Pledged support for Black Lens received from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and HBO

September 6, 2018

Netflix star DeWanda Wise and New York Times assistant editor Aisha Harris headline Black Lens events; eight feature films and two short programs will highlight 20 African-American filmmakers at this year’s festival

Milwaukee Film announces generous support for the organization’s cultural pillar, Black Lens, by both The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and HBO. This announcement comes in conjunction with the complete Black Lens line-up at the 10th Annual Milwaukee Film Festival, in addition to revealing several of this year’s festival guests, such as Netflix star DeWanda Wise (She’s Gotta Have It), author and journalist Touré, and The New York Times assistant television editor, Aisha Harris. Highlighting the work of 20 contemporary African-American filmmakers through eight films and two shorts programs, Black Lens explores stories rooted in the Black community but relevant to a variety of audiences.

Awarded $7,500 by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Milwaukee Film is one of just 22 recipients of the esteemed FilmWatch grant. This is the second time the Black Lens program has been awarded a FilmWatch grant by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, having previously received the award in 2016. HBO has awarded the program $10,000 and will be officially presenting the two Black Lens Shorts programs, along with a newly created Cream City juried award celebrating local, diverse filmmaking talent.

“Receiving our second grant from the Academy in two years affirms the validity of our mission, the quality of the festival, and the work of the filmmakers we showcase,” said Black Lens co-programmer Geraud Blanks. “Include HBO’s stamp of approval on our shorts program, and there is simply no other way to put it, we’ve arrived.”

Films at this year’s 10th Annual Milwaukee Film Festival include the much buzzed about documentary Sammy Davis Jr, I’ve Gotta Be Me, one of two new works featured by Samuel D. Pollard (The ACORN and the Firestorm, MFF 2017 and Two Trains Runnin’, MFF 2016), and A Boy. A Girl. A Dream by Qasim Basir (Destined, MFF 2017).

“Year five of Black Lens marks a game-changing moment for us because we are building upon past successes and carving out a new path for where to take the film series,” states Donte McFadden, Black Lens co-programmer. “We continue to bring quality feature-length and short films, but we also are creating more events to further engage festival-goers.”

Black Lens events at this year’s festival include She’s Gotta Have It: A Conversation with DeWanda Wise on Monday, October 29th at 7PM in the UWM Union Ballroom (2200 East Kenwood Blvd). The conversation with the Netflix star will be moderated by UWM associate professor of film, Portia Cobb.

In addition, the film black enuf will be screened on Sunday, October 28th at 6PM in Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall (929 N. Water St) and will feature a discussion moderated by journalist Touré featuring director Carrie Hawkes and The New York Times‘ assistant editor on the Culture Desk, Aisha Harris.

The popular Groove Theory musical showcase will be back at this year’s festival, hosted by R&B Live-Milwaukee. Featuring local artists performing songs from classic black films, the event takes place on Friday, October 19th at 8PM at The Cooperage (822 S. Water St).

The Black Lens Kick-Off party will take place on Friday, October 5th and will be hosted at Ivy House (906 S. Barclay St). Doors open at 7PM with a presentation and overview of the films beginning at 8PM. Additional event and ticket information will be announced in the coming weeks.

The Black Lens program is presented by The Johnson Controls Foundation and is sponsored by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, HBO, and The Milwaukee Times Weekly Newspaper Printing & Publishing Co.


A Boy. A Girl. A Dream (USA / 2018 / Director: Qasim Basir)


Election night, 2016. Cass (Power’s Omari Hardwick) and Frida (Meagan Good) meet by happenstance outside an L.A. food truck, only to embark on an evening- long journey of personal discovery as they talk and challenge one another as the night progresses, moving from the street to the club to a Lyft and beyond. The latest from MFF alum Qasim Basir (Destined, MFF2017) is both technically audacious (the entire film transpires over a single unbroken shot) and emotionally incisive, capturing the fraught essence of our current moment in time.

