Black Lens Program Lineup Announced by Milwaukee Film Festival

Posted by Sydney J. Levine


The Black Lens Program Showcases fiction and documentary films from emerging and established African-American directors.


The 8th Annual Milwaukee Film Festival (September 22 — October 6)announced the return of the Black Lens Program for a third year. Featuring work from both emerging and established African-American filmmakers, this series presents eight programs of short and feature-length fiction and documentary films. In 2015, Black Lens film screenings attracted a total audience of 3,288 (a 96% increase over 2014), with an estimated 28% of attendees being African-American.

Milwaukee Film announced in April that it had received a $10,000 FilmWatch grant in support of its Black Lens Program from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Milwaukee Film is one of 16 FilmWatch grant recipients for the 2016–2017 grant year. In addition to support from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Black Lens has received a grant from the Johnson Controls Foundation to help underwrite the program for a second year. Promotional support for the program comes from Program Sponsors WJMR Jammin’ 98.3 and the Black Lens Engagement Committee, as well as a network of Milwaukee Film sponsors and community partners.

New this year, the Black Lens Engagement Committee is comprised of individuals from FUEL Milwaukee, Media Circus, Milwaukee Urban League Young Professionals (MULYP), Milwaukee Black Professionals (MBP), and Social X. This group will work collectively with the Black Lens programmers to conduct outreach to various constituencies about the program and the Milwaukee Film Festival.

Black Lens Co-Programmer Geraud Blanks

“In two years, Black Lens has gone from a worthy experiment with ambitious goals to a bona fide attraction at the Milwaukee Film Festival. The growth of the program since its inception is a testament to the need for culturally diverse programming in our city. When you consider how segregated Milwaukee is, and then see the diversity of Black Lens audiences, you realize the power of film and, more importantly, the resonance of great storytelling,” stated Black Lens Co-Programmer Geraud Blanks.

In response to the program’s growth, Milwaukee Film is announcing a jury prize for the Black Lens Program. A $5,000 cash award will be presented to the director of the jury-selected winner of the best short or feature film within the program.

“I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that year three for the Black Lens Program will be a game-changer,” exclaimed Black Lens Co-Programmer Donte McFadden. “What also makes year three exciting is the addition of the Black Lens Council, which is designed to provide support directly to the Black Lens Program from new and continuing Milwaukee Film Members.”

The Black Lens Council provides its members ongoing access to films by African-American filmmakers and instills a direct link between the Milwaukee community and the Black Lens Program. In addition, Black Lens Council members receive year-round and festival benefits. For more information, visit

In cooperation with Program Sponsor WJMR Jammin’ 98.3, a Black Lens Reception will take place on Friday, September 16 at 88 Nine Radio Milwaukee. The event is intended to showcase the program’s film trailers as well as provide an opportunity to engage with the Black Lens programmers, sponsors, and community partners. The event is free and open to the public; details to be available at

Facebook:/BlackLensMKE / Twitter: @BlackLensMKE /

Hashtag: #BlackLensMKE

Black Lens Shorts Program

An eclectic array of shorts that represent African-American cinema in all of its glory: stories range from a documentary about the intersection of hip-hop and social justice to boy-meets-girl romantic comedies to striking suspense thrillers. An abundance of talented voices tell stories of love, self-discovery, inclusion, and justice, giving voice to an experience often neglected by our movie screens.

9 Rides(USA / 2016 / Director: Matthew A. Cherry)


It’s New Year’s Eve and an unnamed Uber driver (a remarkable performance from Dorian Missick) is checking in for the busiest day of the year. Over the course of the evening and his numerous fares, he’ll witness couples falling in and out of love, belligerent police officers, and solo passengers; all of these brief interactions underlying his own growing anxiety in the face of recent life-changing news. Shot entirely on an iPhone 6s (the first movie ever to do so!), Matthew Cherry’s intimate and gripping drama combines naturalistic performance with unobtrusive camerawork to tell a very modern story of life and love.

“#Bars4Justice” (USA / 2015 / Directors: Queen Muhammad Ali, Hakeem Khaaliq)

The Big Chop” (USA / 2016 / Director: Derek Dow II)

“Black Movie Night” (USA / 2016 / Director: Sterling Milan)

Didn’t I Ask for Tea?(USA / 2015 / Directors: Rahwa Asmerom, Essence Ward)

Flowers” (USA / 2016 / Directors: Nikyatu Jusu, Yvonne Shirley)

Tap Shoes & Violins” (USA / 2015 / Director: Dax Brooks)

Black Lens Features

Can You Dig This(USA / 2015 / Director: Delila Vallot)


In South Los Angeles, one of the biggest food deserts in the country, the last thing you would expect to find is a beautiful garden sprouting up through the concrete urban landscape. This inspiring documentary follows the journey of four gardeners who are part of an urban gardening revolution taking root. Each of the film’s subjects put their hands in the soil to transform their neighborhoods and change their own lives in the process.

