The Oriental Theatre may still be closed, but Milwaukee Film is far from standing pat, instead programming not one but two virtual film festivals for all your streaming needs this fall. And while the traditional Milwaukee Film Festival coming in late October may be considered the main course, the Minority Health Film Festival is by no means some mere appetizer.
Kicking off today and running through Sept. 24, the jumbo-sized virtual film festival offers more than 50 movies of all shapes, sizes, genres and topic – all focused on physical, mental and emotional health across the nation and the globe, especially in underprivileged and underserved communities. That's not including the plentiful events that come along with the festival as well, including conversations with directors, writers, producers, social advocates, local leaders and more, all enhancing your experience and hopefully taking the stories beyond the screen's borders.
For seasoned festival goers, this all sounds fairly familiar – stellar stories and enlightening discussions, all bringing people together. But with COVID this year, that last part had to change. So this year, for the first time, all of these films and conversations will be available in the best seat in the house: your comfy couch. Or your bed. Or your personal screening room, you lucky duck. Or wherever you prefer to watch movies, at whatever time works best for you over the next two weeks. It's the full festival experience ... minus having to marker up the screening schedule, anxiously having to Sophie's Choice which movies you're going to see and which meals you're going to skip.
It's great films talking about important causes all at your fingertips, all for less than $25 for a full-festival pass or $3 for each movie (or even cheaper if your'e a Milwaukee Film member), and all easily streamed on your laptop via Milwaukee Film's website or on your television thanks to Milwaukee Film's app, available through most digital TV devices like Roku or Apple TV. For the answers to all of your questions on how to watch your festival flicks, click here.
And now that you know how to watch, the only question remaining is what to watch. Of course, the obvious answer is everything – but for those who don't have the time to binge more than half a hundred movies in two weeks (psh, weirdos ...), here are eight of the most intriguing, exciting and fascinating options on the matinee board at the Minority Health Film Festival.
"And She Could Be Next"
Presented in two parts during the Minority Health Film Festival – "Building the Movement" and "Claiming Power" – this documentary shines a spotlight on the rising stars in politics, including increasingly popular names like Stacey Abrams and Rashida Tlaib, changing the face of the nation's political centers and, most importantly, attempting to shift power back to the people with voting rights movements and action. Can't imagine why a movie about our nation's political systems and marginalized communities would be of note this fall!
Did you miss this strong doc selection at the 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival? Well, good news, because you've got a second chance to rectify that mistake – and no better time considering the timeliness of the material. Captured by director Marilyn Ness (a producer on other acclaimed docs like "Cameraperson," "Trapped" and the upcoming Netflix release "Dick Johnson is Dead"), "Charm City" is sympathetic portrait of a city attempting to change its obsession with violence – from a Baltimore community leader who preaches to his block the virtues of nonviolence and community, to peace officers trying to repair their group's reputation after growing controversy and distrust, to a local politician trying to create reform inside the system. It's an up-close look at people trying to change cycles of violence and trauma that won't.
Another second chance screening from Milwaukee Film and the Minority Health Film Festival – this time featuring a selection from last year's edition, "Decade of Fire." Vivian Vázquez Irizarry and Gretchen Hildebran's (the latter who we met and chatted with about her film during the festival) documentary covers a forgotten story of the '70s in which several fires decimated parts of the South Bronx and forced their diverse communities and families out of their homes, uncertain where to go next – all under the uncaring, indifferent eye of the government. A searing look at a trauma and a buried part of American history demanding to be addressed.
It's not all parties, keggers, Big Game Saturdays and the occasional study groups. For a growing number of students, college is an exercise in survival. Produced by Soledad O'Brien, "Hungry to Learn" follows four students as they attempt to make ends meet while going through the modern grind of getting a much-ballyhooed higher education. With students going broke, living on the border of homelessness, relying on pantries for meals and deciding between paying for a higher education or paying for food, is the experience even worth it anymore? And how can we change the system so young people don't have to decide between feeding their minds and feeding their bodies?
A propulsive documentary shot like a thriller, Luke Lorentzen's Sundance-approved film follows a family that operates a private ambulance in Mexico City – a place where less than 50 exist for a population of nine million. And in case trying to race sick and dying people to the hospital and save lives wasn't enough stress, the family must also cope with corrupt police officers demanding bribes, financial hardship and the emotional toll of such an unrelenting, truly life-or-death job. It's sure to be an intense experience – but don't simply take my word for it. Try esteemed critic Matt Zoller Seitz, who gave the doc four stars and likened the movie to fellow nocturnal dramas like "Nightcrawler," "Bringing Out the Dead" and "Collateral" – but all real.
You likely spend a not-insignificant part of your day looking at a computer or phone screen. Heck, you're almost certainly looking at one now if you're reading this. But what does all that screen time do to the mind – especially for younger generations who've only known a world that's gone digital? That's the question "Screenagers" hopes to answer as, without becoming preachy or alarmist, Delaney Ruston's doc talks about the realities of our lives on screen, from the funny to the profound, from science to the surreal. And yes, the irony of watching this on your laptop as a part of a digital film festival is duly noted. Consider it meta commentary!
Just like the regular Milwaukee Film Festival, while the feature selections may claim some of the bigger names and biggest buzz, some of the best options at the Minority Health Film Festival come in bite-sized pieces courtesy of the shorts reels. This festival features four shorts compilations, ranging from live-action to animated, documentaries and fictional stories, young and old, focused on everything from mental health to women's experiences and merely the kind of everyday struggles that slowly pick away at one's wellbeing. This particularly fascinating five-film collection hits on race in America in different ways, from gentrification to the current Confederate statue debate to race relations and identity amongst neighbors. They all contain big ideas in seemingly small packages.
A part of the festival's family health and well-being focus, "Through the Night" tackles an issue so many Americans face but very rarely see discussed seriously: work-life balance, especially for those on the low end of our nation's economic spectrum, often having to juggle multiple jobs to keep a household afloat all the while missing out on their children's lives, experiences and developmental years. That includes the people whose jobs involve sacrificing their own time to help watch other families' children – like the ones profiled in this very doc, intimately tracking 24 hours at a daycare center where everyone, from those dropping kids off to those taking care of them, is stretched to their emotional, mental and physical brink but making it work for the sake of their kids.
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.