Black Lens Shorts: A Little Help From My Friends, presented by HBO

Baby Steps (USA / 2018 / Director: Eric Dyson)
Hair Wolf (USA / 2018 / Director: Mariama Diallo)
Moths & Butterflies (USA / 2017 / Director: Alfonso Johnson)
Still Water Runs Deep (USA / 2017 / Director: Abbesi Akhamie)
War Paint (USA / 2018 / Director: Katrelle Kindred)

Black Lens Shorts: Be True To You, presented by HBO

The Bill (USA / 2017 / Director: Caralene Robinson)
Bodega (USA / 2017 / Directors: Donna Augustin and Talibah L. Newman)
Forever (USA / 2017 / Director: Joyce Sherrí)
French Fries (USA / 2018 / Director Janine Sherman Barrois)
Mr. Talented (USA / 2017 / Director: Rochee Jeffrey)
Suitable (USA / 2017 / Director: Thembi L. Banks)

Jinn (USA / 2018 / Director: Nijla Mumin)

When 17-year-old Summer’s mother (a popular meteorologist) converts to Islam, the carefree live she had been living heading into senior year is thrown into upheaval. At first resistant to her mother’s newfound faith, Summer slowly warms up to the notion, trying to integrate these new beliefs into her previous Instagram-based existence, all in an attempt to suss out her true identity. A winning portrait of female self-empowerment and religious tolerance, Jinn is anchored by the endlessly charismatic performance from newcomer Zoe Renee.

Little Woods (USA / 2017 / Director: Nia DaCosta)

Tessa Thompson (Dear White People) and Lily James (Mamma Mia 2) stun as sisters ensnared in a web of economic misery in their rural North Dakotan fracking town. Mere days away from the end of her parole, Ollie (Thompson) is drawn back into the world of illegal Oxycontin smuggling in an attempt to ward off the foreclosure on her mother’s home that would leave her pregnant sister Deb (James) homeless and penniless. Deftly balancing white-knuckle filmmaking with of-the-moment social concerns, Little Woods is a breathtaking debut anchored by fully-formed lead performances.

Mighty Ground (USA / 2017 / Director: Delila Vallot)


Although he is a homeless addict who struggles with mental health issues on Skid Row, Ronald Troy Collins is blessed with a remarkable hidden talent–his unforgettably soulful singing voice. Barely scraping via singing for strangers on the street, Ronald’s gift shines through to anyone who will only stop to listen. With the help of those touched by his skill (his so-called “board of directors”), Ronald embarks on a unique journey of redemption, pulling himself off of the streets and onto the stage.

Mr. SOUL! (USA / 2018 / Directors: Melissa Haizlip and Samuel D. Pollard)


TEMP Before Oprah, before Arsenio, there was SOUL! – a remarkable public television variety show wildly ahead of its time. Hosted by Ellis Haizlip (hip, smart, innovative, and unapologetically gay), SOUL! was a celebration of all things black culture – with topics ranging from soul music to literature, poetry, politics, and everything in between, with a dazzling array of A-list guests (James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, and Stevie Wonder to name a few). Follow this groundbreaking phenomenon from conception to its final episode in this stirring reminder of the power of representation in media.

One Bedroom (USA / 2017 / Director: Darien Sills-Evans)


Breaking up is easy, but moving out is hard. That’s the hard-won lesson learned in this hilarious and heartbreaking rom-dram. After five years spent together in their ever-gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, Nate and Melissa spend their final afternoon together alternating between arguments and looking back fondly at better times, all culminating in one of them moving out so the both of them can begin to move on with their lives. At least, that’s the plan.

Sammy Davis, Jr. I’ve Gotta Be Me (USA / 2017 / Director: Samuel D. Pollard)


Follow the legendary Sammy Davis Jr. as he navigates through the racial prejudices and shifting political terrain of 20th Century America. A documentary worthy of this complex, contradictory and complicated figure, I’ve Gotta Be Me explores the career and art of this larger-than-life performer who found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of civil rights-era black America. New interviews (Norman Lear, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg) combine with never-before-seen photos to provide an entirely fresh look at this icon who sat at the crossroads of cultural/ racial identity.

Word is Bond (USA / 2018 / Director: Sacha Jenkins)


Tracking the remarkable art of lyrcisim in rap from the genesis of the art form on the streets of New York to the multitude of variations now available in the present day, Word is Bond is a dynamic exploration of the poetics of hip-hop. Dynamic archival footage and a constellation of rap luminaries (Rakim, Nas, J Cole, Anderson. Paak) all speak to the literary foundations and verbal dexterity inherent in hip-hop as it has evolved from its nascent stages to its current status as the dominant culture.