By Robin Reese Contributor Published Oct 15, 2020 at 4:16 PM

The Milwaukee Film Festival is baaaack! Yes, unlike some of our other beloved festivals, the Milwaukee Film Festival – with almost 200 films spanning the course of two weeks – wasn’t cancelled; they just had to adapt for our current times and go virtual. This may be a way to make the festival even more accessible to more people, with the ability to view films at home or even on your mobile phone through the Milwaukee Film app.

It can be overwhelming, but we have one of the best film festivals in the country right here – and even though it’s online, the lineup is still absolutely amazing. The shows are essentially on-demand so there has to be a way you can work a movie – or several – into your schedule. There are also several genres, from documentaries to shorts to Black Lens to local films and even movies Rated K for Kids, so there is absolutely something that will suit you. I hope that many of you decide to check out at least one film from your own choosing or from my picks. 

And speaking of, here are my picks for the 2020 festival, complete with a short synopsis courtesy of Milwaukee Film! Happy film festing!

"Alice Street"

"At the intersection of Alice and 14th Streets in the heart of downtown Oakland, California, tension is brewing between real estate developers and artists around the best present and future uses of a coveted historic space. Following the proposal, creation, and final result of a mural, this documentary shows how art can work as a tool for grassroots activism and underscores the power of coalition-building to disrupt the displacing forces of privilege."

"Test Pattern"

"Renesha is having a great day. She wakes up next to her boyfriend Evan, heads to her her dream job, and grabs drinks with friends. But things quickly go downhill when a flirtatious stranger drugs and sexually assaults her. The next day Evan and Renesha wade through a bog of bureaucracy to get a hospital rape kit. Reminiscent of 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always,' director Shatara Michelle Ford's feature debut is a lyrical indictment of our healthcare system."


"A conversation between a filmmaker and an activist sets the stage for a deeper exploration into the challenges Puerto Rico has faced, from the landfall of Hurricane Maria to the efforts to oust Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. This captivating documentary weaves intersecting storylines that chronicle how the hurricane's aftermath has affected the country’s residents in rural and urban spaces, as well as those who seek to capitalize off of the island’s tragedy."

"Dinner in America"

"If you ever wondered what it would be like if Gregg Araki directed 'Napoleon Dynamite,' you're in luck! Simon (Kyle Gallner) is a punk rocker who is in and out of jail for pretty much ... everything. Patty (Emily Skeggs) is a spacey pet shop employee in arrested development, still living with her parents. Patty helps Simon evade the cops, and this odd couple becomes the most iconic pair on the run since Bonnie and Clyde."

"Real Soul: A Gospel Music Story"

"Celebrating the uniquely American musical form of gospel, local director Dan Andera and co-producer Kenny Somerville take us into some of the smallest churches in our city to meet some of the biggest voices and most talented, passionate artists you could find. Vibrantly capturing the emotional core of gospel, this film carries you into the power of music to lift and mend the spirit."

"The Milwaukee Show"

"What would the Milwaukee Film Festival be without 'The Milwaukee Show'? Every year one of our hottest tickets, this one had to go virtual. So we've packed two programs full of the best short fiction and documentary films, experimental works, and music videos made by your fellow Milwaukeeans."

A personal side note: The highlight of "The Milwaukee Show" for me features two friends of mine, Ray Nitti and Jade Charon, in her music video directorial debut, "Champion Style: A Jade Charon Dance Film." Milwaukee FIlm describes it as such: 

"As the world was shutting down due to COVID-19, a team of Milwaukee based and nationally respected creatives were in the British Virgin Islands shooting 'Champion Style: A Dance Film By Jade Charon.' This powerful short follows Milwaukee rap star Ray Nitti as he goes back to his native island of Tortola to learn about the origins of an Afro-Caribbean dance called 'Bamboula.' Told through the choreography of Milwaukee and UCLA trained dancer Jade 'Charon' Robertson, the film illuminates how dance can be a tool used to help free Black bodies. Music by Bizness Boi. Filmed by Philly Fly Boy"


"Hebrew school besties Carrie and Hannah find their relationship strained when a fellow classmate commits suicide. Participating in the school’s memorial service and ineffectual 'teen talkback' session, the friends grapple with the volatile cocktail of emotions dredged up by their grief, navigating a burgeoning queer sexuality, teenage lust, faith, and cliques. Featuring a biting sardonic dark humor and visionary directing style, 'Tahara' is an incredible debut feature announcing a new talent in director Olivia Peace."


"The unforgettable singer of "God Bless the Child" and "Strange Fruit," Billie Holiday remains one of the most iconic voices in jazz. In the 1970s, journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl began work on the definitive biography of Holiday, recording over 200 hours of interviews on cassette before Kuehl’s untimely death in 1978. Featuring never-before-heard interviews from figures in Holiday’s life, this documentary presents a new portrait of one of the most complex artists in music history."

"The Last Tree"

"Femi led a bucolic life in rural Lincolnshire with his foster family until his Nigerian mother shows up to take him home to live in urban London. Frustrated with his mother, Femi takes matters into his own hands to travel to Nigeria and find his long-absent father. A poignant story paired with evocative dream sequences results in a refreshingly nuanced coming-of-age film from MFF alum Shola Amoo ('Dear Mr. Shakespeare')."

Shorts have become my favorite genre in recent years. They're very succinct, they pull you in and get you out quickly, and they always leave you wantig more in the best way possible. I’m always intrigued by the stories – plus, when you catch any of these series, you get to see five or six short films in the time in takes to watch just one feature-length movie.

"Shorts: Surprise, Surprise!"

"Who doesn't like finding a surprise in their shorts? This year's program features a tale of two Hannahs, a monster in your closet, a tale of being stranded at sea, an accident that changes everything, a meeting from the past that sends the future spiraling, and that little voice in your head which might not be so little. Surprise!"

"Shorts: Date Night"

"Strap in for a rollercoaster of emotions! Oh the things we do for love – sometimes we regret it now, sometimes we regret it later. New or tried and true, everyone's just looking for a connection in life."

"Black Lens Shorts: Exploration & Introspection"

"These powerful stories feature fictional characters and actual people as they discover aspects of their personalities they did not know exist, or learn of people and places that they find to be insightful and inspirational. These become gateways to love, inner peace, and new possibilities."

"Black Lens Shorts: Preserving & Combating Memory"

"Black Lens Shorts: Preserving & Combating Memory contains narratives that struggle with whether memory is friend or foe. Characters confront memory in the form of abandonment and exploitation, and seek to determine what they should learn from it, how they have been harmed, and what they should cast aside forever."

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.