Halls of Cinema

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Halls of Cinema is a writing assignment that I give students of Intro to Film at Harper College in Palatine, IL. I ask them to submit a film that we should preserve for future generations and to keep an eye out for films that I may have overlooked for some reason or another.

These are the results from the Spring semester of 2016:

Shawshank Redemption – The Express – Pursuit of Happyness x 5500 Days of Summer – Bajo La Misma Luna – Little Rascals – The Watchmen – The Breakfast Club – Rocky – Mulholland Drive – Gladiator – Chronicle – Walk the Line – Detachment – The Natural – Bridesmaids – The Notebook – Scarface x 3 – Dante 01 – Hurt Locker – The Dark Knight – The Force Awakens – Office Space x 2 – Django: Unchained x 3 – The Bucket List – The Prestige – Focus – Toy Story – Standford Prison Experiment – American Sniper – The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – Harold and Maude – Evil Dead 2 – Big Hero 6 – A New Hope – Moneyball – Million Dollar Baby – The Office (TV) – The Motivation – Avatar – Almost Famous – Tiny Times – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Pay it Forward – 2001: A Space Odyssey – A Goofy Movie – The Graduate x 2 – A Walk to Remember – Borat – Up – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – Cloverfield – Step Brothers – Chicken Run – Donnie Darko – It’s a Wonderful Life – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Not my best #dualworld but I’m happy to leave work while the sun is still up! – Via Instagram @Cinemar10

Entry that I hadn’t seen yet: I haven’t been brave enough to watch The Boy in the Striped Pajamas but this student pushed me to seek it out.

Entry that I want to rewatch: This student had some cool theories about how Donnie Darko plays out that left me wondering whether I’d really seen the film at all.

Biggest Surprise: What is it about this semester that made 5 students write about Pursuit of Happyness? There are also students that chose this film for their Final Presentation.

Bonus Shout Out: Harper College Film Club took Second Place in the Reel Illinois Film Competition for their video about Anne’s Resale Shop in Rolling Meadows.

Harper College Film Club – Via Instagram @Cinemar10

Chicago Doc Summit 2012

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The Chicago Documentary Summit is happening at Columbia College Chicago on April 21st and 22nd. Summit leader, Andrew Zinnes and author of Guerilla Film Guide has offered a discounted rate to our readers, code: chicagofilm

Here are some of the speakers that you can meet at the summit:

Ruth Leitman

I first encountered Ruth’s work when Lipstick and Dynamite was airing on IFC. I was fresh out of undergrad and hungry to watch any documentary available. Her style of using a variety of archival sources to put together a portrait of early female wrestlers was different than much of the doc that I found on television. Years later, I voted for her short film called Tony & Janina’s American Wedding, which was a winner of the Link TV: One Chicago, One Nation contest that many of my friends entered (before crowd-sourcing was a buzzword.)

When the film premiered, Tony asked me, “What’s next?” I answered, “We need to make some noise, because if we make enough noise, tell and show enough people, keep our eye on the prize, something will happen.” – R.Leitman

Today, Tony and Janina’s American Wedding: A Deportation Love Story is a feature doc that’s at the forefront of the immigration debate. The laws that are highlighted by the film represent the only positive change that President Obama has made on the issue, which means that Ruth has achieved the greatest goal that a documentary filmmaker can hope for; to shine a spotlight that makes life better for those involved in the story and the world better for those that are impacted by it. Ruth and her producer, Steve Dixon, were recently named NATIONAL ADVOCATE OF THE YEAR by Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota for their efforts in teaching American communities about the need for immigration reform.

Jeff Spitz

Jeff was my first mentor at Columbia College Chicago because he’s passionate about linking his films to social issues and prolonging his relationships to the people in them. His work with the Robben Island Singers and The Navajo Community continues, even years after the films were released. Jeff’s latest documentary, Food Patriots, portrays the way his family deals with the consequences of industrialized food.

