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Milwaukee Film’s Cultures & Communities Fest convenes diverse artists around more than movies

The interdisciplinary arts festival runs through Oct. 12

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Graphic for Milwaukee Film's 2023 Cultures & Communities Festival.
Graphic for Milwaukee Film’s 2023 Cultures & Communities Festival. Courtesy of Milwaukee Film

Five years ago, Milwaukee Film created an initiative to amplify diverse cultural perspectives through film programming, events and community outreach.

One of those programs is the Cultures & Communities Festival. From in-person film screenings to public forums, each event is amplifying diverse cultural expressions and celebrating community in southeastern Wisconsin from October 5-12.

WPR’s Morning Edition Host Alex Crowe spoke with Geraud Blanks, Milwaukee Film’s Chief Innovation Officer and head organizer of the Cultures & Communities Festival.

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The interview is edited for clarity.

Alex Crowe: This is the fifth iteration of the festival. Can you tell me about some events that are happening this year?

Geraud Blanks: On Monday, Oct. 9, we have our panel called “The Art of Storytelling” — really excited about this. It’s bringing together journalists across several different fields to talk about what it means to be a representative storyteller — to represent a community, but also make sure you’re presenting the story in a fair and balanced way.

We have the 20th anniversary of Poetry Unplugged, which is the longest running spoken word open mic in Milwaukee.

On our closing night, we have “The State of Modern Conservatism” hosted by Charlie Sykes, that will be at Marquette University. Our closing night party will feature Gangstagrass, which is a hip-hop bluegrass band, and Shonn Hinton & Shotgun, which is a local blues rock group.

AC: So why was it important for you to start this and to keep the festival going now in its fifth year?

GB: Well, because we hope in time it will grow into a regional festival. An event that folks from Chicago, Northern Illinois, even maybe Minneapolis, certainly Madison and Green Bay, will want to come to spend a day or stay overnight. We really think this, again in time, can be something really special.

And what’s really cool about it is the sort of convergence of a lot of different things. It’s a film festival, it’s an arts and culture festival. It’s even, to some extent, you could see it as a conference for content creators and intellectuals. So we’re trying to do a lot of things.

AC: The general target audience for this will be in southeastern Wisconsin, but do you see or hear of other festivals celebrating Wisconsin’s diverse communities like this in other parts of the state?

GB: There are a ton of festivals and great events across the state, but I think everyone has their niche. You know, you have the arts and cultural festivals, you have the music festivals, you have the film festivals. I don’t think that there’s anything like Cultures & Communities though. Because, again, we combine, we converge all of those disciplines, all of those interests, into eight days.

So I’m biased, but I’d like to say this thing is pretty unique.

AC: We had a story from one of our reporters, Evan Casey, about Milwaukee’s oldest theater abruptly closing and leaving just three theaters in that city where half a million people live. It’s the biggest city in Wisconsin. So how are theaters handling this? How do you think that’s going to affect this new era of film viewership?

GB: We’re already seeing the impact of COVID, but also streaming giants that encourage people to stay home, when our business is about getting you off your couch and into a cinema with the community. So time will tell.

My hope is that independent cinemas, arthouse cinemas, will always be around. But it’s up to the community, if I can be honest, to support these venues. Because at the end of the day, if the customers don’t go to see the films, the places will disappear.

AC: Is that the hope for a festival like this not only to bring people together in to celebrate culture and community, but introduce them to something that they don’t go to very often? And maybe reinvigorate the film industry?

GB: I mean that is sort of the central tenet to Cultures & Communities. I want you to take all that you are, all the cultural sort of pillars that make up how you define yourself and bring them to a space with others who are bringing their cultures and understandings and traditions.

I want us to convene around the things that make us similar, the things that make us different. But at the end of the day, it’s all about joy, celebrating one another celebrating our communities. We’re trying to introduce people to new things because we feel like it’s just a matter of getting people in a space and making sure they feel comfortable.

They’ll be open. I think we’ve seen that people will be open to new things, as long as they feel safe, comfortable and respected.