Milwaukee Film Festival: Five Flicks for Music Fans

From Sharon Jones to The Talking Heads, here are five flicks for music lovers to check out at this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival.

The 8th annual Milwaukee Film Festival gets under way on Thursday, September 22 and runs through October 6th. Here are five films music fans should go see:

  1. The Smart Studios Story

Founded by Butch Vig and Steve Marker in the early 1980s and housed in a decrepit Madison building, Smart Studios spent the early days recording albums roughing it up with underground bands like Killdozer and Die Kreuzen. Vig and Marker would sky-rocket to prominence in 1991, though, after helping make Nirvana’s Nevermind. The record studio went on to shape hardcore and alt-rock music throughout the ‘90s, producing bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Archers of Loaf, L7, Promise Ring and Vig’s own Garbage. Director Wendy Schneider’s documentary captures the importance of Smart Studios through interviews with Vig, Dave Grohl, Billy Corgan, Donita Sparks and many others.

Showtime: Thursday, September 29 at Oriental Theatre, 9:15 p.m.


  1. Miss Sharon Jones

There’s inspiring, and then there’s what Sharon Jones did at the Pabst Theater in 2014. A year since being diagnosed with cancer and just a couple months after the final chemo treatment, the R&B singer delivered a commanding, energetic and undeniably fun performance to the Milwaukee crowd. Her spirits were high and her voice felt more powerful than ever. This new documentary from Barbara Kopple not only deals with Jones struggles through cancer treatment and life thereafter, but the film also details her humble beginnings before deciding to start a career as soul singer at age 40.

Showtimes: Friday, September 23 at Avalon Theater, 1 p.m.

Thursday, September 29 at Oriental Theatre, 6 p.m.

Saturday, October 1 at Avalon Theater, 9:45 p.m.


  1. Stop Making Sense

Considered one of the best concert films of all time, Jonathan Demme’s masterpiece documents The Talking Heads’ inventive and captivating live performance. The movie has become an annual tradition at the film festival, where dancing typically spills into the aisles of the Oriental Theatre.

Showtime: Saturday, October 1 at Oriental Theatre, 10 p.m.


  1. Radio Dreams

Iranian born director Babak Jalali seeks to connect Afghanistan’s first rock band, Kabul Dreams, with heavy-metal legends Metallica in this Farsi dry comedy. It’s an essential film for music fans, but its underlining themes on immigration, cultural assimilation and global acceptance have far-reaching effects.

Showtimes: Friday, September 23 at Avalon Theater, 7 p.m.

Tuesday, September 27 at Times Cinema, 4 p.m.

Thursday, September 29 at Oriental Theatre, 9 p.m.


  1. The Milwaukee Music Video Show

Music videos almost became a throw-away for most local bands—simply another box to check off the list. But over the past couple years the Milwaukee music scene has seen a renaissance in film. These 16 latest selections, which include groups like Trapper Schoepp, WebsterX, Rio Turbo, Group of the Altos, Canopies, Lex Allen and Fox Face, are evidence that the medium is strong as ever.

Showtime: Friday, September 23 at Oriental Theatre, 9:45 p.m.



Kevin is a freelance writer residing in Milwaukee. He’s contributed to The Shepherd Express, Third Coast Daily, Pop Matters and the sadly now-defunct A.V. Club Milwaukee. He looks forward to forging a deeper connection with the city’s impressive music scene during his gig as a Music Notes blogger. His talents include music criticism, riding a bicycle, drinking tasty beers and a crafty croquet swing. His weaknesses comprise Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, professional wrestling and his ever-growing record collection. He’s in desperate need to find more physical (and hard drive) space for the exceptional albums Milwaukee musicians keep churning out.