Milwaukee Film Festival 2016: Milwaukee 53206: A Community Serves Time
By Andrea Thompson
The documentary “Milwaukee 53206: A Community Serves Time” does one of the most dangerous things a doc can do: it takes audience knowledge for granted. This isn't a completely bad thing, since it seems to aim for a Milwaukee audience and tell personal stories regarding incarceration of black men, and does both quite well. But even Milwaukee residents would benefit from a little more information in the slight but powerful film, which barely falls short of a one hour runtime. It allows us to get the sobering basics of how the 53206 zip code contains the greatest number of incarcerated people in the nation, then goes beyond the statistics to show three families struggling with the complications of its members serving time. How exactly did Milwaukee come to this? What about its history of segregation? How does that segregation exacerbate the problem? And how does politics tie into it? These questions are either barely mentioned or completely absent, resulting in “53206” doing little more than preaching to the choir, when it could spin a compelling story which rarely gets told. The personal stories are incredibly moving, as we see how being imprisoned affects a person's chances of being reintegrated into the community, but a bigger picture is needed.