The Milwaukee Film Festival is back and like you’ve never seen it before: at home.
With the pandemic still ongoing, like everyone, Milwaukee Film and its annual Cream City explosion of cinema has had to adjust, going virtual this year with a digital streaming platform for all of its screenings.
But while we may not have our usual film festival sights – the popcorn, the laughing crowds, the marked-up program books, the lines of people tensely awaiting to snag their seats, the introductions from weary Milwaukee Film staff members still enthusiastically pumping up crowds even at midnight on Day 14, the excited chatter of film fans comparing notes and sharing their selections – the star of the show is still the same: the movies. So many movies. SO MANY MOVIES! With almost two hundred movies of all shapes and sizes for you to enjoy between Oct. 15-29, the Milwaukee Film Festival still has your entertainment needs covered this fall – and with almost no scheduled showtimes to have to plan around and assemble like Tetris blocks, you can watch more movies than ever. (*heavenly choir sings*)
And considering the excellent and ecclectic lineup, announced today on Milwaukee Film’s website, you’ll want to take in as much as possible. There are buzzy festival favorites, timely true stories, stars big (Aubrey Plaza! Gillian Jacobs! Jemaine Clement!) and about to be big, shorts that pack a huge punch, the beloved MFF traditions of “Stop Making Sense,” adorable dogs and, of course, a romance between a woman and a tilt-a-whirl ride. You know, the usual.
The Milwaukee Film Festival always brings the world to Milwaukee. This year is no different; it’s just bringing the world even closer to home this time.
Here’s the full lineup of movies coming to a screen near you Oct. 15-29, organized by category and featuring descriptions courtesy of Milwaukee Film. For more information on each film, visit Milwaukee Film’s website – where you can also buy your individual tickets and festival passes as well as learn more about how to stream your selections. (Here’s the PDF version as well for those who want a fancier version of the info.) And stay tuned for more film festival coverage coming soon to OnMilwaukee.
“I Used to Go Here”: Thirty-something Kate (Gillian Jacobs) has just published her first book. She should feel proud, but with all of her friends getting married and having kids, she feels like she’s missing out. Things look up when she gets invited to her alma mater by her favorite professor (Jemaine Clement) to talk about her success as a writer. But her trip isn’t quite the victory lap she imagines and hilarious hijinks ensue in this heartfelt crowd-pleaser from Kris Rey (“Unexpected”).
“Coming Clean”: “Coming Clean,” the latest from virtuoso documentarian Ondi Timoner, examines the opioid crisis from the inside, exploring the painful experiences of those in recovery and of policymakers working to undo the systems and industries that perpetuate – and even thrive off of – addiction. This timely documentary offers innovative solutions, while also exposing the uphill battle against the forces of corporate greed and deeply-held stigmas.
Here’s a category where you might just find the next great American cinematic storytellers – or maybe just a great movie about life in our country.
“Black Bear”: A filmmaker (the fantastic Aubrey Plaza) embarks on a rural retreat to recharge her creative batteries. In no time, she’s pulled into the host couple’s internecine drama. Things reach their boiling point, when suddenly everything we as the audience understand to be true is shaken up and tossed aside. Filled with hairpin twists and turns reminiscent of “Mullholland Dr,” “Black Bear” is the type of movie you’ll want to begin again the moment it ends.
“Breaking Fast”: Mo has what seems like the perfect life. But he’s left reeling after his boyfriend breaks up with him on the first night of Ramadan. He then meets Kal, who seems like the perfect guy, but could it be too good to be true? A colorful cast of characters help Mo navigate life and love in what results in both a charming rom-com and a deft dissection of navigating life as a gay Muslim American.
“Cicada”: After a string of failed relationships, Ben, a young bisexual, enters into an interracial relationship with Sam. Set against the backdrop of the Jerry Sandusky trial, Ben and Sam’s relationship becomes a tender and tense exploration of past traumas. A stylistic tour de force that features its director and writer in the lead roles, “Cicada” blurs the line between fiction and autobiography. IndieWire calls “Cicada” “a sexy and searing act of gay self-analysis.”
“Golden Arm”: Welcome to the world of the National Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship! When tough lady-trucker Danny injures her wrist in a match, she turns to her unassuming friend Melanie to take her spot in the tournament. Melanie is a natural and climbs through the ranks, but her competitors play dirty. Does Melanie have what it takes to win it all? Director Maureen Bharrocha makes her feature debut with a film that could be a lovechild between “Bridesmaids” and “GLOW.”
“Small Town Wisconsin”: Deadbeat dad Wayne is about to lose custody of his son, Tyler. Rather than sit around and feel sorry for himself, he decides to make the most of their time left together and hit the open road for a visit to the best city in the world, Milwaukee. Their hilarious and heartwarming adventure (and sometimes misadventure) features cameos from The Pfister Hotel, Miller Park, and the most delicious food in the world, Usinger’s brats.
