Milwaukee Film's "Black Lens" series puts black storytellers in the foreground.
Black films and directors matter at the Milwaukee Film Festival.
So much so that the festival’s Black Lens program only plays films by people of color.
“There are a ton of black festivals around the country but a lot of films they show are often not directed by African-Americans,” said Black Lens programer Geraud Blanks.
Blanks said he spends “hours and hours of reading trade papers and blogs” looking for films for the program. “The hardest part is falling in love with a film and finding its not eligible for the series. It happens all the time.”
Festival artistic and executive director Jonathan Jackson said the policy was intended “to foreground the storytellers themselves, which seemed natural for a festival that strives to be filmmaker friendly.”
Jackson created the series, now in its second year, in an effort to engage the larger community. It was born after Jackson saw the success of Milwaukee native George Tillman Jr.s The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete at drawing a black audience to the festival in 2013.
This year’s program, announced Wednesday, includes documentaries about ballerina Misty Copeland, a woman raised white who discovered she was black and the Black Panther movement.
Several of “this year’s films (tie) into the Black Lives Matter movement and what is going on today,” said Blanks, a graduate student in media studies at UW-Milwaukee and a batterer’s intervention specialist Sourjourner Family Peace Center.
The films are:
—Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015, Stanley Nelson Jr.) Documentary follows the activist group from its founding in the 1960s to its dissolution a decade later. Nelson will appear at the festival to receive a Tribute Award and will conduct a master class with local filmmakers.
—Imperial Dreams (2015, Malik Vitthal) A man released from prison who tries to earn a living as a writer and care for his son finds the deck stacked against him. With John Boyega, of the upcoming Star Wars film.
—A Ballerina’s Tale (2015, Nelson George) Documentary about Misty Copeland the first African American female soloist at the American Ballet Theater.
—Cincinnati Goddamn (2014, Paul Hill/April Martin) Documentary look at deaths of black men in Cincinnati at the hands of law enforcement that preceded Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement. “You’re going to see this film and it’s going to feel like its a news report of something going on right now,” said Blanks.
—A Girl Like Grace (2015, Ty Hodges) Coming of age drama about a Haitian-American high school student dealing with the suicide of her best friend, her own sexuality a group of bullies led by Raven-Symone.
—In A Perfect World (2015, Daphne McWilliams) Documentary about how boys without fathers become men, told through the life of director’s son.
—Last Night (2015, Harold Jackson III) About a romantic encounter between two strangers one night in Washington, D.C.
—Little White Lie (2014, Lacey Schwartz/James Adolphus) “It’s about an African American girl who grows up thinking she is white in a white Jewish family,” said Blanks. “It’s a story about racial identity and what it means to be black.”
The Milwaukee Film Festival, presented by the Journal Sentinel, runs from Sept. 24 through Oct. 8. Johnson Controls Foundation is an underwriter of the series, in cooperation with Milwaukee Radio Group station WJMR-FM. Single tickets go on sale Sept. 9 for members, Sept. 10 for the general public.
Find more of Duane Dudek’s coverage of the Milwaukee Film Festival and more at milwaukeemag.com/dudek.