating crime, and increasing poverty by passing a three-strikes law. The incarceration of residents from Tacoma’s economically deprived neighborhoods reflects the outcome when states like Washington (and Wisconsin) abolish discretionary parole. Those who have been imprisoned use their education work to achieve healing, forgiveness, and dignity.
"Sisters with Transistors" – Narrated by Laurie Anderson, "Sisters with Transistors" is a masterful archival documentary that restores the centrality of women to the origins of electronic music. Featuring Clara Rockmore, Delia Derbyshire, Suzanne Ciani and more, this story of how we hear demonstrates how new devices opened music to the entire field of sound and how changing the modes of production also transformed the very terms of musical thought.
"The Sleepwalkers" – Family tensions come to a boil during a summer vacation in this Oscar submission from Argentine filmmaker Paula Hernández. Luisa’s (Erica Rivas, "Wild Tales") teenage daughter Ana has inexplicably begun sleepwalking at night adding strain to her disconnected marriage to domineering Emilio. Beautifully photographed featuring subtly contained performances the film slowly builds to an explosive and cathartic climax.
"Some Kind of Heaven" – The Villages, located in central Florida, is the world's largest retirement community, home to more than 130,000. Following four residents who struggle to find their place in the extreme homogenized culture, this character study delves into the whimsy, banality, and bizarreness of life when you have nothing to do and all day to do it. With gorgeous cinematography, Oppenheim plays up both the serene and surreal images found in this "Disneyworld for retirees".
"Spring Valley" – Starting with a viral video of a white school security officer throwing a Black teenager from her desk at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, SC, this film follows the unstoppable Vivian Anderson, who moved from Brooklyn to Columbia in the wake of this incident, focused on improving Black girls' futures and ending over-policing in our schools. Featuring powerful interviews with people on all sides of this incident, the film shows a system that is no longer working for anyone within it.
"Stop Making Sense" – Still our favorite tradition, this year we encourage you to build-your-own virtual, outdoor and safe, or household dance party using the biggest, loudest screen you've got. Don't miss your chance to dance it out to the greatest concert film ever made, Jonathan Demme's "Stop Making Sense" featuring the Talking Heads. And next year, we look forward to hopefully making a conga line once again.
"Stray" – Like fest fave "Kedi" (MFF2016), Elizabeth Lo's meditative documentary takes us to the streets of Istanbul, this time with an eye to its canine residents rather than the feline. With a dog's-eye view of the city and interspersed quotations from the Greek philosopher Diogenes, "Stray" asks us to consider the dog not just as the trusty companion of lore but as a cypher of humanity, especially as we increasingly encounter displaced humans on these streets.
"Teen Screen Shorts: After Dark"
- "The Promise"
- "Siren's Tail"
- "The Boy and the Owl"
- "Souvenir Souvenir"
- "My Friend Who Shines in the Night"
"Teen Screen Shorts: Self/Image"
- "When I Write It"
- "In the Shadow of the Pines"
- "Self Story"
- "OTANIMM/ONNIMM (Father/Daughter)"
- The Name of the Son"
"This Is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection" – Mary Twala is captivating as Mantoa, an elder in a Lesotho village set to be resettled to make way for a reservoir construction project. Mantoa refuses to stand aside while her home and history are bulldozed away and it's clear why. The breathtaking Lesotho countryside is expertly captured by the impeccable camerawork, with such painstaking attention to mise-en-scène, each shot seems more like a painting than a film.
"Three Ways of Looking at Milwaukee" – These three shorts look at Milwaukee from different angles and, taken together, present a prismatic perspective on our city. From the fascinating world of auctioneering to the voices of Black youth telling their stories to a symphonic portrait of the buildings and shadows of downtown Milwaukee - all three films are honest and authentic love letters to this city and its people.
"True Mothers" – After a long and unsuccessful struggle to get pregnant, Satoko and her husband decide to adopt a child. As they raise little Asato, they experience the standard highs and lows of parenthood, but feel so lucky to be able to have a son, nonetheless. One day, they are contacted by Hikari, who claims to be Asato's biological mother, and she wants him back. "True Mothers" is a tender film exploring motherhood in all forms.
"Try Harder" – While being Asian American is the norm at San Francisco’s Lowell High School, the perceptions and pressures of the “model minority” myth intensify for a group of students undergoing the high-stakes process of applying for their dream college. Debbie Lum’s timely film reveals an American school system fraught with drained students in an ever-surmounting cycle of competition for capital-A “Achievement.” Fresh, direct, and eye-opening, "Try Harder" is a must-watch for teens, families and educators alike.
