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What we’ll be watching at the 2023 Milwaukee Film Festival

People sit in a crowded, ornately decorated movie theater looking at an illuminated screen.
Milwaukee Film

This is the best time of the year for local cinephiles and anyone looking to watch a movie that won’t be shown on streaming services. The Milwaukee Film Festival is back, running from April 20 through May 4, and I’m excited to team up with HYFIN production manager Kim Shine once again after previously covering Black Lens and The Cultures and Community Festival.

We’ll be in the Uniquely Milwaukee feed soon to talk about what we saw at this year’s festival, but we wanted to do things a bit different this time and include you in the experience. That’s why we’re sharing our must-see lists right now so you can watch alongside us.

Salam’s picks

32 Sounds
Friday, April 28 | Noon | Oriental Theatre: Lubar Cinema
Saturday, April 29 | 1:30 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Lubar Cinema

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.

Tuesday, April 25 | 3:15 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Lubar Cinema
Thursday, May 4 | 6:30 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Lubar Cinema

A middle-aged, Korean-drama-obsessed widow from Singapore travels out of the country for the first time to Seoul and gets separated from her tour group. Her comedic misadventure becomes an unexpected road of self-discovery as she comes to terms with the life she truly wants for herself beyond her roles of daughter, wife, and mother. Ajoomma is sure to leave your heart warmed and your spirit empowered.

Finding Satoshi
Wednesday, April 26 | 9:30 p.m. | Avalon Theater
Tuesday, May 2 | 4:30 p.m. | Avalon Theater

With only a photograph and a name, a group of passionate armchair sleuths tried unsuccessfully for years to answer the question, “Who is this man?” Narrated by Willem Dafoe, this exuberant documentary that finally solves the 14-year mystery of an alternate-reality game that brought together players from around the globe in unlikely ways to find this mystery man.

I Like Movies
Friday, April 21 | 6:30 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Abele Cinema
Tuesday, May 2 | 9:30 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Lubar Cinema

Burlington, Ontario, 2003. Hyper-ambitious teenage cinephile Lawrence Kweller dreams of attending film school at NYU. To raise the hefty tuition fee, he gets his dream job at the local video store, Sequels. “Imagine if Superbad were directed by a woman who didn’t allow the toxic masculinity and misogyny to go unchecked while giving her genuinely funny and moving characters the room for growth and empathy. I Like Movies does that.”

Saturday, April 22 | 10 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Herzfeld Cinema
Wednesday, Apr 26 | 8:30 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Herzfeld Cinema

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.

Love & Irony 
Tuesday, April 25 | 4 p.m. | Times Cinema
Wednesday, May 3 | 9 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Herzfeld Cinema

The search for an authentic life leads an existential bike mechanic to discover the universal truths and transformative powers of love. With stunning black and white cinematography and cameos from all your favorite Milwaukee businesses, Love & Irony is a romantic comedy that is just as much a love letter to the Cream City itself.

Riceboy Sleeps
Thursday, April 27 | 6:30 p.m. | Avalon Theater
Wednesday, May 3 | 1 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Abele Cinema

Set in the 1990s and shot on 16mm film, Riceboy Sleeps is a raw and radiant mini-epic about a Korean mother and her teenage son living in suburban Canada. Both emblematic and unique to themselves, their story reflects the sacrifices and challenges immigrants face while creating new homes yet maintaining complicated ties to their ancestral ones. With a stunning score and sublime lighting, this is a deeply moving journey across lives and continents.

Róise & Frank
Saturday, April 22 | 12:15 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Abele Cinema
Monday, April 24 | 1 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Herzfeld Cinema

Róise & Frank follows grief-stricken widow Róise who becomes convinced that a stray dog is her husband Frank reincarnated. As Róise begins to open herself up to the outside world and regain her lost happiness, she allows her canine companion to coach the local children’s Hurling team. Winner of the Audience Awards at the Santa Barbara and Sedona International Film Festivals, Róise & Frank is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

The Blue Caftan
Friday, April 21 | 3:30 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Lubar Cinema
Tuesday, April 25 | 1 p.m. | Times Cinema

In this luscious romantic drama, Halim and Mina run a traditional caftan store in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas. They hire Youssef to keep up with the demands of their commanding customers. After catching longing glances, Mina realizes how much the young man’s presence moves her husband. A tender tribute to love and all of its complications, The Blue Caftan is one of the year’s most decadent dramas.

