By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Oct 06, 2023 at 9:16 AM

With a home run of a movie screening and a star-studded afterparty, Milwaukee Film kicked off a new year of its Cultures & Communities Festival this week, a growing piece of the organization's annual catalog of awesome events. 

This year's festival – running through Thursday, Oct. 12 – is bigger than ever before, hosting events of all varieties at locations across the city. There's live music performances. There's stand-up sets from popular comedians. There's thoughtful discussions, panels and conversations. There's food and fashion. There's ... a lot, in general, making it easy to be overwhelmed by all the awesomeness. So, to help you make the most of this year's Cultures & Communities Festival, here are nine events that really stand out amongst the stupendous lineup, featuring a little bit of everything – movies for film fans, concerts for music junkies, panels for food for thought, and actual food for eating too. 

Here's what you should see at the 2023 C&C Festival this year. (And for more info and tickets, check out Milwaukee Film's website.) 

1. "The Space Race"

Growing up, I was a massive space nerd, watching all sorts of NASA VHS-tape documentaries and turning "Apollo 13" into way too regular viewing for a 8-year-old. So yeah, sign me up for "The Space Race," a documentary about the untold stories of the first Black astronauts and using that into a window about what NASA and space represented to them and their communities. Plus, it comes co-directed by Lisa Cortes, whose most recent documentary about Little Richard was selected as the centerpiece showing at the Milwaukee Film Festival and did a fascinating job of tackling a complicated, out-of-this-world shooting star of a subject. "The Space Race" should do exactly the same. 

"The Space Race" will screen on Friday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.

2. Battle of the Chefs

When Milwaukee culinary minds battle, we win – at least that's the takeaway from Battle of the Chefs. Hosting its seventh annual flavorful fight, Battle of the Chefs – created by Samantha Starr Events – is an amiable edible altercation pitting local chefs and their tasty dishes against one another. Different groups of chefs from across the city take on different categories of culinary deliciousness, ranging from entrees to confections and desserts to cocktail mixology – and best of all, you get to taste the final results. Add in a silent auction and musical vibes from DJ Lolo, and you've got a "Big Night"-esque dinner for all of the senses – all while helping elevate and support local chefs. 

Battle of the Chefs will take place on Friday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Pritzlaff Building. 

3. "Fremont"

"Fremont" may seem like a small movie on paper – just a modest saga of a young former Afghan translator trying to acclimate to her new life working in a fortune cookie factory in San Francisco. There's a lot of big talent, though, behind this Sundance and SXSW-approved indie favorite between the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography (the movie looks like the Oscar-nominated "Ida" but without the soul-ravaging) to the captivating performances from faces both new – lead actress Anaita Wali Zada makes a drolly dynamite on-screen debut – and familiar, such as "The Bear" breakout star Jeremy Allen White and alt-comedy icon Gregg Turkington. With all that, I nominate taking a trip to "Fremont" this weekend.

"Fremont" will screen on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 2:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.

4. Culture By Design: A Sneaker & Streetwear Summit

As someone wearing an undersized movie reference t-shirt and shorts on their fourth day of use in a row, I am not what you'd call a fashionable person. But whether you're a "Project Runway"-ready fashionista or a basic slob like yours truly, there's something to love and lace up at this special summit showcasing sneakers and streetwear of all kinds. Featuring designers, pop-up exhibitions, interactive elements, displays showing off brands near and far, and cool clothes for all, this fashionable function seems like it would earn a "you're in" from Heidi Klum – or at the very least should get sneakerheads making their feet to this Downtown hangout. 

Culture By Design: A Sneaker & Streetwear Summit will take place on Saturday, Oct. 7 at noon to 7 p.m. at the Baird Center. 

5. "Fancy Dance"

The name Lily Gladstone is about to become A Thing. After earning critics' raves with her quietly magnetic turn in Kelly Reichardt's "Certain Women," the actress is primed for her official mammoth breakthrough with a lead role in Martin Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon," where even surrounded by giants like Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, she's been earning the highest marks. Before this blockbuster break, though, check out her smaller but equally eye-catching part in "Fancy Dance," a Sundance and SXSW-approved drama about a Native American woman trying to find her missing sister before her father (Shea Whigham of the most recent "Mission Impossible") swipes custody of her niece. This indie may not carry the big names and buzz of "Killers of the Flower Moon," but don't miss it – maybe even as a modern companion piece about the Native American experience, traditions and struggles. 

"Fancy Dance" will screen on Monday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.

6. Janelle James

"Abbott Elementary" has been one of the rare breakthroughs to come from broadcast TV in recent years – thanks in no small part to Janelle James and her hilarious turn as the sassily selfish Principal Ava. Even when she's not managing (or mis-managing) an elementary school, though, James is a hoot – something you should see for yourself as she brings her "Nearly Famous" stand-up comedy tour to Milwaukee courtesy of the Cultures & Communities Festival. The show isn't just a typical stand-up performance, either, as James will take some time at the end of the show for an audience Q&A session, making for an intimate and hilarious night with a star on the rise. 

Janelle James' "Newly Famous" comedy tour stop will take place on Sunday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. at The Pabst Theater. 

7. "Coldwater Kitchen"

Hungry for an inspirational true story ... but also food in general? This documentary selection at the Cultures & Communities Festival is just the ticket, taking audiences behind the scenes at a unique culinary training program run from inside a prison in Michigan, teaching its students life skills and preparing them for the world outside while preparing delicious plates of food. The story sounds very compelling – and to bring the story even more to life, the C&C Festival screening plans to host the film's lead subject and director in person to discuss the project afterwards. It should be quite the feast of film and feel-good – so make sure you snag dinner beforehand too.

"Coldwater Kitchen" will screen on Tuesday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre. 

8. The History of Polarization in American Music

Why does it seem like different genres of music can't coexist together and must be kept apart? Gangstagrass, a popular Brooklyn-based music group trying to prove that theory wrong and mashing together bluegrass and hip-hop into a unique communal sound, wants to explain with this fascinating free conversation session, taking attendees back in time to when sly marketing and business minds divided music – and the country – into genres. It's a compelling discussion about the history of music, and about how we can bring people and music back together years after these divides ... and I bet this session comes with a sweet soundtrack too. 

The History of Polarization in American Music: A Conversation on Race and Music will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 5:30 p.m. at Radio Milwaukee. 

9. Closing Night Party

You heard Gangstagrass chat the night before – so now really hear them jam out! The Brooklyn-born genre-smashing band will officially take the stage for the Cultures & Communities Festival's finale, teaming up with local band and fellow music-melders Shonn Hinton & Shotgun for a Cooperage-set showcase to remember. After all, I can't imagine a better way to say goodbye to a classification-defying festival than with a rockin' evening of classification-defying music. 

The closing night party will take place Thursday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. at The Cooperage. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

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.