How to Tell You’re a Douchebag” (USA / 2016 / Director: Tahir Jetter)

A fresh, sexy romantic comedy that cuts to the heart of dating in the age of social media, humorous and contemporary without breaking a sweat. Ray is a 20-something struggling writer in Brooklyn, venting frustrations about his stagnant career and love life via his blog “Occasionally Dating Black Women.” A public tirade puts him in the crosshairs of the fiercely intelligent Rochelle, an up-and-coming writer with zero tolerance for Ray’s casual misogyny. Ray attempts to apologize, beginning a journey towards humility and unexpected romance in a comedy that upends all expectations.

“The Land” by Steven Caple Jr.

The Land(USA / 2016 / Director: Steven Caple Jr.)


Executive Producer Nas presents this vivid inner-city saga set amidst Cleveland’s skateboarding culture. During the day, Cisco and his group of friends videotape their daring skate stunts in the hopes of one day going pro. At night, they use them to pull off kinetic carjackings. But when they get mixed up in a drug deal and cross a ruthless queen-pin, they put their friendship–and lives–on the line. The film features an impressive cast that includes Michael K. Williams (Omar from “The Wire), Erykah Badu, and Machine Gun Kelly. Set to a solid hip-hop soundtrack, “The Land’s engaging narrative and powerful performances match the music that sustains its energy and poetry.

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise by Bob Hercules

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” (USA / 2016 / Directors: Bob Hercules, Rita Coburn Whack)

A genuine American icon receives the moving and personal portrait she so richly deserves. The film focuses on Angelou’s prolific accomplishments and allows her to tell her life story in her own words. Co-directed by MFF2011 alum Bob Hercules (“A Good Man”), this documentary spotlights her career, relationships, causes, and the obstacles she overcame in her ascension towards luminary status.

Somewhere in the Middle” (USA / 2015 / Director: Lanre Olabisi)


A fractured marriage splinters off into intertwining affairs in this sexy, sophisticated romantic drama. There are certainly less than six degrees of separation between our four principals: Kofi and Billie find their marriage crumbling around them, and while Kofi finds solace in Sofiya, a fragile young woman who sees him as her potential salvation, Billie pursues a relationship with her female co-worker, Alex. Secrets and lies surface as lovers change hearts, and layer after layer of a love quadrangle slowly peels away. Moments that seemed true are revisited, turning them upside down and revealing that when stories intersect, the truth lies Somewhere in the Middle.

Two Trains Runnin’ by Sam Pollard

Two Trains Runnin’”(USA / 2016 / Director: Sam Pollard)


In the summer of 1964, hundreds of college students flooded into Mississippi to join the fight for civil rights (as seen in Freedom Summer, a selection from the inaugural year of the Black Lens Program, MFF2014). At the same time, there were two groups of musicians and record collectors that also made their way to the South, seeking to discover the whereabouts of blues musicians Son House and Skip James and convince them to come out of retirement. Containing strong performances of classic blues standards by contemporary musicians such as Gary Clark Jr. and Lucinda Williams, “Two Trains Runnin’”tracks the convergence of our political and cultural institutions during one fateful summer that changed the course of both music and American history.

Festival passes and ticket 6-Packs for the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival are now on sale. For a complete list of prices, as well as a breakdown of the discount deadlines, visit

Milwaukee Film

Milwaukee Film is a non-profit arts organization dedicated to entertaining, educating, and engaging our community through cinematic experiences. In addition to our annual 15-day Milwaukee Film Festival, Milwaukee Film provides a number of year-round opportunities for film lovers, filmmakers, and educators. For more information, visit us online:| | Twitter: @mkefilm| Instagram: @mkefilm

FilmMoviesAfrican AmericanFilm FestivalsAfrican Diaspora


About Sydney Levine:

Sydney Levine is an executive of longstanding in the international film business. She is a writer of the popular blog on international film business, SydneysBuzz which also has run on Indiewire, IMDbPro and IMDb since 2008 when Amazon acquired her twenty-five year old company FilmFinders. In 1988 Sydney created FilmFinders, the industry’s first database of worldwide features used by distributors, sales agents and festival programmers acquiring features. It became industry standard for organizing and tracking the rights-buying activities of the film business and was adopted by the Cannes Marché and developed into what today is called She and her partner, Peter Belsito continue to provide consulting and strategic planning for producers, national film organizations and other educational initiatives in international film business at Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, Germany's Deutsche Welle Akademie, Talents in Berlin, Sarajevo, and Guadalajara, EICTV the international film school in Los Banos, Cuba, Chapman University, UCLA Extension, Vilnius University, et. al. She organizes, moderates and participates in panel discussions on the international film business, as well as producing white paper research and reports on Sydney works with the markets in Cannes and Berlin in administering buyers’ data for North America, Latin America and Asia and gives tours of the market to newcomers. She opens the Cannes Shorts Corner with a presentation on The International Film Circuit for shorts. She has currently completed a book about Latin American Film Financing published in Spanish by the Guadalajara University Press. The English version on the Iberoamerican Film Business will be published in the fall of 2016.

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