By Robin Reese Contributor Published Oct 17, 2019 at 10:01 AM

The Milwaukee Film Festival is back – with over 300 films spanning across two weeks and six theaters, including a couple of new venues for this year: the Broadway Theater Center in the Third Ward and the Rivoli Theater in Cedarburg.

I’ve said this before, but I still feel that the Milwaukee Film Festival is a hidden gem in Milwaukee, and I hope that each year more of you decide to come out and see at least one film from your own choosing or from my picks. It can be overwhelming – but we have one of the best film festivals in the country right here. The showtimes are range from morning through the night, weekdays and weekends, so there’s bound to be something that you can work in your schedule.  There are also several genres on screen from documentaries, to shorts, to Black Lens selections, to local films and even Rated K for Kids, so there is absolutely something that will suit you. 

With that said, here are my picks for the 2019 festival!  See you at the movies!

"The Apollo"

  • Thursday, Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m., Oriental Theatre (This is the only showing)

"Ask a few music critics about the greatest soul album ever and someone will pick James Brown Live at the Apollo. Harlem's Apollo Theater is not just a landmark of Black American music and performance, but also a landmark of American culture. Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams ('Life, Animated') has created the definitive account of this American institution, using archival footage of classic performances, behind-the-scenes access to the theater and its staff, and new interviews with legends like Smokey Robinson and Jamie Foxx. Additionally, 'The Apollo' follows the creation of a new stage adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates' celebrated 'Between the World and Me,' underscoring how much the Apollo Theater still matters to the Black community, and how much it continues to trace the story of Black America."

And as an adding bonus, producer Lisa Cortes and cast member Leslie Uggams will be in attendance for this closing night screening!

"I Want My MTV"

  • Thursday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre, with one additional showing on Saturday, Oct. 19 at 3:45 p.m. at the Broadway Theater Center

"When MTV began broadcasting in August of 1981, a channel playing only music was widely dismissed as a crazy idea. MTV was more of a ragtag, anything-goes operation in those early years, and the journey to becoming a global juggernaut was fraught with high-stakes battles against things as innocuous as local cable companies and as critical as systemic racism. Sometimes those things even came from the channel itself, as David Bowie once subtly pointed out on air. 'I Want My MTV' is bursting at the seams with sexy (and sometimes laughably unsexy) '80s and '90s nostalgia, and MTV's evolution into its modern incarnation is vividly told in interviews with the staff and musicians whose lives were changed forever."

"Chained for Life"

  • Friday, Oct. 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre (only showing)

"Hollywood's representation issues are tackled head-on in the funny and humane, award-winning festival darling 'Chained for Life.' Very rarely does a film come along that can traffic in melancholy, surrealism, and comedy so effortlessly – think Lynch's 'Eraserhead' by way of Altman's 'The Player' and you're on the right track. Director Aaron Schimberg keeps you constantly off-kilter, expertly jumping between scenes from the film-within-a-film to scenes about filming the film-within-a-film and even to actors taking a break from the film-within-a-film to workshop their own separate-film-outside-the-film-within-a-film (dizzy yet?). Raising important and discomforting questions about representation and how we so casually dehumanize those different from us, this acerbic heartwarmer is 'an American indie of unusually big ideas and aesthetic ambition' (Film Comment) that is nothing short of 'extraordinary' (The New Yorker)."

"Give Me Liberty"

  • Screening on Oct. 19, 20 and 28 (Please check for details on times and locations)

"Medical transport driver Vic is running further and further behind schedule, as he shuttles his Russian grandfather and émigré friends to a funeral, navigates closed roads, and befriends one of his clients, Tracy, a vibrant young woman with ALS. This locally made Sundance/Cannes indie darling returns to Milwaukeee in an encore homecoming tour, showcasing a hilarious, compassionate, and intersectional portrait of American dreams and disenchantment"

"Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am"

  • Screening on Oct. 26, 28 and 30 (Please check for details on times and locations)

"The world lost one of the greatest writers of our time when Toni Morrison died this year. This doc, filmed before her death, is an ode to her groundbreaking work as a multi-award-winning writer and her life story from childhood through the civil rights movement and beyond, offering an intimate look at race and humanity in America. Both a meditation on African-American art and Morrison’s story in her own words, this film reminds us that the strength of her spirit remains."

"Them That Follow"

  • Screening on Oct. 19, 21 and 26 (Please check for details on times and locations)

"In the mountains of Appalachia, among small sects of Pentecostal snake handlers, zealous devotion can be truly deadly. But that’s a risk incurred by two young men competing for the love of the preacher’s daughter, and the protection of a secret that could tear the community apart. With an all-star cast featuring newly crowned Oscar-winner Olivia Colman, Walton Goggins, Jim Gaffigan, and Kaitlyn Dever ('Booksmart'), 'Them That Follow' asks powerful questions about the slippery slope between faith and indoctrination."


  • Screening on Oct. 19, 20 and 29 (Please check for details on times and locations)

"Following his cousin’s suicide, Stewart Cooper looks into the potential causes. But he wasn’t prepared for what he would find: a tangled past of secrets and infidelity, all of which lead to a prominent church pastor. In the latest film from MFF alum Charles Murray ('Things Never Said'), the complicated emotional triggers of depression, revenge, race, power, and religious devotion all stir into an explosive, thrilling climax."

