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Little Boxes
Little Boxes

Two new film programs, Sportsball! and United States of Cinema, have been added to 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival. These programs include feature-length sports documentaries and American independent fiction films

The Sportsball! Program features six feature-length documentaries focusing on the thriving genre of sports documentaries. The United States of Cinema Program includes six feature-length fiction films which showcase American independent cinema.

John Axford, MLB pitcher and longtime Milwaukee Film sponsor, has joined the Sportsball! team to co-program the series along with Milwaukee Film’s Programming & Education Director, Cara Ogburn, and Artistic & Executive Director, Jonathan Jackson.

When asked for comment, Axford explained: “I am excited to continue my involvement with the Milwaukee Film Festival in an even bigger way as a co-programmer of Sportsball! This program boasts an incredible lineup of documentaries celebrating the sporting world across the globe. I’m personally excited about Fastball, as I’ve hit 100 mph on the radar gun, but films like Speed Sisters and The Legend of Swee’ Pea are going to open really unique windows into different sporting worlds.”


A great sports movie puts you in the moment of an amazing achievement, tells the story of the athlete making the achievement, or gives you a perspective on sports that previously you never realized existed. This collection of documentary and fiction films triumphs at showcasing the sporting life.


(USA / 2016 / Director: Jonathan Hock)
A documentary told with the zip and energy of its namesake, Fastball helps to demystify that most mystical of baseball encounters: a pitcher equipped with an arm that throws upward of 100 miles an hour against a hitter who has only a millisecond to react before the ball reaches him. A hall-of-fame lineup (legendary hitters like Tony Gwynn and Johnny Bench alongside fireballers like Nolan Ryan and Goose Gossage) waxes philosophic on the history of the heater, talking in terms both mythic and scientific that should appeal to diehard fanatics and curious onlookers alike.

Free to Run
(Belgium, France, Switzerland / 2016 / Director: Pierre Morath)
Charting the transition of long-distance running from its origin on the margins of society to the universal passion it has become today, Free to Run is a globe-trotting journey through the history of putting feet to pavement. Originally reserved for men in stadium settings, modern long-distance running only admitted women in the ‘60s. Featuring a veritable who’s-who of the field, including the famed Steve Prefontaine and Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, Free to Run is a captivating and perfectly-paced documentary.

Keepers of the Game
(USA / 2016 / Director: Judd Ehrlich)
When the girls’ lacrosse team of Salmon River High takes the field for the Sectional Championships, it’s far more than their cross-town rivals they’re facing down: history (seeking to become the first all-Native girls squad to win it all), misogyny (lacrosse began as a solely male tradition in Native culture), and even apathy (their own small-town community appears ambivalent regarding their success and is cutting funding for girls’ lacrosse after the season) all stand in the way of these remarkable teenage girls. Exciting game footage and moving personal portraits combine to take you along on their inspiring ride to the championship game.

The Legend of Swee’ Pea
(USA / 2015 / Director: Benjamin May)
Lloyd “Swee’ Pea” Daniels’ journey to the NBA defies belief. A playground legend that became one of the most sought-after college prospects in hoops history, he was caught in a police sting operation before he played a single game for UNLV. Later, a crack deal gone wrong saw him shot three times in the chest, yet somehow Daniels, with shrapnel still in his body, ended up playing for the San Antonio Spurs five years later. This amazing story, centered on a vulnerable personality who allows remarkable access to his life, transcends any simplistic notion of rags to riches with its tale of addiction and recovery.

Speed Sisters
(USA, Palestine, UK, Denmark, Qatar, Canada / 2015 / Director: Amber Fares)
These street racers have cut their teeth on the toughest races in the West Bank, roaring through the breakneck pathways and hairpin turns of improvised tracks that comprise Palestine’s makeshift motor circuit. But this group of five charismatic thrill-seekers are the Middle East’s first all-women street racing team, making them trailblazers both culturally and literally. Defying stereotypes and racking up wins in the male-dominated racing scene, they must overcome obstacles both physical and societal in order to pursue their high-octane passion. Thrilling and inspirational, Speed Sisters introduces new role models for Middle Eastern women.

