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Milwaukee Film's Chief Innovation Officer Discusses 2021 Cultures & Communities Festival

Rosella Joseph
Milwaukee Magazine
Geraud Blanks is the Chief Innovation Officer for Milwaukee Film.

Milwaukee Film’s 2021 Cultures & Communities Festival, formerly known as the Minority Health Film Festival, is happening now through September 12th. The festival aims to promote individual and communal wellness while encouraging cultural equity, bringing representation through programming, and outreach to historically underrepresented communities.

The changes and rollout of the Cultures & Communities Festival are in large part due to the work of Geraud Blanks, Milwaukee Film’s first Chief Innovation Officer. Blanks has been with the organization since 2014, and he has helped launch programs like Black Lens, Cine Sin Fronteras, GenreQueer, and the Cultures and Communities department itself.

"Film has just been so important to me. It’s an aspect of bonding for me and my mother, and it’s something that’s shaped my creativity and my understanding of the world in which I live," Blanks says.

When Blanks was initially building the Black Lens programming along with Dr. Donte McFadden, he admits they learned a lot of lessons about what it takes to build a successful program with films that don't just resonate with audiences, but build a community around them.

"I couldn't wait for the community to find out about this initiative and then just be as enthusiastic as I was. But it didn't work out that way initially, it was tough at first," says Blanks.

To him, putting a film on screen with a Black screen writer, Black actors, or relevant subject isn't enough.

"It's not enough. It's not enough for any community, to be quite honest," Blanks explains. "You have to go do the work, the hard work of doing community outreach and sometimes begging people, I mean literally throwing tickets at people to see if they'll come to see the film. But what we realized is if you talk to people and see what their interests are, and where their interests lie, and you get a sense of what really moves them and inspires them — that then informs the work you do, the films you put on screen."

The Cultures & Communities Festival is a rebranding of the Minority Health Film Festival from years past. Blanks notes that initially the idea was to have a film festival during April — Minority Health Awareness Month. However, time constraints led the program being pushed to the fall, and the title didn't fit as naturally.

"Also, a lot of people of color do not tend to like the word minority," Blanks notes. "And so we just realized we have a good thing here, we don't want the title to get in the way."

He says the department's ultimate goal is to find a way to make sure a safe space is created for everyone to embrace all cultures and share in that experience with the larger Milwaukee community.

"The focus of Cultures & Communities is always going to be people of color and queer folk because we want to center that experience, but I don't want anybody to feel excluded. To me, inclusion means everybody and I wanted people to think of this festival as more than just race and gender identity ... it's about what inspires you," says Blanks.

He says that his key task at Milwaukee Film is bringing new audiences to the cinema and the work the organization does, but he thinks of his work beyond that.

"I want to bring new audiences that enlighten our core audience, and I want our core audience to enlighten these new audiences," says Blanks. "I know it sounds like a utopia, but I'm going to create a utopia here in Milwaukee and that is the goal. I know it sounds lofty, but who cares. That's what I do."

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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