In Movies & TV

Miles Davis and "Jezebel" are two of the showcase selections in this year's Black Lens program.

Emmy nominees, music icons & more star in MKE Film Festival's Black Lens program

If the Milwaukee Film Festival is the crowning event of the cinematic year for Brew City, the Black Lens program is one of its most vibrant jewels.

The program's received a grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, sponsorship from HBO and that's not even including the recently announced movies they've selected for this year's 2019 festival, featuring a collection of standout films – ranging from fiction favorites to documentary highlights, award-winning established voices to visions from a bold new filmmakers and generations, feature-length showcases to short film powerhouses just as potent.

"This year's going to be fun," said Geraud Blanks, community festivals and Black Lens director, in a release. "I'm typically a modest guy, but between the selection of films, forums, late-night events and guests, I think we've really outdone ourselves this year."

About those forums, late-night events and guests! Arguably the highlight of the program comes via the festival's industry insiders panel, which features two key figures behind the recent Emmy-winning Netflix miniseries "When They See Us" – writer Michael Starrbury and editor Terilyn Shropshire, both Milwaukee natives – discussing their acclaimed work and the process behind it. But that's not all as this year's festival will also feature the Black Lens Lounge, hosting four fun late-night social mixers and networking opportunities at XO Parlor; the Black Lens kickoff party hosted at The Cooperage on Friday, Oct. 4 from 7-10 p.m.; and not to mention many more guests and filmmakers to be announced.

As for what's already been announced, however, here are this year's on-screen picks from the Black Lens program. For showtimes – and for tickets – be sure to visit the Milwaukee Film website, and for the entire festival schedule, click here.


From Milwaukee Film Festival alum Charles Murray ("Things Never Said"), "#TRUTH" follows a man trying to uncover the reasons and causes behind his cousin's suicide. His amateur investigation, however, discovers much more than he bargains for when he digs into his cousin's secrets and infidelities, and finds all the threads tying back to a prominent church pastor.

"1 Angry Black Man"

Told in real time, Menelek Lumumba's bold directorial feature debut follows an explosive day in a college African American Literature class as one student – inspired by the words of James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates and other great writers – boils over about identity, political correctness and the liberal arts college world he attempts to navigate as a young black man.

"Always in Season"

In this true crime story that sprawls into a look into America's history of racism and lynching, a North Carolina mother questions whether her 17-year-old son's death by hanging was truly a suicide or instead the result of an ugly hate crime with its insidious roots still embedded in our nation.

"The Apollo"

After decades upon decades of shining the spotlight on music's greatest performers, the iconic Harlem music hall itself gets to take center stage in this documentary from Oscar-winning director (and past MFF opening night alum with "Life, Animated") Roger Ross Williams, telling the venue's rich story with interviews with Pharrell, Smokey Robinson, Jamie Foxx and many, many more.

"Black Lens Shorts: Family Matters"

Looking at today's societal climate from both macro and micro angles, but always with clear authorial voice, cinematic vision and stories that balance the universal with the personal, the six short films selected for "Black Lens Shorts: Family Matters" include:

  • "Cap," Marshall Tyler
  • "Catch a Girl," LeRon E. Lee
  • "Evelyn X Evelyn," Eric Pumphrey
  • "Outdooring," Maxwell Addae
  • "Suicide By Sunlight," Nikyatu Jusu
  • "Worlds From Home," Delmar Washington

"Black Lens Shorts: Find Yourself"

A collection of shorts across a variety of topics – showcasing imagination, reconciliation and much, much more – "Black Lens Shorts: Find Yourself" features these five short films from emerging cinematic voices:

  • "Ballet After Dark," B. Monet
  • "The Fisherman," Zoey Martinson
  • "Flight," Kia Moses and Adrian McDonald
  • "King Ester," Duo Jarrod
  • "Origin," Simone Lyles"

"Boss: The Black Experience in Business"

There are Milwaukee Film Festival favorites – and then there's Stanley Nelson, a multiple alum of the festival with not one but two fascinating documentaries screening at this year's event. In addition to "Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool," Nelson's bringing "Boss: The Black Experience in Business," a look at the powerful yet all-too-overlooked history of black-owned small businesses and innovations in America. And to aid the film's messages and stories, the festival will host a community forum on Oct. 30 with local black business owners to discuss the current challenges and triumphs in the marketplace, locally and nationally.

"Burning Cane"

Want to feel unaccomplished? This acclaimed gothic drama, starring Wendell Pierce ("The Wire") as a preacher trying to help a mother's alcoholic son while fighting off his own demons, comes directed by Philip Youmans, who's just 19 years old and was still in high school when he created this three-time award winner from the Tribeca Film Festival and future Netflix release. Come see the start of what looks like a phenomenal film career.


Numa Perrier's coming-of-age drama "Jezebel" follows a young black woman living in Las Vegas in 1998 struggling to get by until she gets involved in the world of cam girls. What could easily play like potentially preachy, after-school subject material, however, is given an honest and thoughtful approach in this impressive feature film debut.

"Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool"

Capturing the ever-changing, complex life of jazz icon Miles Davis – much less even just one portion of it – in a single documentary is no easy feat. But leave it up to multiple Milwaukee Film Festival alum Stanley Nelson – the award-winning director behind "Tell Them We Are Rising" and "The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution" – to paint a vivid portrait of this one-of-a-kind music legend.


Young love blossoms in this critically-applauded coming-of-age story about a Harlem teenager who spends her final summer before freshman year falling in love with a fellow teen, learning about life and the complexities of the world before stepping foot into a college classroom.

"The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion"

The people behind the style of the stylish world of hip hop – notably Misa Hylton and April Walker – take center stage in this documentary about the intertwined universes of fashion and hip-hop, as viewed by two women constantly working to bring them together.

"Vision Portraits"

One might think that losing one's sight would mean losing one's ability to make art in a visual medium. One would be wrong, as "Vision Portraits" follows filmmaker Rodney Evans as he chats with three visually impaired artists – a photographer, a writer and a dancer – about their lives and their art while he copes with his own deteriorating eyesight.


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