"Underplayed" – "Underplayed" uses a whirlwind summer festival season to illuminate the ways that women are underrepresented in the electronic music industry. Focusing on relative celebrity DJs (Rezz, Alison Wonderland) as well as less well known but rising figures (Tygapaw, Sherelle), this documentary explores the music industry creating and perpetuating gender (and other) inequities. Missing a sweaty late night at the Marcus Amphitheatre? This film will fill that void and challenge you to consume more equitably all at once.
"Undine" – Christian Petzold (director of MFF2018 favorite "Transit") returns to our screens with the mysterious fable, "Undine." Christoph is smitten when he meets the enchanting Undine at her history lecture. Their relationship blossoms into a romance, but Christoph gets the feeling that Undine is keeping secrets from him. He feels ridiculous even thinking it, but could Undine be the vengeful mermaid of lore?
"When Claude Got Shot" – When Claude Motley is shot during a visit to Milwaukee for his high school reunion, he realizes there's no escaping gun violence and the ripples of trauma it causes. When he discovers his assailant was shot only two nights later by another attempted victim and is now paralyzed, it complicates thinking of any such crime as singular. Tracing this case through the criminal justice system, this documentary asks how and if these cycles can be broken.
"Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America" – Interweaving lecture, personal anecdotes, interviews, and all-too-unknown histories, ACLU deputy legal director Jeffery Robinson (and Marquette grad) presents a must-see primer on anti-Blackness in America, calling no one out but calling all in to walk around these histories and find the humanity and empathy within these stories. Not to be missed by anyone living in 2021 America, you'll be thinking and talking about this film for years to come.
"Wojnarowicz" – David Wojnarowicz (VOY-n?-ROH-vitch) was a key voice in the New York City queer activist art scene swirling around the AIDS crisis. In this fiery documentary portrait, director Chris McKim blends Wojnarowicz's paintings, photos, music, films, answering machine messages and recollections from his community (including the incomparable Fran Lebowitz) to trace the legacy of his unapologetic way of seeing a world in which the personal and the political are inextricably tangled.
"The Woman Who Ran" – Gamhee goes to visit some friends while her husband is on a business trip. At first it seems like she's dropping by while passing through town, before long, a shared history bubbles to the surface. With characteristic humor and grace, Hong Sangsoo takes a simple premise and spins a web of interconnecting philosophies and coincidences. "The Woman Who Ran" is a subtle, powerful look at dramas small and large faced by women everywhere.
"Women Is Losers" – Celina Guerrera (Lorenza Izzo) is a good Catholic girl growing up in '60s San Francisco. She’s bright and full of potential until an unintended pregnancy alters her life and forces her to confront a system that too often leaves minorities and single mothers behind. Named for a Janis Joplin song, Lissette Feliciano’s feature debut is a fresh and timely look at radical feminism through the lens of culture, class, and identity.
"Workhorse Queen" – Ed Popil is a 47-year old telemarketer living in suburban Buffalo who performs as the drag queen superstar Mrs. Kasha Davis. This intimate documentary follows Popil/Kasha from "Rupaul's Drag Race" through the fiercely competitive world of drag, where older queens are overlooked for younger stars and where fame doesn’t always live up to the hype. "Workhorse Queen" is a sobering portrait of Popil’s struggles with addiction and shows the work behind the glam.
"Writing with Fire" – Reminiscent of the work of multi-MFF alum Ramona Diaz ("A Thousand Cuts," "Motherland"), this uplifting documentary introduces the audience to the fearless journalists behind Khabar Lahariya, India's only newspaper run by Dalit ("untouchable") women. In these women's stories, directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh demonstrate the power of the press and of speaking truth to power, no matter where, by whom or how it is done.
"Wuhan Wuhan" – Yung Chang ("Up the Yangtze," China Heavyweight," MFF2012) captures the dignity and kindness of five everyday people caught up in the first COVID-19 lockdown in Wuhan, China. With a classic verité perspective, this documentary strips away statistics to reveal the humanity (and sometimes humor) to be found in the quotidian of a time that is anything but. Ultimately hopeful, this film has the power to remind us of our common experiences as a global community without borders.
"You Will Die at Twenty" – During her son’s naming ceremony, a Sheikh predicts that Sakina’s child, Muzamil, will die at the age of 20. Muzamil is haunted by this prophecy and commits to living a pious life while he can. When he turns 19, he meets a traveler who tells him about the world outside his Sudanese village and sheds skepticism on this prophecy of doom. Slowly, but surely Muzamil begins to question his fate and his faith all while his 20th birthday looms ever closer.
"Young Warriors" – Cosme and his wife Maria have long yearned to attend a festival in Barbalha city. When they decide to finally check this off their bucket list, they bring their son Benedito, nephew Matheuzinho, and niece Bruna on a series of adventures in their (somewhat dubious) Jeep. The young travel companions encounter ancient landscapes and histories that now seem new, other, even miraculous. Despite their differences, this trip will bond this trio of friends for life.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.