The screenings on Oct. 19-20 also feature a special bonus: director Charles Murray in attendance!

Meanwhile, the short film selections have become my favorite program in recent years. They are very succinct, pull you in, get you out quickly and always tend to leave you wanting more. I’m always intrigued by the selections and when you catch any of these series, you see five or six short films in the time of one feature length movie. 

"Black Lens Shorts: Family Matters"

  • Screening on Oct. 25, 28 and 30 (Please check for details on times and locations)

"Cinema in the United States and across the globe is enjoying an insurgence of new voices from Black filmmakers. Black cultural identity, plus the circumstances and struggles Black people face are explored in this bravura collection of short films. They're not afraid to pose probing questions about our current societal climate."

"Black Lens Shorts: Find Yourself"

  • Screening on Oct. 21, 25 and 28 (Please check for details on times and locations)

"Where the Family Matters program explores contemporary realities, the Find Yourself program explores future possibilities. Films in this program showcase journeys of imaginations, escape, self-discovery, healing, and reconciliation."

"GenreQueer Shorts"

  • Screening on Oct. 22, 25 and 27 (Please check for details on times and locations)

"What does it mean to be queer or trans, to challenge normal romance but to also normalize difference, to carve out your space, to come out, and to be found out? These meaningful and personal short films explore the complexities behind these and other questions."

Aside from films, there are a ton of events, panel discussions and more taking place off the big screen. Here’s a couple of my picks:

Afrolatinidad: Afro-Latinx Identity on Film and Beyond

  • Sunday, Oct. 27 at 11:30 a.m. at the Milwaukee Film Festival Lounge (2155 N. Prospect Ave.)

"Rich African roots have influenced cultural legacies throughout the Americas for centuries. From beats like Bakosó in Cuba and Bomba in Puerto Rico to stories like Latinegras and Decade of Fire, this panel discussion, curated by artists, storytellers, and organizers, will highlight and celebrate the Afro-Latinx narrative."

Black Lens Lounge

  • Hosted on Oct. 18, 19, 25 and 29

Just because a film or forum ends doesn't mean the fun does. The Black Lens Lounge offers opportunities to meet and network with Milwaukee Film Festival attendees while enjoying food and drinks late into the night. The host is XO Cocktail Parlor (326 E. Mason St.), and the sponsor is MillerCoors. Doors open at 8 p.m., and it’s free and open to the public.

Stefon Bristol Filmmakers Masterclass

  • Sunday, Oct. 20 at noon at the No Studios screening room (1037 W. McKinley Ave.)

"In 2017, Black Lens had the honor to include Stefon Bristol's short film 'See You Yesterday' in our Lost and Found Shorts Program. We were elated when we learned that his short had become a feature-length film, and it was released on Netflix in May of 2019. This year, he will be returning to the Milwaukee Film Festival to give a master class on how to turn a short film into a feature-length project as part of Milwaukee Film's Filmmaker Services events, presented by the Milwaukee Filmmaker Alliance and sponsored by No Studios.

"Emerging filmmakers who are either looking to make a short film, or who want to turn their short into a feature, are strongly encouraged to attend. Space is limited. Please RSVP by replying to this email or emailing Molly Veh, Milwaukee Filmmaker Alliance (MFA) Manager, at"

Film Festival Soundtrack Series

Hacienda Beer Co. is partnering with WMSE 91.7FM and Milwaukee Film to bring you a fortnight of live music and programming for the duration of the Milwaukee Film Festival. Peep the full Soundtrack Series lineup and come support local creatives at the North Avenue taproom. Your attendance basically makes you a patron of the arts, which makes you really cool at parties. Shows start at 9:30 p.m. and all performances are free – plus a day-of festival ticket gets you a dollar off your first beer!

  • 10/18: Rx Drugs and Lex Allen
  • 10/19: Klassik and Immortal Girlfriend
  • 10/20: Retoro, Indonesian Junk and Mortgage Freeman
  • 10/21: Ms. Lotus Fankh and Nickel & Rose
  • 10/22: Cine Sin Fronteras night featuring Clave y Afinque 
  • 10/23: Devil Met Contention and Social Caterpillar
  • 10/24: Hip Hop Fashion Remix night featuring Doc B
  • 10/25: Immortal Girlfriend and L’Resorts
  • 10/26: Ish Darr and Paper Holland
  • 10/27: Miles Davis tribute featuring Lesser Lakes
  • 10/28: Midnight Purchase and Brat Sounds
  • 10/29: Luxi and Amanda Huff
  • 10/30: Coyote Brother and Hughes Family Band
  • 10/31: Seasaw and Surgeons in Heat
Robin Reese Contributor

Born and raised in Milwaukee, a lover of life and and a connector of people, I'm a mother, a real estate developer, a philanthropist, a singer and more. And last, but most definitely not least, I love Milwaukee!

I often get asked – by people I know and don't know alike, out of towners and MKE locals – what is there to do here? Is there any live music tonight? What's a good place for a date? What's a good place to hang with a group of friends? You get the point...

So I've decided to share my weekly picks of cool happenings in and around our lovely city. I may repeat some "regulars," and the list by no means is comprehensive, but it will give you glimpse of some of the great things our great city has to offer for entertainment.