The full lineup for the 2023 Milwaukee Film Festival has arrived
One hundred and thirty-five feature films. One hundred and forty-four short films spread across 19 collections. Yes, the lineup for this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival is huge. But, as usual, it’s also big on variety that should connect with every type of moviegoer.
The festival gave us the trailer before the main feature yesterday by sharing the opening-night, centerpiece and closing-night films, all documentaries. The world premiere of the Wisconsin-set Mom & Dad’s Nipple Factory will get things going April 20, Little Richard: I Am Everything gets the middle slot April 29, and A Disturbance in the Force — about the trainwreck that is the “Star Wars Holiday Special” — will wrap things up on, of course, May the Fourth (be with you).
“Our Spotlight Presentations are those films where the screening is a can’t-be-missed event,” Milwaukee Film artistic director Cara Ogburn said in a release. “Whether it’s a film with live accompaniment or a gala premiere with filmmakers in attendance, any one of this set of films is a great starting point for crowd-pleasing festival experiences that exemplify why film festivals are more than just movies.
“If you’ve never been to the Milwaukee Film Festival, these special nights are the place to start.”
As for the 132 other features and 144 shorts, our website would buckle under the weight of a full rundown of titles, descriptions, trailers and other info you need to build your viewing schedule for 2023. You can head over to Milwaukee Film’s website for the complete lineup, but we got you started below with a few selections that jumped out at us as music-driven or at least music-adjacent, plus a few others thrown in for good measure.
Cinebuds LIVE: Enter the Dragon
Oriental Theatre: May 1 at 7:30 p.m.
You’ll notice the rest of this list is in alphabetical order, but of course we start with this team-up between Milwaukee Film and Radio Milwaukee. Cinebuds hosts Dori Zori and Kristopher Pollard will present a special 50th anniversary screening of the seminal film starring Bruce Lee as a martial-arts expert determined to help capture the narcotics dealer whose gang was responsible for the death of his sister. Stick around after for a live podcast recording and audience Q&A to celebrate this stone-cold action classic, and watch the Cinebuds podcast feed for our two festival preview episodes April 19 and 26.
Oriental Theatre: April 28 at noon, April 29 at 1:30 p.m.
An immersive documentary and profound sensory experience that explores the elemental phenomenon of sound. Full to bursting with humor, emotion and curiosity, this film is a uniquely mind-expanding plunge into a dimension of the human experience many of us take for granted. This meditation on the power of sound to bend time, cross borders, and profoundly shape our perception will have you hearing the world in a different light.
Oriental Theatre: April 24 at 12:30 p.m., April 26 at 6 p.m.
Icelandic performance art meets This Is Spinal Tap in this wickedly fun look at women behaving creatively. Each on the brink of 40, the three women of The Post Performance Blues Band give themselves one year to become pop stars or quit the band for good. What follows is a make-it-or-break-it story of triumphant sisterhood.
Bonnie Blue: James Cotton's Life in the Blues
Oriental Theatre: April 25 at 5:45 p.m., May 3 at 3:45 p.m.
Credited with introducing the blues to rock audiences, Grammy-winning singer, harmonica player, and songwriter James Cotton gets a fitting tribute in this vibrant documentary portrait. Cotton's musical influence shaped the Chicago Blues style into what it is today. His story is one of empowerment during a time when the weight of racial inequity made the journey seem impossible. Cotton's music made history. His musical voice was unique, and the blues were never the same since.
Call Me Dancer
Oriental Theatre: April 29 at 4:15 p.m., May 2 at 3 p.m.
Manish is a young and talented street dancer who struggles against his parents' insistence that he follow a traditional path. When he accidentally walks into an inner-city dance school and encounters a curmudgeonly 70-year-old Israeli ballet master, a hunger develops within. Ambitious and passionate, Manish is determined to make it as a professional dancer, but the odds are stacked against him — a true-life fairytale from the streets of Mumbai to the stages of New York.
Oriental Theatre: April 27 at 5 p.m., April 30 at 9:15 p.m.