“Summertime”: Director Carlos López Estrada (“Blindspotting”) returns to the craft with a fanciful and exuberant ode to Los Angeles. The stories of 25 Angelinos from all walks of life intersect in a “Slacker”-esque narrative with dialogue primarily consisting of spoken word poetry written by real-life high school performers. And while these characters could not be more different, their interconnectedness shows that it’s a small world after all, even in a city of four million people.
“Test Pattern”: Renesha is having a great day. She wakes up next to her boyfriend Evan, heads to her her dream job, and grabs drinks with friends. But things quickly go downhill when a flirtatious stranger drugs and sexually assaults her. The next day Evan and Renesha wade through a bog of bureaucracy to get a hospital rape kit. Reminiscent of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” director Shatara Michelle Ford’s feature debut is a lyrical indictment of our healthcare system.
Milwaukee Film heard you liked art, so Milwaukee Film put some art in your art, selecting movies that focus on artists, those both big and behind the scenes, and the way they changed how we see the world.
“Aggie”: Emmy-nominated director Catherine Gund turns the lens on her own mother, art collector and philanthropist Agnes “Aggie” Gund. Through her dogged support of emerging artists – especially women and people of color – Aggie demonstrates the potential for collectors and benefactors to seek social justice, while also advocating vociferously for everyone to have access to the arts regardless of background. Inspiring and intimate, this portrait of a vanguard figure is not to be missed.
“Alice Street”: At the intersection of Alice and 14th Streets in the heart of downtown Oakland, California, tension is brewing between real estate developers and artists around the best present and future uses of a coveted historic space. Following the proposal, creation, and final result of a mural, this documentary shows how art can work as a tool for grassroots activism and underscores the power of coalition-building to disrupt the displacing forces of privilege.
“The Capote Tapes”: Famed socialite author Truman Capote is at the center of this riveting documentary that sheds new light on the final days and works of one of America’s towering literary figures. Based on newly discovered interviews conducted by The Paris Review co-founder George Plimpton, “The Capote Tapes” examines Capote’s unfinished final novel, which caused a scandal when published excerpts exposed the secrets of a Manhattan social aristocracy that had adopted Capote as its own.
“Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful”: Known as the “35mm Marquis de Sade,” Helmut Newton’s reputation as a fashion photographer balances on the edge between exploitation and beauty. Newton’s eye transformed the industry, but this documentary focuses more on how those in front of his camera felt, revealing a deeper, nuanced critique of fashion and the male gaze of the camera. Featuring interviews with Grace Jones, Anna Wintour, Isabella Rossellini and more, this is a fresh take on an artistic legend.
“So Late So Soon”: Chicago artists Jackie and Don Seiden have been married for over 50 years. While Don works in more traditional media, Jackie’s materials are the world she inhabits through movement and, most recently, the space inside and out of their large and colorful Rogers Park home. One of Jackie’s former students, director Daniel Hymanson, lovingly immerses us in their world as they grapple with aging, revealing the same tenuousness of materiality that Jackie’s art interrogates.
One of Milwaukee Film’s most lauded categories, Black Lens gives the screen to Black voices and stories in all of their joy, complexity, perspective and power.
“Black Lens Shorts: Exploration and Introspection”
- “A Galaxy Sits in the Cracks”
- “The Cypher”
- “The Last Starship”
- “Origin of Hair”
“Black Lens Shorts: Preserving and Combating Memory”
- “(-)Ship: A Visual Poem”
- “A Storybook Ending”
- “Black Boy Joy”
- “Echoes of a Winter Sunshine”
“Farewell Amor”: After 17 years apart, Walter, an Angolan immigrant, is joined in the U.S. by his wife and teen daughter. Now absolute strangers sharing a one-bedroom apartment, they discover that a shared love of dance may help overcome the emotional distance between them. Director Ekwa Msangi cements herself as an exciting new filmmaking talent with this deeply personal take on the immigrant story filled with music, humanity, and heart.
“Growing Up Milwaukee”: Tyshun Wardlaw’s feature documentary debut follows three young Black people growing up in the heart of our city as they grapple with daily experiences of racism and segregation, while fighting to avoid becoming a statistic. Stark yet hopeful, Wardlaw’s film is essential viewing for all of Milwaukee, to see through the eyes of these young folks and build empathy around their singular, yet all too familiar, experiences.
“River City Drumbeat”: Filmmakers Marlon Johnson and Anne Flatte follow the youth of River City Drum Corps, led by Ed “Nardie” White, throughout the city of Louisville. We learn of White’s dedication to uplifting and empowering African American youth for three decades through the Drum Corps, the triumphs and tragedies he has faced, and his transitioning of the program to his successor and former student Albert.
