Photo: Alessandra Giordano
By Brian Hieggelke
Now that we’ve finally chosen the movie we’ll produce for our thirtieth anniversary next year—it’s called “Signature Move”—I understand why most indie filmmakers write their own material. The road to great screenplays is paved with loose gravel. And when you find it, rights holders, agents and lawyers can grind that rocky road to quicksand. (Most of the metaphors you’ll read are even worse than this.)
I guess I thought finding the project would be the easy part. Since announcing this project in February 2014, I’ve reviewed more than sixty screenplays or other properties (novels for adaptation, plays, short stories, etc.). I’ve discussed projects over lunches, coffees and beers dozens and dozens of times. I’ve been on the verge of locking down not one, but two high-profile films, neither of which would have quite fulfilled this project’s mandate but would have been, respectively, great launch undertakings (a short film) or a great second film (a work by a legendary Chicago novelist) only to see both fall apart—though all principal terms had been agreed upon—when the rightsholders ultimately did not pull the trigger. I was not expecting inertia to be such an obstacle, one that proves not only frustrating but costly once the legal fees come into play.
I was somewhere in various states of stalemate a year ago during our Film 50 photo shoot, when I met one of the figures on the list, Eugene Sun Park. Park asked me if I was still looking at submissions, and I said I was. He said he might have something, and that was that. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Shannon simmers at a lower temperature than many of his film roles in “99 Homes,” Ramin Bahrani’s punchy, persuasive combination of fierce polemic and widescreen genre filmmaking. Shannon plays the appositely named Rick Carver, a reprobate realtor flipping homes in Florida, with Andrew Garfield a single father who slides into his infernal orbit after archetypal modern financial setbacks, facilitating forced evictions of other families. Bahrani, a favorite of the late Roger Ebert and friend of Werner Herzog, makes bold moves here from his neo-neorealist origins in movies like “Man Push Cart” and “Goodbye Solo.” I’m predisposed to movies that mesh topical elements with classical movie form—not all of the “one percent” might own ninety-nine homes, only enough not to count, like John McCain—and Bahrani meets the challenge to oft-fiery result, making blunt political points amid genre-amped melodrama. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
There’s no official number of how many film festivals there are in Chicago, or even a readily agreed-upon definition of how many films and events constitute a true “festival,” but in its thirty-third year, Reeling, the Chicago “LGBTQ+” International Film Festival, is definitely one of the most resilient (and the nation’s second oldest, after San Francisco’s Frameline).
“Film festivals not only continue to be relevant, despite the onslaught of choices for entertainment,” founder and executive director Brenda Webb tells me. “In some ways, they are more relevant than ever because of their curatorial role and promotional functions.”
An example of that is how small films that debut on Netflix (not heavily advertised and hyped series) never gain social traction, there’s little conversation in the larger culture, only cold, cryptic algorithms guessing what will satisfy every given view. Webb agrees. “There may be many more choices of films to see online and on television than ever before, but given the noise of overwhelming choices, audiences need to tune into which films to spend their time seeing.” Read the rest of this entry »
British filmmaker Kim Longinotto has produced a sterling roster of some of the most fierce documentaries about women around the world, but “Dreamcatcher,” her vérité portrait of former sex worker and community counselor Brenda Myers-Powell, may be even more compelling than “Divorce, Iranian Style” and “Rough Aunties,” in no small part because of the dynamic, even transfixing presence of Myers-Powell on the inner-city streets of Chicago and at her Dreamcatcher foundation, which assists at-risk women. Read the rest of this entry »
CinéVardaExpo: Agnès Varda in Chicago
Jennifer Reeder: During each of my three pregnancies, I considered naming the baby AGNES, as in Varda. Then I had three boys and opted for alternative ways to inject feminism and the history of radical filmmaking into their lives. As a young film student, I was exposed to plenty of French films and, as the only female in my cohort, I was frustrated with all the Godard and Truffaut and Resnais. I found Agnès Varda on my own. “Cléo from 5 to 7“ was a revelation. It’s an extraordinary portrait of an entire life in two hours—a woman’s life as told by another woman. The filmmaker is present. Varda has long been considered a remarkable and prolific filmmaker… and a wife and a mother and an artist and a feminist. Read the rest of this entry »
IFP/Chicago, one of the city’s oldest organizations to support independent filmmakers, has kept a low profile for several years, but is about to launch an ambitious roster of programs, inspired in part by the success of May’s Chicago Underground Film Festival, presently one of the Independent Filmmaker Project’s most prominent enterprises. Other support programs and networking events have grown up around the city since their founding, such as the long-running first-Tuesdays Midwest Film Festival and more recently, the new sip-and-grip comradeship CCCP, the Chicago Creatives Cocktail Party, which IFP co-sponsors.