A familiar face in Cream City Cinema, Martin Kaszubowski returns with his solo feature debut, the story of a struggling theater owner as he tries to resurrect his business with increasingly outlandish play productions. A meditation on creative careers and the potential for passion fizzling out, this fictional film will hit close to home and provide glimmers of hope for arts patrons and workers alike.
Avalon Theater: April 30 at 12:15 p.m.
Giuseppe Tornatore's epic tribute to the vast career of Ennio Morricone, the composer of earworm western film scores from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to The Hateful Eight. This documentary is a can't-miss for cinephiles and music buffs alike, delving into the creative process of a master across five decades with insightful interviews from Quentin Tarantino, Dario Argento, John Williams, Clint Eastwood, and the maestro himself.
Finding Her Beat
Oriental Theater: April 29 at 5:45 p.m.
Times Cinema: May 1 at 1 p.m.
A master of Japanese drumming and a Korean adoptee from Minnesota boldly convene an all-female troupe to perform Taiko, the Japanese drumming art that has been off-limits to women for centuries. This energizing and uplifting story follows a dynamic group of performers working to bridge the cultural divide while fighting through creative differences, exhaustion, and the early menace of COVID-19.
Give Me Pity!
Times Cinema: April 22 at 10 p.m.
Avalon Theater: April 25 at 9 p.m.
Sissy St. Claire graces the small screen for her first-ever television special, an evening full of music, laughter, glamour, and entertainment! But Sissy's live event quickly begins to curdle into a psychedelic nightmare of vanity, insecurity and delusional ambition, provoked by the glowering presence of a mysterious masked man. "Give Me Pity! is a singular vision that could resonate with audiences with a taste for lurid cinematic mischief-making." (Screen International)
Hung Up on a Dream
Avalon Theater: May 2 at 6:30 p.m.
Nearly 60 years after they met as teenagers before exploding onto the British Invasion music scene, The Zombies tell the tumultuous tale of their decades-long journey through the music industry, including creating one of the most influential albums ever, Odessey and Oracle. The band reflects on their turbulent yet inspiring journey from true friendship to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
It's Only Life After All
Avalon Theater: April 24 at 3:15 p.m.
Oriental Theatre: May 2 at 6:30 p.m.
From Sundance award-winning director Alexandria Bombach (On Her Shoulders, MFF2018) comes an intimate look into one of America's most iconic folk-rock bands: the Indigo Girls. Across decades of political turmoil, the Indigo Girls consistently stood for Indigenous rights, racial justice, LGBTQ dignity, and climate change. By celebrating the legacy of a duo who never quite got their flowers, It’s Only Life After All lifts up the powerful charisma of their integrity, vulnerability, and harmony.
Oriental Theatre: April 22 at 10 p.m., April 26 at 8:30 p.m.
Following a long spell of unemployment, a timid Haider lands a job at a Bollywood-style burlesque. Telling his family he is a "theater manager," Haider is coming into his own as a backup dancer — costume and all! As he acclimates to the job, Haider becomes infatuated with Biba, an unflappable trans woman who runs the show. This unforeseen partnership opens his eyes and worldview in unexpected and intimate ways.
Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection
Oriental Theatre: April 22 at 7 p.m., April 28 at 12:30 p.m.
As the #1 American music act of the 1970s, the Carpenters were on "Top of the World," producing a string of pop masterpieces. Behind closed doors, Karen Carpenter's quest for perfection resulted in low self-esteem and a public battle with anorexia nervosa, leading to her untimely death at 32. For the first time, hear Karen's struggles in her own voice through never-before-released recordings and through the voices of those who knew her.
Avalon Theater: April 21 at 8:30 p.m.
Oriental Theatre: April 24 at 4 p.m.
Adri, a preteen in 1970s Rome, moves into an apartment with his family in a time of significant socio-cultural change. While his parents (Vincenzo Amato and screen icon Penélope Cruz) struggle in an unhappy marriage, Adri and his siblings look for a sign — a voice from above or a song on TV, maybe — to guide them. Featuring luscious costumes, captivating performances, and a musical number for the ages, L'immensità is an irresistible springtime story
Little Richard: I Am Everything
Oriental Theatre: April 29 at 6:15 p.m.