“Sundays in July”: Through the lyrical poetry of actor and playwright Denise Yolen and smooth compositions from the lens of filmmaker Joseph Austin II, the film follows a young couple through three acts that take the audience through the way they initiate their romance, establish a relationship, and develop a life together. Every stage captures the levels of intimacy, vulnerability, and truth that intensify as they grow closer together.
“Unapologetic”: Ashley O’Shay’s riveting documentary centers on Janae, a doctoral student, and Bella, an aspiring rapper and poet, who are at the forefront of the Movement for Black Lives in Chicago. “Unapologetic” follows them and other young Black women who work tirelessly to confront the police advisory board, the mayor’s office, and other institutions as they seek justice for victims of police-involved killings such Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald.
This category shines a spotlight on stories and cinematic storytellers from the Latinx diaspora, bringing new and often unheard voices and experiences to the big screen.
“Landfall”: A conversation between a filmmaker and an activist sets the stage for a deeper exploration into the challenges Puerto Rico has faced, from the landfall of Hurricane Maria to the efforts to oust Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. This captivating documentary weaves intersecting storylines that chronicle how the hurricane’s aftermath has affected the country’s residents in rural and urban spaces, as well as those who seek to capitalize off of the island’s tragedy.
“La Mami”: This intimate documentary follows the goings-on in a single room of the legendary Barba Azul Cabaret in Mexico City. Mami, the bathroom attendant, cares for the cabaret dancers by providing comfort, heart-to-heart talks, and words of wisdom about the clientele. Also following the newest dancer, Priscilla, “La Mami” documents the safe haven of Mami’s bathrooms where these dancers put on their makeup and take solace from the harsher world outside.
“Sin Senas Particulares”: Magdalena’s son set off on a journey across the Mexican wilderness to cross the border into the U.S. to find work. When she doesn’t hear from him in many weeks, she embarks to find him herself. Her quest is a treacherous one, but Magdalena is motivated by a mother’s love. Director Fernanda Valadez employs stunning, dreamlike cinematography to shape this gripping, slow-burn thriller that puts a fresh twist on an all-too-familiar border crossing narrative.
Even though you can watch all of these selections whenever you want thanks to the virtual film festival this year, the spirit of midnight movies lives on in this category focused on the strange, surreal and sometimes just plain silly.
“Dinner in America”: If you ever wondered what it would be like if Gregg Araki directed “Napoleon Dynamite,” you’re in luck! Simon (Kyle Gallner) is a punk rocker who is in and out of jail for pretty much … everything. Patty (Emily Skeggs) is a spacey pet shop employee in arrested development, still living with her parents. Patty helps Simon evade the cops, and this odd couple becomes the most iconic pair on the run since Bonnie and Clyde.
“Jumbo”: Jumbo is the perfect man. He’s a great listener, not too chatty, and he knows how to keep things fun. Jumbo also happens to be a tilt-a-whirl. But Jeanne (Noémie Merlant, fresh off her incendiary role in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”) is ready to take their relationship to the next level. Featuring one of the more unorthodox sex scenes ever brought to the screen, “Jumbo” is a heartfelt tale in a league of its own.
“Lapsis”: A sci-fi critique of the gig economy, “Lapsis” takes place in the not-so-distant future. Ray is a low-tech delivery man in a high-tech world. When his brother gets sick with a mysterious disease, he decides to get with the times and work as a cabler for the booming quantum computer industry. But this great opportunity turns into a vast conspiracy filled with exploitation, robots, and a grassroots rebellion that is about to take off.
“The Legend of Baron To’a”: Fritz is the son of New Zealand’s most famous Tongan wrestler, Baron To’a. He’s not much of a fighting man himself, so when he returns home to sell his father’s house, he tries to stay neutral in the warring cul-de-sac. But when a street gang steals his father’s championship belt, Fritz employs his natural-born talents to get it back. Filmed with a predominantly Tongan cast, this movie is an action-packed ode to the martial arts film tradition.
“Son of the White Mare”: The psychedelic animated masterpiece from 1981 finally gets the 4K restoration it deserves. “Son of the White Mare” is based on a Hungarian folk myth about three brothers who embark on a quest to save three princesses from the evil dragons holding them captive. The film is widely regarded as the best animated film of all time and is a visual marvel. Make sure to watch it on the biggest screen in your house.
“The Twentieth Century”: Turn-of-the-century Canadian history might not sound like your typical Hooligante fare, but Mackenzie King’s quest to become prime minister of Canada is hands-down one of the wildest films of the year. Imagine a film with the hyperstylization of Guy Maddin, the hilarious subversion of John Waters, and the whimsy of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” But you don’t have to imagine because you can watch “The Twentieth Century.”
