The Black Lens program returns for the second year to the 7th Milwaukee Film Festival, and will features 8 fiction and documentary films from both emerging and established African-American filmmakers
“The level of films we were able to incorporate into the program last year as well as the incredible response we received from the community really solidified Black Lens program as an essential part of the Milwaukee Film Festival,” explains Geraud Blanks, programmer of Black Lens, also a batterer’s intervention specialist for Sojourner Family Peace Center, music promoter, and former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributor.
Celebrated documentary filmmaker, MacArthur Fellow, and National Humanities Medal winner Stanley Nelson Jr. will attend in person and receive a Tribute Award from the film festival prior to a screening of his latest film, Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. Stanley Nelson’s films are very familiar to Milwaukee Film Festival audiences, as the 2014 festival featured Freedom Summer and the 2010 festival featured Freedom Riders. In addition to receiving the Tribute Award and presenting his latest film, Stanley Nelson will also conduct a Masterclass with local filmmakers.
Three of the program’s featured documentaries cover topics that have garnered national attention in the past year. “In fact, the storylines behind A Ballerina’s Tale, Cincinnati Goddamn and Little White Lie are so timely, it gives new meaning to the phrase ‘art imitates life,’” explains Blanks.
A Ballerina’s Tale profiles ballet dancer Misty Copeland who, in June, became the first African-American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater’s 75-year history. Tackling issues of race and identity, Cincinnati Goddamn spotlights several police shootings of black men in Cincinnati over a 6 year period in the 1990s, while Little White Lie tells the story of a young African-American woman who passes for white as a child until a family secret forces her to question her identity.
A Ballerina’s Tale (pictured in main image)
(USA / 2015 / Director: Nelson George)
Misty Copeland, the first African-American female soloist at New York’s American Ballet Theatre, would be the first to tell you that, based on body type, pedigree and background, she shouldn’t be a part of one of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies. But her inspirational story of dogged determination (overcoming a debilitating shin injury, eating disorders and racial issues), filmed here in a raw, cinéma vérité documentary, will leave no doubt as to how this trailblazer shot her way up the ranks and overcame all obstacles to turn in breathtaking performances in Firebird and Swan Lake.
Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
(USA / 2015 / Director: Stanley Nelson Jr.)
Into today’s era still struggling with police brutality, racial discrimination and extreme poverty comes master documentarian Stanley Nelson’s stirring portrait of the Black Panther Party. Following the party from its inception in the early ’60s to its bitter dissolution a decade later, MFF alumnus Nelson captures the essential history of the movement, elegantly mixing archival footage alongside interviews with FBI informants, journalists, supporters, detractors and lower-level members of the party. This is a profoundly resonant portrait of a period of time when impatience bred revolution and a vibrant group rose up to bring civil rights issues to the forefront.
(USA / 2014 / Director: Paul Hill and April Martin)
It’s a story that has become all too familiar — young, unarmed black men killed by law enforcement agents who have sworn to protect them, followed by protests-turned-riots sparked by the men’s untimely demise. But before Michael Brown and Ferguson, there was Timothy Thomas, Roger Owensby and Cincinnati. A powerful examination of a moment preceding the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the documentary Cincinnati Goddamn presents a chilling and revealing look into what one academic calls “urban genocide” — a volatile cocktail of systemic racism, widespread poverty and unchecked police brutality — and the grassroots activism that took to the streets to challenge it.
A Girl Like Grace
(USA / 2015 / Director: Ty Hodges)
Seventeen-year-old Haitian-American Grace (newcomer Ryan Destiny, in a spirited breakout performance) finds her dysfunctional existence thrown further into upheaval following the suicide of her best friend, Andrea. Grace is already a social pariah tormented by a clique of bullies (led by Raven-Symoné), and her desire to understand her friend’s decision leads to Andrea’s older sister Share (Meagan Good), who encourages Grace to embrace her sexuality, leading her down a rocky road of discovery. This sensitive coming-of-age story anchored by a stunning lead performance captures the social hardship inherent in a young woman coming to terms with herself.
(USA / 2014 / Director: Malik Vitthal)
A redemption tale anchored by an amazing lead performance from John Boyega (star of the upcoming *Star Wars* film), *Imperial Dreams* is a family drama with an astonishingly realized father/son relationship at its core. Bambi (Boyega) is coming home to Watts; recently released from prison, he has designs on earning a living as a writer (having been published while incarcerated) to provide for his young son Day. But he quickly realizes the deck is stacked against him and it’s going to take everything he has to achieve his dreams in this stunning, multiple award-winning drama.
In A Perfect World
(USA / 2015 / Director: Daphne McWilliams)
Documentarian Daphne McWilliams was looking to craft a film about young men raised by single mothers, so she turned to the strongest source she knows — her son. This courageous examination into modern family life, with McWilliams grounding her sociological study through extraordinarily intimate interviews with her son, Chase, as well as other men raised without a father figure, is revelatory. A story of boys becoming men despite the absence of a male presence and the utterly unique relationships they forge with their mothers, In a Perfect World is stirring, relevant filmmaking.
(USA / 2015 / Director: Harold Jackson III)
A whirlwind romantic encounter perfect for fans of the Before Sunrise trilogy, Last Night pairs its mismatched strangers on a night of soul-baring disclosures and verbal sparring on the streets of Washington, D.C. Gorgeous fashion model Sky is escorted on an unexpected evening-long adventure with impulsive businessman Jon — the only catch being that this is Sky’s final night in D.C. before moving to North Carolina to live with her boyfriend. The film is a warmly shot, exquisitely performed look at romantic longing between two people who realize they may only ever have this extended moment between one another.
Little White Lie
(USA / 2014 / Directors: Lacey Schwartz and James Adolphus)
A documentary released at a perfect point in our culture when knotty intersections of race and identity are making headlines, Little White Lie tells one woman’s remarkably intimate story of a life spent between two worlds. Raised white with her dark skin color and curly hair explained away as an inheritance from her Sicilian grandfather, the director Lacey Schwartz can’t fight the nagging feeling that her upper-middle-class Jewish upbringing is hiding something, only to find she was the product of her mother’s affair with a black man. After her biological father’s passing, she cannot hold back this family secret any longer.