He’ll talk about casting, story structure and lessons he’s learned about putting his family in the doc. The Spitz family has raised some chickens in the past year that have been deemed illegal by their north-suburban neighborhood. I’m looking forward to hearing how this bomb shell will effect the beginning, middle and end of his story.

Julie Keck and Jessica King

Julie and Jess make up the dynamic filmmaking duo, King is a Fink. We first encountered them at Ego Fest in 2011 when they screened a short called Wiggle Room. Everyone in Brainerd, MN loved them and they seemed to have ongoing collaborations with a variety of filmmakers in town including Phil Holbrook, director of TILT. Together, they raised $15,000 from 223 donors for a thriller webseries.

Just to be clear, the only time you should say you’re the Key Master is when a possessed Sigourney Weaver with fabulous hair asks you directly. And then you should say ‘yes’. Always. – J.Keck

Julie Keck (right) was recently invited to write a series of articles for Script Magazine called Taking the Reins. She wisely begins the series by claiming to be not an expert, because anyone claiming to be an expert in something as new as crowdsourcing shouldn’t be trusted. She’ll be giving tips on online fundraising from the perspective of young, up-coming filmmakers.

Other speakers include Gordon Quinn, Tod Lending, John Siskel and Greg Jacobs.

Amid The Re:Nuisánce

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St. Patrick’s Day in Chicagoland was the warmest in 141 years. This is the first time that I’ve ever seen spring come early and we saw record breaking highs for a stretch of 8 consecutive days. While the rest of the city was feverishly binge-drinking, killing little girls and chanting USA at guy-on-guy action in Arlington Heights, we found a peaceful place to be. We were at the front lines of the Slow Food movement, among the sensible people that gathered to share information at The Good Food Chicago Conference. We aren’t chefs or farmers but there are parallels between our struggle as creative individuals and this food rebel cause.

Paul Virant, chef of Vie Restaurant, took a poll of the farmers and foodies present during a panel on Canning and Preserving. “How many of you are excited about the weather?” About 20% threw their hands in the air. “How many are scared?” The other 80% looked at one another as they slowly raised their hands. “How many think the Mayans were right?” One lady blushed when she realized that she was the only one with her hand up.Paul Virant (Vie Restaurant) and Tracey Vowell (3 Sisters Gardens) One thing that everyone agreed on was that they still wouldn’t plant their crops yet.

Paul was joined by half of the workforce at 3 Sisters Gardens. Tracey Vowell worked for Rick Bayless at Frontera Grill before starting the indoor farm near Kankakee, IL with her partner, Kathe Roybal. She was part of the workshop to emphasize the close-knit relationship between some restaurants and farmers in Chicago. Their collaborative spirit was demonstrated when Paul mentioned writing her products into a recipe that would be published in a magazine. “They called me for an order last week, thank you.” Tracey responded.

Tracey and Kathe specialize in growing Corn, Beans and Squash because of the Native American tradition of growing the 3 veggies in a single mound. Her advice to those interested in agribusiness could easily apply to the arts or filmmaking. “Don’t grow what everyone else is growing. Find your own market.” She said that consistently growing corn, beans and squash, along with microgreens, means that farmers from all around Midwest count on her to supplement their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) This allows her to collaborate and bridge markets with fellow farmers instead of competing against them.

Michael O’Gorman, who now helps veterans start food businesses, spoke as part of a panel called So You Wanna Be a Farmer. He started farming during The Back to the Land Movement in the 1970s and explains that everyone was growing their own food in the wake of the Vietnam War.Michael O'Gorman (Farmer Veteran Coalition) Many even made a living in farming until droughts in the late 1980s put 1 out of every 100 farmers out of business. He told this story to make sure that anyone considering a life on the farm knows that “if you don’t have PTSD before becoming a farmer, give it a few years.”

O’Gorman’s longview of the food movement is reassuring.  He encourages prospective farmers to think about their farm like a work of art or a movie. “What kind of movie do you want to make?” The leaders of the food movement are looking to us, the artsy fartsies, as inspiration for their work. My short documentaries stand as an alternative to John Carter, just like 3 Sisters Gardens stands as an alternative to Monsanto and other titans of industrialized farming.

“It’s not about markets, it’s not about your land. It’s about the knowledge.” – Michael O’Gorman

This cross-pollination or Re:Mix of ideas from farmers to chefs to filmmakers to artists all shares a single spirit. We’re all fighting our own Goliaths. Whether it’s Monsanto, McDonald’s, TMZ or Ads and Billboards, we’re all fighting against a flood of mass-produced distractions that keep people from taking time to appreciate real food, independent film and contemporary art. A shift has been in the mix for some time. Real, substantial change seems to be at our fingertips and on the tips of our tongues.

I propose that we are already in the throws of a Second-Hand Renaissance made up of shared ideas about our surroundings; corrupt, big-brother, tabloid journalism; Bloated-Budget, Bombing Blockbusters; RT, TL;DR, HD-TV News and Slick, Sugar-Coated Marketing that keeps us running to the store in fear. In this overbearing environment, filled with feedback and LCD screens, those of us that can re-appropriate the mess that engulfs us are amid a new Artistic Revolution. A Re:Nuisánce.

On the other side of the country, around the same time as the So You Wanna Be a Farmer panel, Bruce Springsteen delivered the keynote address at the SXSW Festival in Austin, TX that echoed the sentiment of the Good Food Movement. He spoke of revolution, rebellion and bringing a working-class mentality to our creativity. Not back to the land, but back to the soul. Back to the root of the problem. He talks about the pride and humility required to succeed in music, or any other field and reminds us that “if it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong.”

Like O’Gorman, The Boss puts our current struggle in the context of his experience with the evolution of rock and roll. They both make it clear that, while we’re on the ground floor of a brand new way of living, working and collaborating, we stand on the shoulders of people that have been there before and made it work. The torch has been passed. Maybe the Mayans were right.

Uniting America at Malcolm X College

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The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is hosting the second annual Illinois Immigrant Integration Summit at Malcolm X College on February 4th, from 9AM – 1PM. Under the theme “Education is Power,” they’ll be hosting workshops on citizenship, voter registration and how to keep families together in the face of deportation.

As part of the summit, a group AmeriCorp Fellows have been charged with the task of unifying communities though “increased dialogue, new friendships, community service and through sharing food and culture.” When I heard that they were using art to build bridges and bring people together, I offered up a few of my films and they agreed to let me screen them as part of the Uniting America exhibit.

The films that will screen are Familia Bom Brill, Binsieta and Shabuya. All of these docs portray elements of the immigrant experience and they all stem from my family. Looking at those titles together makes me wonder why it’s so hard to name something in English.

Familia Bom Brill focuses on the love story between Diana and I but it carries the scars that develop when someone leaves their home country at a young age and themes of family reunification. This is still a sneak preview as I recently began working with a composer named Kristin Cotts and reached out to sound designers from Columbia to beef up the audio. I also met photographer, Juan Manuel Fernandez, while picking up film at CSW and he agreed to let me use one of his images for my promotional art. Here’s the image

Bisnieta is a film that I completed around 2009 for Documentary 1 with Bruce Sheridan at Columbia. It’s a family story that spans over 4 generations and questions the value of tradition in American culture. This was my first attempt at portraying my family as we went through the painful journey of what we thought would be our family’s only quinceañera. The film will give Kylie Kozlowski an idea of what she’s in for.

Shabuya was my introduction into activism and documentary. The project started because I was curious about all of the work that my parents were doing around the topic of immigration. When I told my Mother that I was looking for something to film, she jumped at the opportunity to invite me on the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride and we ended going on a 8 day bus ride to Washington D.C. with a bunch of workers, students and organizers.

My life hasn’t been the same since and the people that I met on that voyage have continued to inspire me in the years since. This seems like the appropriate time to dust the film off and remind us all how far we’ve come. I haven’t seen the film since I started attending Columbia and we had one of our first Viva Doc meetings so it’ll be nice to see how much has changed in my work.

It also seems like an appropriate time to start My Dream Project.

Photo from Marissa Graciosa