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Milwaukee Film Festival announces return of African-American focused film series 'Black Lens'

Last year, the Milwaukee Film Festival debuted a new film series "Black Lens," with a focus on emerging and established African-American filmmakers. 

The series has returned for the second year, featuring eight fictional and documentary films. They include films about the the first African-American female soloist at New York's American Ballet Theatre, the Black Panthers, and more.

Stanley Nelson, director of "Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution" will be Milwaukee Film Festival's special guest and will receive a Tribute Award prior to his film's screening.

Here are the films:

A Ballerina’s Tale (USA / 2015 / Director: Nelson George)

A Ballerina's Tale Trailer from Urban Romances on Vimeo.

Misty Copeland, the first African-American female soloist at New York's American Ballet Theatre, would be the first to tell you that, based on body type, pedigree and background, she shouldn't be a part of one of the world's most prestigious ballet companies. But her inspirational story of dogged determination (overcoming a debilitating shin injury, eating disorders and racial issues), filmed here in a raw, cinéma vérité documentary, will leave no doubt as to how this trailblazer shot her way up the ranks and overcame all obstacles to turn in breathtaking performances in Firebird and Swan Lake.

Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (USA / 2015 / Director: Stanley Nelson Jr.)

Into today’s era still struggling with police brutality, racial discrimination and extreme poverty comes master documentarian Stanley Nelson's stirring portrait of the Black Panther Party. Following the party from its inception in the early ’60s to its bitter dissolution a decade later, MFF alumnus Nelson captures the essential history of the movement, elegantly mixing archival footage alongside interviews with FBI informants, journalists, supporters, detractors and lower-level members of the party. This is a profoundly resonant portrait of a period of time when impatience bred revolution and a vibrant group rose up to bring civil rights issues to the forefront.

Cincinnati Goddamn (USA / 2014 / Director: Paul Hill and April Martin)

Cincinnati Goddamn Trailer 2 from Paul Hill on Vimeo.

It's a story that has become all too familiar — young, unarmed black men killed by law enforcement agents who have sworn to protect them, followed by protests-turned-riots sparked by the men’s untimely demise. But before Michael Brown and Ferguson, there was Timothy Thomas, Roger Owensby and Cincinnati. A powerful examination of a moment preceding the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the documentary Cincinnati Goddamn presents a chilling and revealing look into what one academic calls "urban genocide" — a volatile cocktail of systemic racism, widespread poverty and unchecked police brutality — and the grassroots activism that took to the streets to challenge it. 

A Girl Like Grace (USA / 2015 / Director: Ty Hodges)

Seventeen-year-old Haitian-American Grace (newcomer Ryan Destiny, in a spirited breakout performance) finds her dysfunctional existence thrown further into upheaval following the suicide of her best friend, Andrea. Grace is already a social pariah tormented by a clique of bullies (led by Raven-Symoné), and her desire to understand her friend's decision leads to Andrea's older sister Share (Meagan Good), who encourages Grace to embrace her sexuality, leading her down a rocky road of discovery. This sensitive coming-of-age story anchored by a stunning lead performance captures the social hardship inherent in a young woman coming to terms with herself.

Imperial Dreams (USA / 2014 / Director: Malik Vitthal)

A redemption tale anchored by an amazing lead performance from John Boyega (star of the upcoming *Star Wars* film), *Imperial Dreams* is a family drama with an astonishingly realized father/son relationship at its core. Bambi (Boyega) is coming home to Watts; recently released from prison, he has designs on earning a living as a writer (having been published while incarcerated) to provide for his young son Day. But he quickly realizes the deck is stacked against him and it's going to take everything he has to achieve his dreams in this stunning, multiple award-winning drama.

In A Perfect World (USA / 2015 / Director: Daphne McWilliams)

Documentarian Daphne McWilliams was looking to craft a film about young men raised by single mothers, so she turned to the strongest source she knows — her son. This courageous examination into modern family life, with McWilliams grounding her sociological study through extraordinarily intimate interviews with her son, Chase, as well as other men raised without a father figure, is revelatory. A story of boys becoming men despite the absence of a male presence and the utterly unique relationships they forge with their mothers, In a Perfect World is stirring, relevant filmmaking.

Last Night (USA / 2015 / Director: Harold Jackson III)

A whirlwind romantic encounter perfect for fans of the Before Sunrise trilogy, Last Night pairs its mismatched strangers on a night of soul-baring disclosures and verbal sparring on the streets of Washington, D.C. Gorgeous fashion model Sky is escorted on an unexpected evening-long adventure with impulsive businessman Jon — the only catch being that this is Sky's final night in D.C. before moving to North Carolina to live with her boyfriend. The film is a warmly shot, exquisitely performed look at romantic longing between two people who realize they may only ever have this extended moment between one another.

Little White Lie (USA / 2014 / Directors: Lacey Schwartz and James Adolphus)

A documentary released at a perfect point in our culture when knotty intersections of race and identity are making headlines, Little White Lie tells one woman's remarkably intimate story of a life spent between two worlds. Raised white with her dark skin color and curly hair explained away as an inheritance from her Sicilian grandfather, the director Lacey Schwartz can't fight the nagging feeling that her upper-middle-class Jewish upbringing is hiding something, only to find she was the product of her mother's affair with a black man. After her biological father's passing, she cannot hold back this family secret any longer.

The 2015 Milwaukee Film Festival runs September 24 – October 8, 2015 at the Landmark Oriental Theatre, Landmark Downer Theatre, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, Times Cinema, and Avalon Theater. Passes and ticket 6-Packs for the 2015 Milwaukee Film Festival are currently available at discounted rates exclusively online at

Director of Digital | Radio Milwaukee