Updated Sept. 21, 3:53 p.m.
Milwaukee Film Festival last month announced the lineup of one of my favorite programs – Black Lens. Now in its 3rd year, the Black Lens Program highlights films that are made by emerging and established Africa-American filmmakers. The eight films in this year’s series are comprised of short and feature-length fiction and documentary films.
In 2015, Black Lens film screenings attracted a total audience of 3,288 (a 96% increase over 2014), with an estimated 28% of attendees being African-American.
This past April, Milwaukee Film received a $10,000 FilmWatch grant in support of its Black Lens Program from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences. For the first time, Milwaukee Film will give out a jury prize for the Black Lens Program. $5000 cash award will be presented to the director of the best short or feature film within the program.
Milwaukee Film also announced Black Lens Council, which is designed to generate support for Black Lens and Milwaukee Film. The Black Lens Council provides its members with ongoing access to films by African-Americans and creates a link between the Milwaukee community and the Black Lens Program. You can learn more here.
Check out the eight films that are part of the Black Lens Program below, and click the audio player to hear Nate Imig’s interview with Black Lens Co-Programmer Donte McFadden.
(USA / 2016 / Director: Matthew A. Cherry)
It’s New Year’s Eve and an unnamed Uber driver (a remarkable performance from Dorian Missick) is checking in for the busiest day of the year. Over the course of the evening and his numerous fares, he’ll witness couples falling in and out of love, belligerent police officers, and solo passengers; all of these brief interactions underlying his own growing anxiety in the face of recent life-changing news. Shot entirely on an iPhone 6s (the first movie ever to do so!), Matthew Cherry’s intimate and gripping drama combines naturalistic performance with unobtrusive camerawork to tell a very modern story of life and love.
Black Lens Shorts Program
An eclectic array of shorts that represent African-American cinema in all of its glory: stories range from a documentary about the intersection of hip-hop and social justice to boy-meets-girl romantic comedies to striking suspense thrillers. An abundance of talented voices tell stories of love, self-discovery, inclusion, and justice, giving voice to an experience often neglected by our movie screens.
#Bars4Justice (USA / 2015 / Directors: Queen Muhammad Ali, Hakeem Khaaliq)
The Big Chop (USA / 2016 / Director: Derek Dow II)
Black Movie Night (USA / 2016 / Director: Sterling Milan)
Didn’t I Ask for Tea? (USA / 2015 / Directors: Rahwa Asmerom, Essence Ward)
Flowers (USA / 2016 / Directors: Nikyatu Jusu, Yvonne Shirley)
Tap Shoes & Violins (USA / 2015 / Director: Dax Brooks)
Can You Dig This
(USA / 2015 / Director: Delila Vallot)
In South Los Angeles, one of the biggest food deserts in the country, the last thing you would expect to find is a beautiful garden sprouting up through the concrete urban landscape. This inspiring documentary follows the journey of four gardeners who are part of an urban gardening revolution taking root. Each of the film’s subjects put their hands in the soil to transform their neighborhoods and change their own lives in the process.
How to Tell You’re a Douchebag
(USA / 2016 / Director: Tahir Jetter)
A fresh, sexy romantic comedy that cuts to the heart of dating in the age of social media, How to Tell You’re a Douchebag manages to be humorous and contemporary without breaking a sweat. Ray is a 20-something struggling writer in Brooklyn, venting frustrations about his stagnant career and love life via his blog “Occasionally Dating Black Women.” A public tirade puts him in the crosshairs of the fiercely intelligent Rochelle, an up-and-coming writer with zero tolerance for Ray’s casual misogyny. Ray attempts to apologize, beginning a journey towards humility and unexpected romance in a comedy that upends all expectations.
(USA / 2016 / Director: Steven Caple Jr.)
Executive Producer Nas presents this vivid inner-city saga set amidst Cleveland’s skateboarding culture. During the day, Cisco and his group of friends videotape their daring skate stunts in the hopes of one day going pro. At night, they use them to pull off kinetic carjackings. But when they get mixed up in a drug deal and cross a ruthless queen-pin, they put their friendship–and lives–on the line. The film features an impressive cast that includes Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire), Erykah Badu, and Machine Gun Kelly. Set to a solid hip-hop soundtrack, The Land’s engaging narrative and powerful performances match the music that sustains its energy and poetry.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise
(USA / 2016 / Directors: Bob Hercules, Rita Coburn Whack)
A genuine American icon receives the moving and personal portrait she so richly deserves in Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise. The film focuses on Angelou’s prolific accomplishments and allows her to tell her life story in her own words. Co-directed by MFF2011 alum Bob Hercules (A Good Man), this documentary spotlights her career, relationships, causes, and the obstacles she overcame in her ascension towards luminary status.
Somewhere in the Middle
(USA / 2015 / Director: Lanre Olabisi)
A fractured marriage splinters off into intertwining affairs in this sexy, sophisticated romantic drama. There are certainly less than six degrees of separation between our four principals: Kofi and Billie find their marriage crumbling around them, and while Kofi finds solace in Sofiya, a fragile young woman who sees him as her potential salvation, Billie pursues a relationship with her female co-worker, Alex. Secrets and lies surface as lovers change hearts, and layer after layer of a love quadrangle slowly peels away. Moments that seemed true are revisited, turning them upside down and revealing that when stories intersect, the truth lies Somewhere in the Middle.
Two Trains Runnin’
(USA / 2016 / Director: Sam Pollard)
In the summer of 1964, hundreds of college students flooded into Mississippi to join the fight for civil rights (as seen in Freedom Summer, a selection from the inaugural year of the Black Lens Program, MFF2014). At the same time, there were two groups of musicians and record collectors that also made their way to the South, seeking to discover the whereabouts of blues musicians Son House and Skip James and convince them to come out of retirement. Containing strong performances of classic blues standards by contemporary musicians such as Gary Clark Jr. and Lucinda Williams, Two Trains Runnin’ tracks the convergence of our political and cultural institutions during one fateful summer that changed the course of both music and American history.
Festival passes and ticket 6-Packs for the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival are now on sale. For a complete list of prices, as well as a breakdown of the discount deadlines, visit mkefilm.org/tickets.