Who needs Hollywood? These selections all come courtesy of the Badger State – whether they’re filmed in Wisconsin or come from local storytellers or subjects – and show that there’s always more to learn and see from your own backyard.
“America’s Socialist Experiment”: Narrated and produced by Mike Gousha, local documentarian Steve Boettcher explores how Milwaukee, of all places, elected so many socialist leaders throughout its history – and how their strong commitments to environmental responsibility, public health, and ending political corruption have endured. Through archival materials and interviews with local historians (John Gurda? check), family members of these leaders, and more, this documentary weaves a compelling history of Milwaukee’s unique political fabric.
“The Milwaukee Show”
- “Back to the Top” by Lady Cannon
- “Champion Style: A Jade Charon Dance Film”
- “I’ve Been Afraid”
- “Killing Time” by Fuzzysurf
- “One Week”
- “Sold Down the River”
- “What You Left Behind”
“The Milwaukee Show II”
- “Blackbird, Fly”
- “Cherry on Top” by TeawYB
- “Dad’s Apple”
- “I Wanna Die” by Mini Meltdowns
- “Lenore Tawney: Mirror of the Universe”
- “Lunch Date”
- “Nasty Heaven”
- “Song of Clouds”
- “Stolen Apes – Buanoi”
- “Suburban” by MIIV
“Real Soul: A Gospel Music Story”: Celebrating the uniquely American musical form of gospel, local director Dan Andera and co-producer Kenny Somerville take us into some of the smallest churches in our city to meet some of the biggest voices and most talented, passionate artists you could find. Vibrantly capturing the emotional core of gospel, this film carries you into the power of music to lift and mend the spirit.
“Ringolevio”: Ada is nervous: She is headed up north to meet her free-spirited girlfriend’s family. As she settles in, her feeling of being out of place rises as she encounters one tradition and inside joke after another, including the game that provides the film’s title. Milwaukee filmmaker Kristin Peterson’s feature debut is a warm dramedy that takes this familiar feeling and turns it over to ask how humans ever really connect with one another.
“Scotch Tension”: “Scotch Tension” unwinds over two years in the lives of Em, who creates artisan woolens and whose spinning wheel breaks as she’s about to leave her hometown for the big city, and Noah, a handyman who might be able to help. Showcasing the quiet beauty of rural Wisconsin and the subtle yet nagging hum of the desire to escape, this romantic drama explores the grit and heart of Noah and Em’s relationship as the seasons turn.
The real world provides some of the best stories as this category proves year in and year out, gathering some of the best non-fiction cinematic storytelling out there to find the truth in reality.
“Ahead of the Curve”: This entertaining and informative documentary tells the history of Curve, the best-selling lesbian lifestyle magazine ever published. Following the pioneering exploits of its founder, Franco Stevens, “Ahead of the Curve” charts the groundbreaking cultural impact that Curve had on lesbian politics and visibility. Curve broke new ground in centering the diversity of the lesbian experience, drawing attention to problems that persist to this day. Featuring appearances by lesbian royalty Melissa Etheridge and Lea DeLaria.
“Coded Bias”: Meet Joy Buolamwini, your new favorite superhero. Shalini Kantayya’s sobering and gripping documentary plays like an episode of “Black Mirror” as we meet Buolamwini, an irrepressible “poet of code” who, while working at MIT, discovers deep inaccuracies in facial recognition technology when it encounters dark-skinned or female faces. She then sets out to do something about it, forming the “Algorithmic Justice League” to combat inequities in both who codes and how technology ought to be regulated.
“The Dilemma of Desire”: This funny and provocative documentary challenges the double standards of women’s sexuality. Women’s bodies are used to sell practically everything, but women’s actual desires are ignored and demonized. Following four pioneering women in the fight for “cliteracy,” “The Dilemma of Desire” features a neuroscientist, an artist, a medical doctor, and an industrial designer of vibrators as they fight against male-dominated medical biases that shortchange the power of the clitoris and its role in sexual pleasure.
“The Disrupted”: Weaving together three stories about work in the 21st century, “The Disrupted” follows a laid-off union factory worker in Ohio, a rideshare driver in Florida, and a fifth-generation farmer in Kansas, all struggling to cling to the American dream. Filmed in 2017, the film loses no force in 2020, and these characters never lose hope, inspiring the viewer to look for innovative approaches to ending income inequality in our own community.
“The Donut King”: Meet the Donut King: Ted Ngoy, a vivacious 77-year-old Cambodian refugee who found the American dream in the center of a doughnut. Alice Gu’s remarkable debut is a peppy character study of Ngoy, wrapped in a deeper look at the refugee population’s proliferation of doughnut shops in Southern California. This film serves at once as a celebration of the doughnut and a testament to the tenacity of immigrants to remake their lives in America.
