There's still a lot of great live entertainment and events going on in the city – and I encourage you to seek them out and support! However, the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival started Thursday and runs for the next two weeks, Oct. 12, and I'd be remiss if I didn't give you my picks for the festival!
With that said, there was an amazing opening night party Thursday night held at Good City Brewing which I attended and had a blast! Sorry I didn't let you know so you could attend, but there's a lot more for you to see over the next couple weeks.
Founded in 2009, the Milwaukee Film Festival, in my opinion, is still a hidden gem for a lot of Milwaukee. Showcasing over 300 films from all over the world and some made right here in Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Film Festival is certainly one of the best in the nation. Not only are there a ton of great films, there is very diverse programming. I've had the pleasure and the honor of working with the Black Lens Program of the festival since just before last season as part of the Black Lens Engagement committee. The Black Lens Program features fiction and documentary films from both emerging and established African-American filmmakers.
The festival is a whirlwind, with films showing at five theaters (Oriental, Downer, Avalon, Times and Fox Bay) in different parts of the city, sometimes having screenings at the same time or giving you 15 minutes to get from the Avalon in Bay View to Fox Bay in Whitefish Bay. Movies are shown from early in the morning til early the next morning (10 a.m. and midnight start times), so there are many times that should fit your schedule. What's really cool is some of the films may be showing here for the first time ever! Some even end up making it to the big screen with major distribution – and you will have seen it first! I love having exclusive opportunities and Milwaukee Film provides that.
Here are my picks for the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival. This list by no means is comprehensive – remember, there's almost 300 films – but it will give you glimpse of some of the great films that I will actually see myself.
1. The Black Lens Program
Yes, the entire program, that includes eight films and two shorts programs. But I promise that you won't be disappointed in any selection. Some of the highlights are:
"Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992"
Directed by Milwaukee's own John Ridley ("12 Years a Slave," "Red Tails," "American Crime"), I was able to see "Let It Fall" during a Milwaukee Film member's only screening earlier this year – and all I can say is if you see nothing else, see this. With all that is happening in our country and our very own city with regards to race relations, police relations and the like, this documentary showcases events that led up to the Rodney King incident and the L.A. Riots. 25 years later, this story is very relevant and eye-opening. I cried, I laughed, I was angry and I was energized. I can't wait to see it again. And Mr. Ridley, Milwaukee Film board member, may be in attendance.
"Black Lens Shorts: Lost and Found"
This set of shorts explores the infinite possibility in the world of contemporary Black filmmaking. There are seven films in this programs, including "90 Days," which explores a beautiful couple's relationship and their life altering decision after ninety days of dating, and "The Forever Tree Film," a black historical fantasy film starring Wendell Pierce ("The Wire") and Olivia Washington ("Lee Daniels' The Butler"). This film was written and produced by Milwaukee natives, Steve Hintz and Chrishaunda Lee Perez.
2017 marks the 20th anniversary of this love story, and in addition to showing this cult classic, one of the film's stars, Larenz Tate, will be in attendance for the screening. This will be a rare 35mm screening at the historic Oriental Theater.
"ACORN and the Firestorm"
When two young conservatives posed as a pimp and a prostitute in a sting to expose ACORN's business practices, it was a harbinger of the current political climate of fake news and intractable partisanship in politics. Another very relevant film, given our current state of politics. Director Sam Pollard will be in attendance and participating in discussions around this film.
Starring Cory Hardrict ("Brotherly Love," "Gran Torino," "All Eyez on Me"), In one world, Rasheed is a hardened criminal who has spent years building his drug empire. In another, he is an ambitious architect who has been working his way up the corporate ladder. Illustrated through parallel lives, we explore how one man's future can be changed by a single moment. Hardrict will be in attendance.
2. "The Feels"
Part of the American Independents Series, is a lesbian romantic comedy that provides a fresh take on the genre through its candor and perspective on communication in modern love. The description alone caught my attention, and if you happen to see me in one of the many film intros on the big screen, you'll hear me say that rom-com is one of my favorite genres – even though my friends laughed at me. And this one is a twist to your "typical" so I'm looking forward to it.
Part of the Cine Sin Fronteras series, "Esteban" views the universe from the eyes of a 9-year-old boy who lives alone with his mother and wants to become a pianist. "Esteban" is a story for anyone who believes in the power of music to change one's life. That's definitely me – and therefore, this makes the list.
4. "Killing Ground"
This film is in the Cinema Hooligante series, and I have to be honest and say I don't like horror or anything that is gonna scare me, but I'm intrigued at the Hooligante rating scale. This film has five hooligans, which states: "You're dead. You died. The movie was great though." And in complete honesty, that is why I want to see this film! But a little about it: A couple's romantic camping trip becomes a desperate fight for survival in this ultra-raw, unhinged kill ride. OK, maybe on second thought I won't see it. But you should, and tell me about it please.
5. "Life of the Party"
I just want to say show some hometown support and get out and see this movie! The Cream City Cinema series showcases work from Milwaukee area filmmakers. This film in particular, directed by Rubin Whitmore II, is a dramatic comedy about a wedding reception gone awry at a West Allis bowling alley. I'm intrigued – and I know you all trust my picks, so meet me there!
6. "Bill Nye: Science Guy"
My son watched the science guy and as a parent, I watched along. This documentary, however, is directed towards adults and this is the one of the first places this film will be shown. Bill Nye is focusing on climate change in this 101 minute film. I can't wait to see this one.
7. "Rated K for Kids"
I had to mention this to let you all know there is an entire series of films for kids, some appropriate for those as young as 3. The Disney classic "Aladdin" (25 years old!) will be shown as well as well as two other full length feature films and three shorts programs targeting various age ranges. Don't let the kids be an excuse for not getting out to support and enjoy the Milwaukee Film Festival.
In addition to my film picks, there are two events that you should definitely attend as part of your 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival Experience:
Groove Theory: The Sounds of '90s Black Cinema
This a live band show, showcasing songs from "Love Jones," "Boomerang" and "Soul Food." The show will feature several Milwaukee performers and is hosted by ME and Jay Anderson of VoodooHoney Records – and I may or may not be a featured singer on the show. The show takes place Sunday, Oct. 8 at Company Brewing, with an 8 p.m. showtime. There's a $10 cover. Yup, only $10.
Black Love Through a Black Lens
Black Love Through a Black Lens is happening Monday Oct. 2, at 8 p.m. in the Back Room of Colectivo on Prospect Avenue. Raafi Rivero, director of "72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story" (a 2017 Black Lens feature film) and a group of dynamic local commentators will have an intimate conversation on the persistent stereotypes and authentic realities of "Black Love" in the 21st century.
Please visit mkefilm.org for showtimes of my pics or pick up a festival book at any of the Colectivo locations around the city.
As always, there's a lot going on in this beautiful place we call home. If you see me, say HI! I'll be back with more of my picks after the festival. Until then, live, love, laugh, ATTEND THE FILM FESTIVAL and enjoy Milwaukee!