Realizing his initial idea for a film on mass incarceration was too large to tackle, documentary director Keith McQuirter narrowed his focus to where incarceration rates were the worst. That’s how he found the area of Milwaukee’s North Side that constitutes the 53206 ZIP code.
At an astonishing 62 percent, that ZIP code leads the nation with the highest rate of African-American men who are either in jail or prison or have spent time incarcerated. So after spending months following residents and interviewing service providers and city officials, McQuirter released Milwaukee 53206, a character-driven narrative that follows three families as they navigate life and the effects of prison time. Milwaukeeans will get a chance to see the film as part of this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival.
The film focuses on a mother, Beverly Walker, whose husband has been in prison for 20 years. She tries to hold onto hope that her children’s father will be granted parole. A recently released father, Chad Wilson, faces roadblocks because of his criminal record; and Dennis Walton works with incarcerated men to keep other young men from following that path. They all share a desire to improve their situations.
“They’re not helpless people. They’re not hopeless people. Each of them is doing something to make change,” says McQuirter, who has worked in TV, film and commercials for more than 15 years, including as co-producer of the award-winning docu-series, “Brick City.” His production company, Decoder Media, is based in New York City.
With 53206, McQuirter’s goal is to push back on the “stigma attached to the ZIP code that it’s a lost cause.” And the issue of incarceration is one, says MFF’s Jonathan Jackson, that many would rather ignore. “If you want a better future for Milwaukee,” Jackson says, “I think engaging with this movie and this community is vital for us to prosper.”