MILWAUKEE — The 15th annual Milwaukee Film Festival wrapped Thursday, featuring 283 films from 51 countries shown over 15 days.

This year, women and non-binary directors accounted for more than 53% of the feature-length selection and 54.7% of the shorts. The 2023 festival also saw box office sales up more than 60% from last year’s.

All of those statistics are incredible feats.

(Photo by Valerie Hill, courtesy of Milwaukee Film)

Several selections were recent favorites from the Cannes Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival and more.

Whether you’re a casual movie fan or a total cinephile, the festival truly has something to offer for everybody. With more than 130 features and 140 shorts, there were a handful of selections to choose from, showing just how dedicated the Milwaukee Film Festival is to sharing stories from all walks of life.

Here are just some standouts to be on the lookout for down the road:

“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” (2023)

The beloved childhood classic comes to the big screen with Kelly Fremon Craig’s adaptation of Judy Blume’s novel. Featuring a top-of-her-game performance from Rachel McAdams, the film also stars breakout Abby Ryder Fortson as the titular Margaret.

Fremon Craig’s debut film “The Edge of Seventeen” was also a coming-of-age triumph a few years ago, and her blend of emotion and wit is on full display in this adaption of the story that has transcended decades. Fortunately for those who missed it at the film festival, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is now playing in theaters nationwide.

“Little Richard: I Am Everything” (2023)

The festival’s centerpiece screening of the Sundance-premiering documentary, “Little Richard: I Am Everything” explores the whitewashed American rock music genre, revealing the Black queer originator at the genre’s center: Richard Penniman. The documentary’s director Lisa Cortés was in attendance for the screening and took part in a followup Q&A.

It’s shocking that there hasn’t been a Little Richard documentary up until this point, and having Cortés at the helm worked across the board, from stylistic choices to interviews with various subjects about the music icon. Luckily for those who missed it, the film is co-produced by CNN Films and Max (formerly HBO Max), and will be available to stream on the platform later this year.

“Huesera: The Bone Woman” (2022)

This Mexican horror movie explores the dark side of motherhood and its impact on a new mother, Valeria, who is tormented by a sinister entity. As danger closes in and relationships with her family become fractured, she’s forced deeper into a chilling world of dark magic that threatens to consume her.

“Huesera: The Bone Woman” is a supernatural and psychological smash that uses local mythology to put a new, horrifying spin on maternity and the pressure to adhere to societal norms.

“A Disturbance in the Force” (2023)

The festival’s closing night film was a documentary that explores the history of the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” that aired in 1978 to 13 million people and almost ended the galaxy far, far away. George Lucas has said, “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy ... and smash it.”

Even the most casual “Star Wars” fan can find much to appreciate about this documentary and it provided a lot of insight into the early lore of what has now become one of the most successful film franchises of all time.

Shorts, shorts and more shorts

As mentioned, there were more than 140 shorts (148, to be exact), and short films are a must at the Milwaukee Film Festival. The shorts are where you get to see some of the weirdest, funniest and most heartwarming films of the festival.

Some highlights include:

  • “Margie Soudek’s Salt and Pepper Shakers” (2022) directed by Meredith Moore

  • “Sweatshop Girl” (2023) directed by Selma Cervantes

  • “Requiem” (2021) directed by Em Gilberston

  • “Pennies from Heaven” (2023) directed by Sandy Honig

  • “You’ve Never Been Completely Honest” (2022) directed by Joey Izzo

  • “Live Forever” (2020) directed by Gustav Egerstedt

  • “Troy” (2022) directed by Mike Donahue

  • “Mahogany Drive” (2023) directed by Jerah Milligan

  • “The Paranormal Communicator” (2021) directed by Tyler Miguel Mercer

  • “T” (2019) directed by Keisha Rae Witherspoon


Needless to say, the 2024 festival cannot come soon enough.

The Milwaukee Film Festival is presented by Associated Bank. For more on the festival and other Milwaukee Film information and events, click here.


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