The 6th Annual Milwaukee Film Festival, presented by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, announces Black Lens, featuring work from both emerging and established African American filmmakers.
Eight fiction and documentary films put the focus on black filmmakers, something Robert Townsend (actor, comedian, producer, director, and writer) sought to achieve in his revolutionary film, Hollywood Shuffle (1987). The satirical comedy screens in 35mm with the legendary Townsend scheduled to appear for a question and answer session following the film.
“Our goal with Black Lens is to directly spotlight African American filmmakers, not just films with black-related subject matter, but actually bring to light the creative individuals behind the films. We also hope the program acts as a strong outlet that magnifies this cinematic work, broadens the audience for such work, and–over time–becomes a catalyst to inspire black filmmakers both locally and internationally,” explains Geraud Blanks, co-programmer of Black Lens, also a domestic violence victims advocate for Sojourner Family Peace Center, music promoter, and former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributor.
Blanks was asked by Dr. Donte McFadden, longtime friend and former film school classmate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, to join in on programming duties with the new film series. “Something we kept in mind while programming was to create an environment in which African American filmmakers would feel welcome to screen their work. We also wanted the community to engage directly with these films and filmmakers and share a collective experience they could not find elsewhere in Milwaukee,” shares McFadden, Milwaukee Film Festival screening committee member since 2009, and Visiting Assistant Professor of Film and Representation Studies at St. Lawrence University.
Blanks discusses the films that really spoke to him: “25 to Life is a film whose subject matter, HIV/AIDS, is one we don’t discuss enough in the Milwaukee community. The story is amazing and evoked a passion within me. It’s told in an unconventional way, as is Evolution of a Criminal, which splices convincing reenactments with documentary-style interviews. CRU is also a film that struck me as very important because it doesn’t portray black men in a stereotypical manner and it’s not the same old slapstick comedy, but an emotionally charged drama that’s very relatable.”
Jonathan Jackson, Artistic and Executive Director for Milwaukee Film describes the inspiration behind Black Lens: “Last year’s incredible screening of George Tillman Jr.’s The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete at the Milwaukee Film Festival sold out the Landmark Oriental Theatre and brought a truly diverse audience out for a celebration of community and cinema. The film went on to win the Allan H. (Bud) and Suzanne L. Selig Audience Award for Best Feature Film, all of which proved that our film festival has the power to bring together our community, something we want to further build upon each year.”
2014 MILWAUKEE FILM FESTIVAL
We are proud to present this new program featuring work solely from African American filmmakers. Fiction and documentary stories from both emerging and established voices put the focus squarely on the black community.
25 to Life
(USA / 2014 / Director: Mike L. Brown)
William Brawner, infected as a child with HIV and sworn to secrecy by his mother, is finally coming clean. A bracingly fresh look at life with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., 25 to Life chronicles Brawner’s attempts at redemption after a life spent hiding from himself. He reaches out to those with whom he had sexual contact in the past in search of redemption for his promiscuity and in the hopes of starting a new life (with his HIV-negative wife) predicated on openness and honesty. A powerful testament to the human spirit, this American Black Film Festival Best Documentary winner examines the lengths we will go to start anew.
(USA / 2014 / Director: Alton Glass)
Twenty years after a tragic accident split them apart, four high school friends begin a journey of forgiveness and redemption, with a reunion that reveals secrets kept both in the past and the present that threaten to tear them apart forever. Achieving an unprecedented feat (Actor, Screenplay, Director, Audience AND Best Feature Film awards) at the American Black Film Festival, CRU is a stellar drama focused on four friends divided by their past that desperately need one another to survive their present and make for a better future.
Evolution of a Criminal
(USA / 2014 / Director: Darius Clark Monroe)
In 1997, 16-year-old Darius Monroe and two friends robbed a suburban Houston bank, only to be caught and spend three years in prison. Nearly 15 years later, Darius returns home in an attempt to heal the lasting emotional scars that his decision wrought and seek forgiveness from those whose lives he irrevocably altered. Through a blend of candid interviews and unflinching reenactments of that fateful day, Monroe has made a powerful and brave piece of filmmaking (winner of the Grand Jury award from Full Frame Documentary Film Festival) that seeks to explain how an honors student could make such a choice and the process of making amends with the victims of that unforgettable day.
(USA / 2014 / Director: Stanley Nelson)
A portrait of a tipping point in our country’s history from MFF alum Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders, 2010), Freedom Summer places us in the middle of 1964 Mississippi, the most segregated state in the Union at that point in time, and provides a penetrating glimpse into the social unrest and far-reaching effects of that fateful summer. Rare archival footage and interviews with participants on both sides of the conflict bring to life the influx of over 700 student activists into Mississippi working tirelessly to register African-American voters and form Freedom Schools and Freedom Houses to teach and aid the community while helping to spark the flame that ignited the national rise of the civil rights movement.
(USA / 1987 / Director: Robert Townsend)
Robert Townsend inspired an entire generation of filmmakers with this classic Hollywood satire (co-written by and co-starring Keenan Ivory Wayans), a semi-autobiographical portrait of a young black actor attempting to break through in an industry that only seeks to cast him as a criminal, slave, or gangster. Townsend’s DIY independent filmmaking exposes the lack of substantive roles for African Americans in the film industry (a problem still plaguing us today) through a series of hilarious sketches where he fantasizes himself as the lead in a number of different genres while facing the grim reality of hustling for a role in the decidedly nonprogressive Jivetime Jimmy’s Revenge.
Things Never Said
(USA / 2013 / Director: Charles Murray)
Spoken-word poet Kal longs to have her voice heard, with aspirations to perform on the biggest stage for spoken-word poetry in New York City. Haunted by a past miscarriage and troubled by an abusive and controlling marriage, she seeks an outlet for the words that need to pour out of her. She finally finds such a source for her creativity in fellow troubled poet Curtis. A tentative relationship is struck with the specter of her jealous husband hanging over the proceedings in this moving romantic drama filled with electric spoken-word poetry and powerfully relatable performances.
Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People
(USA / 2014 / Director: Thomas Allen Harris)
Since its invention more than 175 years ago, photography has played an important role in documenting and shaping the African-American experience. It’s been used as both an instrument of oppression and a tool for social change, all the while defining and shaping images of “black” or “blackness” in American popular culture. Thomas Allen Harris’ film exposes hidden histories in these photographs, with contributions from Carrie Mae Weems, Anthony Barboza, and many others, showing the medium’s prevalence in chronicling a history from slavery all the way to the White House.
‘Til Infinity: Celebrating 20 Years of the Souls of Mischief
(USA / 2014 / Director: Shomari Smith)
Twenty years after its release, Souls of Mischief’s 93 ’til Infinity remains a critically acclaimed release in the annals of rap music, a game-changer whose reverberations can still be felt in the music industry to this day. A veritable who’s who of the hip-hop world (Mos Def, Del, and Questlove, to name but a few) is on hand to testify to the lasting power of Souls of Mischief’s work (including their legendary demo tape), along with an in-depth examination into the creative process and personal stories of these members of the Hieroglyphics crew, highlighting their business model that proved far ahead of its time (eschewing record label support to instead forge their own path).