“Down a Dark Stairwell” (available only Oct. 15-18): Documentarian Ursula Liang takes a new angle on police brutality, unpacking the murder of Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man shot in a New York City public housing stairwell by police officer Peter Liang (no relation). The shooting and subsequent trial set in motion a bitter clash between two minoritized communities, with Chinese American and Black protestors each demanding equity in the eyes of the law and on the streets of the city.
“Epicentro”: Winner of the Sundance World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize, “Epicentro” is an immersive and thought-provoking documentary about Cuba through an affectionate cinephile lens. Over its history, Cuba has been influenced time and again by imperialist forces. Director Hubert Sauper posits that the very act of filmmaking can be an imperialist act and interrogates these influences with “remarkable fluidity and gracefulness that’s consistently engaging and surprising.” (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Finding Yingying”: Chinese botany grad student Zhang Yingying arrived at the University of Illinois in April 2017. By June, she had disappeared. One part true crime and one part elegy, Yingying’s former classmate Jiayan “Jenny” Shi reconstructs Yingying’s homesick, tentative days in Illinois in this feature debut. Using her diary as a guide, Shi hopes not only to find some semblance of justice for a truly horrific crime, but also to capture the spirit lost.
“The Last Out”: Because of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, aspiring ballplayers leave their country under dangerous circumstances to establish residency in South American countries. This documentary follows Happy, Carlos, and Victor, three Cuban baseball players who leave their families and risk exile in order to follow their dreams of playing in the major leagues. Hoping to sign multimillion-dollar contracts like José Abreu and Yasiel Puig, the three tenacious players risk everything in their drive for success.
“Malni – Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore”: At once otherworldly and familiar, this film follows Sweetwater Sahme and Jordan Mercier’s wanderings as they contemplate the afterlife, rebirth, and the place in between. Spoken mostly in chinuk wawa, their stories depart from the Chinookan origin of death myth, with its distant beginning and circular shape. MFF alum Sky Hopinka returns with this feature debut, allowing the viewer to also wonder and wander as we question humanity’s place alongside and within the natural world.
“Oliver Sacks: His Own Life”: Legendary neurologist and storyteller Oliver Sacks redefined our understanding of the human brain, exploring previously unknown facets of the mind. This documentary explores the life and work of Sacks, documenting his struggles with drug addiction, homophobia, and the prejudiced medical establishment that ignored his work for years. “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life” is an intimate portrait of one of the most enigmatic scientific figures of our time.
“Personhood”: Jo Ardinger’s moving documentary explores the national impact of personhood legislation, which establishes rights for unborn fetuses often over those of the woman carrying the child. Centered in this film is the emotional legal saga of Medford, Wisconsin, resident Tammy Loertscher, whose attempts to improve her mental and physical health upon discovering her pregnancy land her in protective custody. Her fetus is given a lawyer, but she is not granted one.
“The Reason I Jump”: Based on Naoki Higashida’s best-selling nonfiction book of the same name, director Jerry Rothwell takes the viewer inside the experience of autism spectrum disorder, using all the cinematic tools available to create a graceful sensory experience of neurodiverse life. Like “Notes on Blindness” (MFF2016), this Sundance audience award-winning film is not to be missed if you seek to gain humane, experiential understanding of those who experience our world through different sensory lenses.
“The Reunited States”: Follow four Americans as they travel the country in an effort to bridge political division. From Susan Bro, reluctantly called to activism after losing daughter Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, to Milwaukeean Steven Olikara, founder of the Millennial Action Project, they all seek to mend division and find the human bond that crosses the aisles of our partisan nation. This film is a balm before Election Day, reminding us that even within division, connection is possible.
“Softie”: Winner of a Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival, “Softie” follows brazen and inspiring Kenyan photojournalist-turned-activist Boniface “Softie” Mwangi as he turns to a political run as a way to continue his pursuit of justice for all. Soko’s documentary deftly provides a long-term view of hope in the face of corruption, though it also reveals that speaking truth to power is a hard-fought battle with few clear wins along the way.
“Stage: The Culinary Internship”: Abby Ainsworth follows 30 young chefs, selected from over 1,500 applicants across the globe to intern in the kitchen at Mugaritz, a renowned molecular gastronomy restaurant nestled in the hills of Basque country, under the discerning eye of its founder. Witnessing this experience, known as a “stage” in the culinary world, reveals the pressures and challenges facing the next generation of rockstar chefs as they develop their inspiration, creativity, and technical skills.
“Us Kids”: Following the March for Our Lives movement, Kim A. Snyder’s documentary explores how tragedy can transform into action and the power of youth voice. Joining Parkland figures like Emma González and David Hogg, Milwaukee’s own Bria Smith seeks to expand the gun control platform beyond school shootings to also address community violence and structural racism. A powerful film about the capacity of youth and the potential of organizing to create action and change.