Avalon Theater: May 4 at 1:30 p.m.
A documentary that explodes the whitewashed American rock n' roll canon, revealing the Black queer originator at its center: Richard Penniman. This trove of archival and performance footage, interviews of family, peers, and trailblazing Black and queer scholars reveals how Richard created an art form as an ultimate act of self-expression. MFF alum Lisa Cortés guides us through the rollicking career of a man careening between God, sex, and rock n' roll.
Madonna: Truth or Dare
Oriental Theatre: April 29 at 9:15 p.m.
We're down on our knees and want to take you to the dance party of MFF2023! This documentary chronicles Madonna's controversial 1990 "Blonde Ambition" tour and reveals her as she is, on stage and off — a businesswoman, singer, dancer, and the biggest star in the music world. Experience Madonna through her relationship with her dancers, crew, then-boyfriend Warren Beatty, friends, and family in this intimate glimpse into the boundary-pushing singer's drive and individuality.
Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes
Times Cinema: April 26 at 4 p.m., April 29 at 3:45 p.m.
Max Roach's stunningly diverse seven-decade career marked him as one of the great musical artists of the 20th century. From the revolutionary jazz of the 1940s to the civil rights years, through experiments in hip-hop and beyond, he was a pioneering cultural activist in a nation steeped in racism. This film follows Roach across a rich and complicated life, years of now-legendary achievement, deep personal struggle, and the price he paid for his outspoken views.
Metropolis feat. Anvil Orchestra
Oriental Theatre: April 27 at 7:30 p.m.
The Anvil Orchestra (a reformation of the Alloy Orchestra) returns to the Milwaukee Film Festival, providing their inimitable brand of musical accompaniment to Fritz Lang's 1927 sci-fi opus. A stunning tale of working-class rebellion, mad scientists, and sexy lady robots, Metropolis is the urtext of sci-fi cinema. And the experience of a classic silent film coupled with live music in the Oriental Theatre (also born in 1927) is an incomparable experience!
Oriental Theatre: April 21 at 6 p.m., May 3 at 1:30 p.m.
Every five years, young pianists converge in Warsaw to participate in the legendary Chopin Piano Competition. The competition is a roller coaster of a classical ride, with extremely tough qualifying rules, multiple stages, legendary jurors, and a whole lot of pressure. A unique chance of a lifetime, portrayed from backstage and set to Frédéric Chopin's genius music.
The Elephant 6 Recording Co.
Avalon Theater: April 21 at 3:30 p.m.
Times Cinema: April 27 at 6:30 p.m.
The unique inside story of the innovative evolution behind the sounds of the 1990s from psychedelic rock bands Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, and The Apples in Stereo, all founding groups behind the Elephant 6 Collective. Featuring interviews with pioneers Robert Schneider and Jeff Mangum, performances, and video clips, this brisk-paced rock doc charts the genesis of that uber-creative, DIY music scene and captures its electricity and joy.
The Tuba Thieves
Oriental Theatre: April 23 at 4 p.m., April 25 at 1:30 p.m.
From 2011-2013, dozens of tubas were stolen from Southern California high schools. But The Tuba Thieves is not about thieves or missing tubas. Instead, it asks what it means to listen. d/Deaf director Alison O'Daniel explores sound in this work of creative nonfiction, blending documentary and fictionalized performances with Los Angeles' land, soundscapes and the space of the screen to reorient audiences in an unfamiliar and exhilarating way.
Ultra Secret Midnight Screening
Oriental Theatre: April 22 at midnight
This is no joke, people! We've got one of the most exciting screenings of MFF coming your way, but we're legally prohibited from telling you anything about it! Not to be confused with our Super Secret Members-Only Screening, this ULTRA SECRET [REDACTED] [REDACTED] is filled with [REDACTED], [REDACTED] [REDACTED], and the most [REDACTED] you'll experience in 2023!