When We Were Kings
(USA / 1996 / Director: Leon Gast)
To this day, the Rumble in the Jungle remains one of the most mesmerizing events in the history of sport. It was the culmination of Muhammad Ali’s comeback tour after having been stripped of his title for refusing to serve in Vietnam, but the Champ came into the bout as a 7-to-1 underdog against George Foreman and his formidable fists. In celebration of this Oscar-winning documentary’s 20-year anniversary and to honor the memory of a genuine icon in Muhammad Ali, we present this film, one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time.


Sometimes it takes a great work of fiction to get the truest of truths. The new voices featured in this showcase of modern American independent cinema figured that out long ago. They’ve created incredible narrative works unique to their corner of the United States—works in which the “where” is just as important as the “who” and “what.”


(USA / 2016 / Directors: Ari Issler, Ben Snyder)
The timeless tension of High Noon is reimagined for our modern era in the gritty 11:55. Marine veteran Nelson Sanchez should be happy. Honorably discharged and finally back home within his Dominican community of Newburgh, NY, he appears set to start anew. But the life he left behind has come back to haunt him, in the form of a rival arriving by bus, five minutes before midnight, in search of revenge for his fallen brother. Tired of trading one violent environment for another, Nelson must take a stand if he is to survive the night—even if nobody stands beside him.

(USA / 2016 / Director: Deb Shoval)
Aimless Joey (Mistress America’s Lola Kirke in a finely-calibrated performance) seeks escape from the small town of Wilkes-Barre, PA and its meager economic opportunities. A visit to the Army recruiting office seems to offer the way out she seeks, but a chance encounter with slyly seductive housewife Rayna changes her trajectory irrevocably. As Joey falls ever more deeply in love with Rayna, clouded judgment leads her down a path she can’t turn back from. AWOL (expanded from an award-winning 2011 Sundance short) is a tenderly realized lesbian romance that doesn’t flinch from the harsh realities of small-town life on the poverty line.

Little Boxes
(USA / 2016 / Director: Rob Meyer)
An interracial couple (True Blood’s Nelsan Ellis as a jazz-loving novelist/food critic and the always great Melanie Lynskey as a photographer/art professor with a newly acquired tenure-track position) moves across the country from Brooklyn to the suburbs of Washington state, uprooting their pre-teen son from his comfortable existence and dropping him into the center of a “sea of white.” This tight-knit family struggles to adapt to their starkly different surroundings, striving to understand themselves and one another in this dramedy that “gently touches on issues of race, class and privilege” (Variety) while aided by winning central performances and an understated approach.

(USA / 2016 / Director: Logan Kibens)
Data-obsessed computer programmer Joe (Freaks and Geeks’ Martin Starr) is struggling to quell his employer’s desire for a soothing voice to lead the computer-operated helpline he’s creating, until he realizes the perfect voice lives with him: his soothing wife, Emily (Arrested Development’s Mae Whitman). But as Emily becomes more involved with an improv comedy troupe that satisfies her lust for raw feeling and emotion, the anxiety-ridden Joe begins to rely on the simulacrum of his wife for relief as the couple drifts apart. With shades of Spike Jonze’s Her, this Chicago-set film provides a moving meditation on the state of modern love.

Radio Dreams
(USA / 2016 / Director: Babak Jalali)
It’s a momentous day for Pars Radio, an Iranian radio station broadcasting out of San Francisco: Afghanistan’s first rock band, Kabul Dreams (an actual band, playing themselves), are set to play in-studio with America’s heavy metal legends, Metallica. But as the day wears on with no word from their management, it appears these dreams may be dashed. A droll comedy following Pars’ idealistic station manager, who views this as meaningful cultural exchange, refusing to sell out to American capitalism, and his exasperated higher-ups, who see a ratings bonanza, leasing out ad space for comically terrible commercials, as they wait for a jam session that may never arrive.

A Stray
(USA / 2016 / Director: Musa Syeed)
This neorealist slice of life follows a young Somali Muslim refugee in Minnesota (played by Barkhad Abdirahman, so memorable in Captain Phillips) as he attempts to turn his life around. Parlaying his stay at a local mosque into a job as a food deliveryman, he accidentally hits a stray dog. Feeling responsible for the animal despite his religion’s stance towards her as “impure,” he once again finds himself out on the streets, trying to find a place both for himself and this unwanted creature. A non-sensationalized portrait of the Muslim immigrant experience with a sweet human/animal central relationship, this film offers a different perspective for a polarized world.

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