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4 Films To Watch From Milwaukee Film's GenreQueer Pride Month Screenings

Still from the film "The New Black", one of the films screening in Milwaukee Film's GenreQueer Pride Month program.
Courtesy of Promised Land Film
Still from the film "The New Black," one of the films screening in Milwaukee Film's GenreQueer Pride Month program.

This year for Pride Month, Milwaukee Film’s GenreQueer program is presenting over 20 films and events throughout June focused on LGBTQ+ cinema. GenreQueer was started in 2018 as a part of the Milwaukee Film Festival and is now being expanded as a part of Milwaukee Film’s Culture & Communities project, which is dedicated to representing historically marginalized communities.

In 2019, Aster Gilbert was hired as GenreQueer’s lead program coordinator and says this plan to expand out of the film festival has existed since the early days of the program.

“[Culture & Communities] is a bringing together talent from all of our different departments to really focus on year-round programing that reflects, and responds to, and speaks to all of the different diverse communities in Milwaukee,” Gilbert explains.

Gilbert says this year’s program includes films both new and old from a diverse group of filmmakers. Because Pride can mean so many things to different people, she says the films show different aspects and how they can be connected.

Two major themes Gilbert points to is the fact that Pride was born out of LGBT+ people fighting back against oppressive structures, something that is still important today, and that Pride is also an opportunity for people to celebrate their true identity.

“The legacy of Pride is not just this, 'Hey, remember what it used to be about,' but it still is this kind of struggle and push for rights and recognition, destigmatizing different sexual identities, but at the same time Pride is a celebration, it is a moment for people to step out and say this is who I am,” she says.

While the films cover serious and important topics, Gilbert says that doesn’t mean the films don’t include fun and celebratory moments. She highlights a few films in particular that capture the different ideas and legacies of pride.

1. The New Black (2013)

The New Black Theatrical Trailer

This award-winning documentary captures the Black community in Maryland in the midst of the 2013 debate around the state granting marriage equality to LGBT+ couples. It delves into different sides of debate that many Black churches in Maryland were having about whether or not to accept queer couples into their congregations. While marriage equality has become the law of the land across the U.S., Gilbert says the film still feels relevant in 2021.

“It’s a really, I think, urgent and incredible documentary that shows the complexity of these religious and political ideas and how they take shape and how they become a culture war,” she says.

GenreQueer will be hosting an event with Milwaukee community members to talk about same-sex relationships within religious institutions on June 22 at 7 p.m.

2. Song Lang (2018)

SONG LANG (2018) | Official Vietnam trailer

This Vietnamese ‘90s period piece is an unlikely love story between an underground debt collector and an opera performer. Gilbert says it’s a “simple story at heart” about people who live two vastly different lives falling in love.

“It’s very kind of sweeping and passionate, it’s a period piece, so for people that love just really beautiful and gorgeous films about aching, yearning love stories, [Song Lang] is 100% a film that you’re going to enjoy,” she says.

3. Restored Arthur J. Bressan Films (1970s)

Arthur J. Bressan is a pioneer of gay filmmaking. Gilbert says his work is some of the first to ever cover issues like the first Pride parades and the emergence of the AIDS epidemic. Bressan’s films are explicit and marked as “Adults Only” on the Milwaukee Film website, but Gilbert says the films capture the essence of the queer experience at the time — combining aspects of sexuality, political activism and mundane life. GenreQueer will be showing his films Passing Strangers and Forbidden Letters, which have been recently restored by The Bressen Project.

“Bressan has been this major figure for queer people for decades but his films have been very hard to find and in very rough shape, and so the Arthur J. Bressan Project, as well as the American Genre Film Archive have restored these films in these beautiful pristine transfers,” she says.

GenreQueer will also be hosting a roundtable discussion about the restoration and the importance of Arthur J. Bressen in LGBT+ cinema.

Gilbert says after more than a year of having to stay home and watch movies, celebrating Pride by watching an at-home festival may not be ideal, but these films are “invigorating and exciting.” Plus many that are included in the program are difficult to see otherwise, so she encourages people to grab some popcorn and sit down at home to watch a screening from GenreQueer.

Audrey Nowakowski is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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