“We Don’t Deserve Dogs”: This heartwarming documentary asks why humans have earned the unconditional love that dogs give us. Filming companionships from around the globe, “We Don’t Deserve Dogs” is a portrait of the human connection to canines. This kaleidoscopic film moves from former child soldiers in Uganda, to a small-town pub in Scotland, to a dog walker in Istanbul. “We Don’t Deserve Dogs” is a beautifully photographed ode to man’s best friend — perfect for your dog’s first film festival experience.
Rarely given a voice in mainstream cinema, this category focuses in on LGBTQ+ stories across the globe and across all genres.
“Alice Junior”: An effervescent teen comedy from Brazil about a transgender high schooler looking for her first kiss. Alice’s world is turned upside down when she relocates from the big city to a small town for her father’s work. Trapped in a conservative school that rejects her identity, Alice must find a new community of queers and allies hiding in plain sight. “Alice Júnior” explodes with the style of TikToks and YouTube videos and celebrates the power of community.
“Dramarama”: At the end of summer 1994, five high school drama club friends are about to part ways for college – all except for Gene, a closeted gay kid stuck in their hometown. Before they go, the group throws a Victorian-literature-themed murder mystery party as a final send-off. But instead of revelry, they end up exposing their secrets, resentments, and fears. Filled with wit, charm, and heart, “Dramarama” is part “Breakfast Club,” part “Clue.”
- “The Gift”
- “La Gloria”
- “Where My Girls”
“GenreQueer Shorts: Experimental Visions”
- “(-)Ship: A Visual Poem”
- “Healing Me”
- “Speak Easy, B”
- “When Night Falls”
“Tahara”: Hebrew school besties Carrie and Hannah find their relationship strained when a fellow classmate commits suicide. Participating in the school’s memorial service and ineffectual “teen talkback” session, the friends grapple with the volatile cocktail of emotions dredged up by their grief, navigating a burgeoning queer sexuality, teenage lust, faith, and cliques. Featuring a biting sardonic dark humor and visionary directing style, “Tahara” is an incredible debut feature announcing a new talent in director Olivia Peace.
“Twilight’s Kiss”: What begins as a casual hook-up quickly becomes a tender romance when Pak, a 70-year-old taxi driver, begins falling in love with Hoi, a 65-year-old retiree. But there’s a hitch: Both men have kept their sexuality a secret for the sake of their traditional families. A compassionate examination of aging and post-retirement reckoning with one’s own heart, “Twilight’s Kiss” is an endearing portrait of the day-to-day lives of two men in love.
“Two of Us”: Nina and Madeleine have a sweeping romance that spans decades. In their old age, they live quiet lives with side-by-side units in their lavish apartment building. But their love has remained a secret, and Madeleine’s refusal to come out to her daughter complicates matters when a shocking development shakes up their lives. Director Filippo Meneghetti brings this tender drama to the screen to prove that true love conquers all.
“Welcome to the U.S.A.”: Aliya is a 30-something lesbian living in Kazakhstan who unexpectedly wins the green card lottery. Now she’s faced with the prospect of a new life in America or staying behind for her family. Highlighting the drama of everyday life, “Welcome to the USA” is an intimate look at the choices queer people must make between tradition and the new. This must-see queer film is an incredible debut from newcomer Assel Aushakimova.
Little ones already in love with the big screen? Then come to this category, filled with family-friendly features as well as stupendous shorts made for kids of all ages.
“Binti”: Our titular 12 year-old (Bebel Tshiani Baloji), a Congolese expat with eyes on vlogging superstardom, strives for normalcy as she and her father (played by Bebel’s actual father, hip-hop artist Baloji) navigate life as undocumented immigrants in Belgium. When their communal flat becomes the target of a police raid, Binti and her father race headlong into a whirlwind of excitement, meeting a mother-and-son duo every bit their match. An exuberant and stylish heartwarmer made for this moment.
“H is for Happiness”: This instant family classic boasts a buoyant, indefatigable freckled heroine in a gloriously realized off-kilter universe. Picture Annie in “a cross between John Hughes and Wes Anderson with a soupçon of Pedro Almodóvar” (Variety). A few years after the death of her younger sister, 12-year-old Candice Phee enlists the precocious new kid in class and her estranged uncle to pull her family from the depths of heartbreak. Based on Barry Jonsberg’s award-winning book, “My Life as an Alphabet.”
“Kids Shorts: Size Small”
- “A Lynx in the Town”
- “Beware the Wolf!”