Therapy Dogs
Friday, April 28 | 7 p.m. | Avalon Theater
Sunday, April 30 | 1:15 p.m. | Times Cinema

Ethan and his best friend Justin are having an existential moment as they enter the final phase of high school, on the precipice of adulthood and the great unknown. In search of meaning, they embark on making the ultimate senior video. Lauded as “bracing, exhilarating” by The New York Times, Therapy Dogs is a youthful, insightful, exuberant display of the last blinding flashes of youth.

Kim’s picks

I'm super excited for this year's festival. There are some heartfelt & truly intriguing films straight from Wisconsin and from Black Lens. Plus, you can't forget about the oldies. I've been wanting to see Madonna: Truth or Dare since I was a kid.

Mom & Dad's Nipple Factory
Thursday, April 20 | 6:30 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Abele Cinema
Friday, April 21 | 12:30 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Lubar Cinema

After his wife Randi survives breast cancer and a mastectomy, Brian Johnson, a serial entrepreneur and tinkerer, embarks on an extraordinary journey to help her feel complete. From a bedroom in Eau Claire, WI, director Justin “Justinsuperstar” Johnson’s parents pursue the perfect prosthetic nipple, transforming what began as an intimate labor of love into a “factory” with the power to change thousands of survivors’ lives in this fascinating tale of resilience, dignity, and family.

Black Barbie: A Documentary
Sunday, April 23 | 5:45 p.m. | Avalon Theater
Monday, May 1 | 4 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Herzfeld Cinema

Love her or hate her, almost everyone has a Barbie story, especially Black women and girls. Black Barbie explores the story behind the first Black Barbie doll because she has a story too. Through intimate access to a charismatic Mattel insider, Beulah Mae Mitchell, Black Barbie delves into the cross-section of merchandise and representation as Black women struggle to elevate their voices and stories, refusing to be invisible.

Rise and Rebuild
Saturday, April 29 | 12:15 p.m. | Avalon Theater
Wednesday, May 3 | 3:45 p.m. | Times Cinema

Three distinct neighborhoods — Wilmington’s Brooklyn, Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn, and Chicago’s Bronzeville — have all met the same demise: the utter destruction of Black wealth. Massacres, race riots, and government policies sabotaged these once-prosperous communities of Black families and professionals. Directed by Emmy Award-winning Asako Gladsjo and Academy Award Nominee Sam Pollard, Rise and Rebuild: A Tale of Three Cities confronts the historical destruction of Black wealth in communities and devises strategies for building a more equitable future.

The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster
Friday, April 21 | 10 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Lubar Cinema
Sunday, Apr 23 | 8 p.m. | Times Cinema

The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster follows anti-hero Vicaria, a brilliant teenager who believes death is a disease that can be cured. After the brutal murder of her brother, she embarks on a dangerous journey to bring him back to life. Inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the film’s writer and director, Bomani J. Story, crafts a thrilling tale about a family that will survive and is reborn again despite the terrors of systemic pressure.

Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection
Saturday, April 22 | 7 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Herzfeld Cinema
Friday, April 28 | 12:30 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Herzfeld Cinema

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.

Madonna: Truth or Dare
Saturday, April 29 | 9:15 PM | Oriental Theatre: Abele Cinema

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.

Kokomo City
Sunday, April 30 | 7 p.m. | Oriental Theatre: Herzfeld Cinema
Monday, May 1 | 9:15 p.m. | Times Cinema

Shot in striking black and white, four Black transgender sex workers present the earthquaking stories of their lives. Sharing reflections on knotty desire, far-reaching taboo, identification in labor, and gender’s many meanings, Kokomo City offers an unapologetic and cutting analysis of Black culture and society from a vantage point vibrating with energy, sex, challenge, and hard-earned wisdom.

Black Lens Shorts: Black Remembrance
Tuesday, April 25 | 7 p.m. | Times Cinema

A collection of short films that explores, interrogates and engages how cinema can be used as an active archival tool to process grief and loss. Join us as we discover what honor could look like on the silver screen.

Homegrown: Future Visions (specifically for MKE-based film: Black Strings by Marquise Mays)
Saturday, April 22 | 6:30 PM | Oriental Theatre: Abele Cinema

A collection of short documentaries produced by Firelight Media in partnership with PBS and the Center for Asian American Media, highlighting filmmakers of color from the American Midwest and narratives that illuminate the living histories, cultures, and prospective futures of the region.

Audio Storyteller / 88Nine On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee