Helmeted cyclists stream along Milwaukee Avenue below Division Friday night in a soft blue dusk with the smell of spring, almost. I can’t find the screening space opening in the next hour or so. The subway whooshes under the grated sidewalk. The loiterers outside Crater Liquors aren’t likely to know. Even with directions from a smiling passerby— “The screening’s that way!”—I walk past the Nightingale twice: a ground-floor space with sliding patio doors covered with sheets of black paper and an eight-by-ten page announcing the screening.
“We want to be really grassroots. We want to be really low-key,” co-programmer Christy LeMaster tells me later, and the signage insures that. Still, by the start of the show of experimental shorts by UK filmmaker Ben Rivers, more than fifty people fill the folding chairs and battered pair of couches in front of a decent-sized screen in the 1,200-foot space. Curated by LeMaster and Chicago History Museum archivist Josh Mabe, the space is just-minted, a blue wall with a freshly painted wind-up mechanical nightingale as you enter. In the back of the room, a 16mm project rides atop three gray milk crates on a Formica kitchen table. The space, in LeMaster’s words, is “the product of a lot of loose talk and big schemes” and a lot of “scheming and hoping.”
“We’re just hoping to provide a screening space in Wicker Park for a wide variety of cinema, film and video events. It’s been a long-time dream of mine to have a space of my own to show movies that I like or movies that I’ve seen at festivals in other cities and haven’t seen here,” LeMaster says between reaching for five-dollar donations.
The numbered tickets hold images from Rivers’ show, photocopied onto card stock. Later, they serve as raffle tickets, for a DVD, books (including “Cassavetes on Cassavetes”) and a lonely Bert doll. There are not quite as many cameras as attendees—a windup 16mm camera, a digital 35mm camera, a Polaroid SX-70, a Flip video—with almost every seat taken as the lights go down. Rivers introduces the films in a soft accent, saying little but getting a laugh for his pronunciation of “my-stery” and the Irish-ism of calling his work “fillums.” There’s a dance of extended leader countdowns between fillums, to murmurs and laughter of approval: it’s that sort of bunch. (Ray Pride)