- “Cat Lake City”
- “Elsa and the Night”
- “The Kite”
- “The Little Wide-Mouthed Frog”
“Kids Shorts: Size Medium”
- “Ailin on the Moon”
- “And Yet We Are Not Super-Heroes”
- “The Magic of Chess”
- “Northern Lights”
- “The Size of Things”
- “Wild Lea”
“Kids Shorts: Size Large”
- “100 Years of Music: Trudy and the LA Phil”
- “The Blue Cape”
- “The Butterfly Affect”
- “En Route”
- “It’s All Gravy”
- “Mahalia Melts in the Rain”
- “The Missfits”
- “The Quintet of the Sunset”
- “Shy & Ketchup”
- “Wash Day”
“Marona’s Fantastic Tale”: The epic saga of a pup’s last thoughts, sensitively told with exquisite animation on the afternoon of an accident. As she mentally revisits the owners and homes she has graced, often by chance, mixed-breed Marona’s memory conjures restless and swirling landscapes of roaring color to reflect her kaleidoscope of life-changing experiences and profound emotions. “Marona’s Fantastic Tale” evokes classic literary and cinematic storytelling.
“Teen Shorts: Juniors”
- “The Coin”
- “For Estefani, Third Grade, Who Made Me a Card”
- “Genius Loci”
- “The Missfits”
- “The One You Never Forget”
- “Shy & Ketchup”
- “Wash Day”
- “Wild Woman”
Size doesn’t matter in this category, tellling terrific and memorable stories in tiny packages. Perfect viewing for those who get restless streaming at home; here, everything’s just a handful of minutes!
“Shorts: The Best Damn F*#@ing Midnight Program Ever. Sh*t.
- “I Love Your Guts”
- “Little Miss Fate”
- “Lobster Tits”
- “The Motorist”
- “Wood Child and Hidden Forest Mother”
“Shorts: Date Night”
- “A Better You”
- “A Portrait of Frances, Enclosed”
- “Marcy Learns Something New”
- “We Want Our Money Back”
“Shorts: Grab Bag 2020”
- “Black Goat”
- “Broken Orchestra”
- “The Last Ferry from Grass Island”
- “Welcome to a Bright White Limbo”
- “Zoe and Hanh”
“Shorts: Let’s Get Animated”
- “Average Happiness”
- “The Coin”
- “The Dream Report”
- “Hudson Geese”
- “The Shawl”
- “Something to Remember”
“Shorts: Stranger Than Fiction”
- “Akashinga: The Brave Ones”
- “Huntsville Station”
- “My Brother’s Keeper”
- “Space Clouds”
- “Sundays at the Triple Nickel”
“Shorts: Surprise, Surprise”
- “He’s the One”
- “I’ll End Up in Jail”
- “The Voice in Your Head”
- “Wally Wenda”
- “Your Monster”
Cinema is the combination of picture and sound – and here is a category that celebrations that glorious harmony with stories about music and musicians brought to visual life.
“Billie”: The unforgettable singer of “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit,” Billie Holiday remains one of the most iconic voices in jazz. In the 1970s, journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl began work on the definitive biography of Holiday, recording over 200 hours of interviews on cassette before Kuehl’s untimely death in 1978. Featuring never-before-heard interviews from figures in Holiday’s life, this documentary presents a new portrait of one of the most complex artists in music history.
“Chuck Berry”: We all know Chuck Berry’s music and his status as one of the pioneers of rock n’ roll. With new and archival testimonials from Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Alice Cooper, Steven Van Zandt, and many more, this artful documentary sheds light on Berry the icon, but also unpacks his challenges with racism, policing, and legal and financial troubles. But his tender identity as a father and husband shines above it all.
“Crestone”: We are immersed in the world of internet-based SoundCloud rappers in this unique documentary about Crestone, Colorado, where a community of young Gen Z rappers grow weed, play video games, and make music for each other. An enigmatic group portrait of a music subculture creatively dealing with the despair of looming apocalypse, “Crestone” is a celebration of creative energy in the face of social and ecological disaster and a timely document of our current moment.
“Dark City: Beneath the Beat”: A favorite on the festival circuit, “Dark City: Beneath the Beat” presents an immersive experience into the choreography and club music that reverberate from the streets of Baltimore all the way into your living room. Far more than just a feature-length music video, director TT The Artist presents stories through dance and beats that provide a greater insight into a city often associated with “The Wire.”
“Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story”: “Keyboard Fantasies” brings to light the obscure history of one of the greatest composers you’ve never heard of: Glenn Copeland. This documentary tells the story of his self-released 1986 cassette tape Keyboard Fantasies, how it was rediscovered generations later by Japanese record collectors, and how it inspired contemporary musicians like Four Tet and Caribou. A look into the genius of homemade music, “Keyboard Fantasies” is also a celebration of an unsung Black trans artist.
“Never Too Late: The Doc Severinsen Story”: Former pops conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Doc Severinsen is best known as the bandleader for Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show.” But even after Carson tearfully stepped off the stage in 1992, Severinsen did not stop … and still does not stop, as the most energetic nonagenarian trumpet player you’ll ever encounter. This dynamic documentary portrait will leave you breathless to keep up with Doc, even if you don’t ever pick up a horn.