After three years or so of dormancy, Nicole Bernardi-Reis, an independent producer and president of the board of directors (and 2014 Film 50 subject) sees now as a time for IFP to bloom. “The community changed a lot during that time, as did the resources available to filmmakers,” she says. “Currently, the film and television industry is seeing an influx of productions and revenue due to the Illinois Film Tax Credit. Hollywood is back in Chicago. Business is booming, again. Outside productions have always been an important part of sustaining the film community in the Midwest, but they are just a part.”
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Faux-uplift sports movies are $144 a dozen, slipped-and-slid into multiplexes on far too many weekends: sports is sports, and depicting the rush of a play, the massed hysteria of a shared moment, is just as conceptually fraught as the depiction of live music performances. And all those poor underdogs of the world of mass-marketed movies! But when a movie attains its own heart and soul by watching that dream in motion—think “Hoop Dreams”—the result can be magical. The first glimpse I had of Maria Finitzo’s wondrous “In The Game,” about fifteen minutes of a 2014 cut, was a contained little knockout. (I was pleased to weep.) The feature, gentle, assured, compassionate, left me softly thunderstruck. For four years, Finitzo follows a girls’ soccer team at Brighton Park’s primarily Latino Kelly High School, with an eighty-six-percent poverty level and a $4 million budget cut during the course of her observation. Read the rest of this entry »
With “Digging For Fire,” Joe Swanberg extends his run of intimate backyard moviemaking to an actual backyard at a summer rental, where a gun, a bone and a telescope set intrigue (and extended conversation) into nifty (if slow-burn) motion. Mid-thirties-life-crisis strikes for Tim (Jake Johnson), a teacher still not settled into the truth that he’s been a father for three years. Rosemarie Dewitt plays his witty wife, Jude Swanberg the son, natch. The estimable critic Bérénice Reynaud has aligned the latest Swanberg with Rohmer, and “Digging” extends his streak of pictures that stream with genial dialogue, superficially breezy, yet where emotional currents deepen. Read the rest of this entry »
Kris Swanberg’s confident third feature, “Unexpected,” is an intimate made-in-Chicago tale of two unplanned pregnancies, by inner-city public high school teacher Samantha (Cobie Smulders) and her star A-student, Jasmine (Gail Bean). Written by Swanberg and Megan Mercier, low-key sophistication (with bursts of strong language) and the healthily nuanced performances by Smulders and Bean carry the day. Samantha tries so hard to comprehend her young friend’s circumstances, and they’re worlds apart. But, she tries, hopes, and in a not clichéd way, grows. Not every scene is as strong as the very best, but Swanberg’s empathy is admirable. It’s a lovely, auspicious piece of small-budget filmmaking. Read the rest of this entry »
With their newest project, “Neighborhood Food Drive,” 2014 Film 50 subjects Jerzy Rose and Halle Butler turn from what is often the tragedy of fundraising to what the team hope will be the bright shining success of crowdfunding. In the vein of Rose’s earlier features, the uneasy comedies “Some Girls Never Learn” and “Crimes Against Humanity,” their pitch describes the new movie as “an anxiety-ridden film about two egomaniacal restaurateurs descending into a nightmare world with their unpaid intern. People are hurt, friendships are damaged, promises are broken, and no one does anything good for anyone else.” Sounds like a Chicago story, to be sure. Rose directs; Butler wrote the script.”It’s a spiritual successor to Halle’s out-of-print comic, ‘The Restaurant Business,’ which was first performed at Lyra Hill’s paramount performative ‘comix’ series Brain Frame almost three years ago,” Rose tells me. “The new film and that comic are small-scale disaster stories about failure, anxiety and ego—pretty universal, funny stuff, right?” Read the rest of this entry »