“Stop Making Sense” (available only on Oct. 24 at 9 p.m.): We weren’t going to let some global pandemic keep us from our favorite tradition, so welcome to the virtual dance party. Stream our dance-party event on one screen (mute yourself, pls) and put the film on the biggest, loudest screen you’ve got. Don’t miss this one-night only separate-but-together dance-along to the greatest concert film ever made, Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense,” featuring the Talking Heads.
Travel the world from your couch with the selections from this category, telling fascinating stories and sharing thoughtful perspectives from across the globe.
“About Endlessness”: Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson (“A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence”) returns in peak form. “About Endlessness” follows a series of vignettes in which an unseen narrator observes the absurdity and humor of everyday life. But of course, this is Roy Andersson, so it is the driest, darkest humor money can buy. Some scenes drift into fantasy, while others are mundane and quotidian, but as a whole you get a stunning portrait of the human experience.
“Ema”: Ema is reeling as her relationship falls apart in the aftermath of an adoption gone awry. Her loss is never far from her mind as her partner (Gael García Bernal) is also the choreographer of her reggaeton dance troupe. Ema deals with her grief through a series of seemingly self-destructive decisions until it’s revealed that there is a method to her madness. Ema marks Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s (“Jackie,” “Neruda”) triumphant return home.
“Kuessipan”: On a Quebec Innu reservation, Shaniss and Mikuan are best friends who couldn’t be more different. Shaniss has a large, loving family and wants to attend college for writing. Mikuan has lived on her own for years, raising a baby with her ne’er-do-well boyfriend. The two drift apart when Shaniss starts dating a white boy from her writing class. Adapted from Naomi Fontaine’s acclaimed novel, “Kuessipan” displays the tension between chasing your dreams and staying true to where you’re from.
“The Last Tree”: Femi led a bucolic life in rural Lincolnshire with his foster family until his Nigerian mother shows up to take him home to live in urban London. Frustrated with his mother, Femi takes matters into his own hands to travel to Nigeria and find his long-absent father. A poignant story paired with evocative dream sequences results in a refreshingly nuanced coming-of-age film from MFF alum Shola Amoo (“Dear Mr. Shakespeare”).
“Made in Bangladesh”: The Bengali “Norma Rae,” “Made in Bangladesh” follows Shimu and her fellow textile factory employees as they fight for their rights. After one of her co-workers dies in a factory fire, Shimu begins to learn more about the benefits of unionizing. She decides to lead the charge in union development, contrary to the wishes of her more conservative husband. But nothing can stop these women from empowering themselves against the forces of capitalism and patriarchy.
“Martin Eden”: Adapted from the 1909 novel by Jack London yet set in an unspecified moment in Italy’s history, “Martin Eden” follows a proletarian man thrust into bourgeois society. Martin ingratiates himself to a wealthy family and becomes romantically involved with their daughter, Elena. She attempts to assimilate Martin into high-class culture (no easy feat). Martin finally gains recognition from the literary elite, but as he gains more influence, he realizes the bourgeoisie isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
“The Perfect Candidate”: “Wadjda” director Haifaa al-Mansour returns to her native Saudi Arabia with the inspirational story of Dr. Maryam Alsafan. It’s hard enough to be a female doctor in Saudi Arabia, but when the damaged road in front of Maryam’s hospital endangers inbound patients, she decides to take matters into her own hands and run for public office. She faces resistance around every corner, but with support from her endearing family and her dogged persistence, Maryam forges ahead.
“Summer White”: Thirteen-year-old Rodrigo may not have a ton of friends, but that’s OK. He has his best friend, his mother Valeria, and the warm comfort of their home on the outskirts of Mexico City. But when Valeria’s new boyfriend moves in, Rodrigo must grapple with changes to this relationship, his sense of home, and his sense of self in director Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson’s delicate and promising feature debut.
“The Tobacconist”: Seventeen-year-old Franz moves to Vienna to work in a tobacco shop and hits the jackpot when he becomes close friends with none other than Sigmund Freud (played by Bruno Ganz in one of his final on-screen roles). Freud helps Franz navigate his new romantic feelings for music-hall dancer Anezka, all while the shadow of Nazi invasion looms over the horizon, in this tender adaptation of the international bestseller by Robert Seethaler.
“To the Ends of the Earth”: Yoko is the sunny host of a Japanese travel variety show, and the newest episode will follow her journey through Uzbekistan. Whether she’s hunting for a mythical fish in a man-made lake or riding the slingshot ride at a carnival over and over again, Yoko has to grin and bear it for the public’s entertainment. Even though she can’t understand anything going on around her, her trip ultimately becomes a journey in self-discovery.