Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Rocking and Reeling: Chicago Filmmakers’ Brenda Webb Looks Back and Forward at an Organization in Motion

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By Brian Hieggelke and Brandie Rae Madrid

Forty-one-year-old media arts organization Chicago Filmmakers is soon pulling up stakes from their rented space in Andersonville and moving to their very own firehouse on Ridge Avenue. Brenda Webb, the organization’s longtime executive director and founder of its centerpiece event, Reeling: The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival, explains how the organization is able to focus more on their mission and building ties in the community by having her scale back her role in Reeling. In our conversation, she explains how the new space will allow for a more diverse programming, addressing the needs of its surrounding community. As the Reeling Film Festival approaches next week, Webb tells about the genesis of that endeavor and the changes it has undergone in the last few years, including its return to the Lakeview neighborhood after a brief run in Logan Square.

Were you there at the beginning of Chicago Filmmakers? 
I was friends with one of the founders. She and I were roommates when we were students at Columbia. There were five founding members, although Chicago Filmmakers was really started by Bill Brand and another person. It was founded because they were students at the School of the Art Institute and they wanted to show their work outside the university setting. As artists are wont to do, they become validated by not just showing their work within a college or university, but by having a legitimate place where they can show their work. If you’re a painter, there are any number of galleries you might approach. But for filmmakers [in that era], there was no place to go. They essentially created Chicago Filmmakers as a place to show their work and other work by filmmakers like them, as well as to invite experimental filmmakers. The roots of the organization are in experimental film. I just started coming to screenings because my roommate was one of the founders, and she was there every Saturday night tearing tickets and doing that whole thing. That was my first exposure to experimental film, which for me was a real eye-opener. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2013: Film

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Top 5 American Films of 2013
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
“Before Midnight”
“12 Years A Slave”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Films of 2013
“The Grandmaster” (China cut)
“Something In The Air”
“The Great Beauty”
—Ray Pride Read the rest of this entry »

Moments for Lifetimes: Ebertfest Without Ebert

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Photo: Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

“Quality over quantity,” Roger Ebert wrote to me when he’d just signed onto Twitter, seeing how much I posted on any given day. But soon after, he was furnishing the Internet with his own personal, characteristic rivulet of riffs, reviews and retweets. His voice sounded in yet another form.

Last weekend, at the fifteenth annual Ebertfest in Champaign-Urbana, tributes were consistent in both quality and quantity. It was a living wake. But the programming, largely by his hand, served as a hyperarticulate last will and testament as well, the shape of which grew more and more emphatic as the five days and nights lengthened. The opening was a 35mm print of Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven,” with hearty ninety-two-year-old co-cinematographer Haskell Wexler in attendance. Five of the fourteen films were 35mm prints, another sort of wake, for the form he had always celebrated, in the format he first found it, bright and nourishing in the communal dark. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2012: Film

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Top 5 Domestic Films of 2012
“Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow
“Moonrise Kingdom,” Wes Anderson
“Looper,” Rian Johnson
“The Master,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“Magic Mike,” Steven Soderbergh
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Films of 2012
“Oslo, August 31,” Joachim Trier (tie)
“Once Upon A Time In Anatolia,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan (tie)
“Amour,” Michael Haneke
“Life Without Principle,” Johnnie To
“The Turin Horse,” Béla Tarr
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Films of 2012 in Alphabetical Order
“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Benh Zeitlin
“The Master,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“Prometheus,” Ridley Scott
“Room 237,” Rodney Ascher
“Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow
—Bill Stamets Read the rest of this entry »

Film Strip? Gorilla Tango Expands From Burlesque Shows to the Silver Screen

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Gorilla Tango Theatre, best known for its nerdy burlesque shows, is expanding beyond the stage with a new film branch, Gorilla Tango Motion Pictures (GTMP). Gorilla Tango also recently purchased Skokie Theatre, where the company plans to both screen its films and add more showings of its theater performances. 

“We have these shows that are a big success, but a tour is very difficult and cost-wise it doesn’t always make sense,” says Gorilla Tango founder Dan Abbate. Film was an appealing option, he says, because it is “inherently distributable.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Top 5 of Everything 2011: Film

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Top 5 American Films
“Tree Of Life”/”Take Shelter”
“Martha Marcy May Marlene”
“Road to Nowhere”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Films
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
—Ray Pride Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Forward: A Guide to the New Season 2011

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Summer’s over, kids. Sure, temperatures might still be in the nineties, and we’re going to enjoy one last hurrah this Labor Day weekend, but weather or not, fall is here. How do we know? The arts calendar, in hibernation these last couple of months, is on the verge of awakening with an explosion of activity. And as we do every year at this time, we’ve distilled it to a short list of highlights in order to help you put you personal fall calendar together.

Start out with our “big eleven” events for fall and then explore these links to the various fall previews we’ve created:

Fall Art Preview
Fall Dance Preview
Fall Film Preview
Fall Music Preview

Fall Resto Preview
Fall Stage Preview

Rock Capital: Getting to the heart of “Parallax Sounds,” a documentary-in-progress about Chicago post-rock in the nineties

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The debate over which part of the country has the best music has been teetering back and forth since vinyl was first mass-produced and sold in record stores across the country.

So it’s natural to think a film about the nineties post-rock scene in Chicago would be a sprawling treatise on how the quality of music here regularly trumped that of the grunge marketing machine in the Northwest. That’s not the case with “Parallax Sounds.” While the still-in-progress documentary by Italian director Augusto Contento focuses on that unique movement, it’s more about discovering how the landscape of a city affects the art created there from an outsider’s perspective. Damon Locks, Ken Vandermark and Steve Albini have already participated.

“It’s not really a documentary about post-rock, or music,” says the film’s assistant director Kenya Zanatta, who worked with Contento on his last documentary, “Tramas,” about life in São Paulo, Brazil. “It’s more general, about Chicago, creation and the spirit of the city, and how that spirit is embodied in the art here. Read the rest of this entry »

Cinephile’s Gem: Facets Multimedia crafts an editorial alternative to Netflix

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By Alex Baumgardner

Being a film lover in a place like Central Ohio isn’t easy. Phil Morehart, an editor at Facets Multimedia, grew up there and doesn’t take for granted the access a cinephile like himself has in a major metropolitan area.

“Chicagoans are lucky,” he says. “There are still a lot of small video stores where you can find things. But when you have someone who lives somewhere in the middle of Ohio or Indiana, there are no independent videos stores.”

So it would make sense that Morehart is now the operator of what is essentially Facets’ attempt at making the independent video store a national experience. He runs the company’s mail-delivery-service website—what amounts to Facets’ take on Netflix, an online portal into its library of obscure, foreign and out-of-print films.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on,” Morehart says. “We take great care of that. If we can track down some obscure film, or even some cruddy film that we might not have but is only on VHS, we’ll get it just to make sure it’s available.”

While Netflix and Blockbuster have made access to massive film libraries cheap, legal and accessible to people in every corner of the country, there remains an uncountable number of films that might never enter either company’s ever-expanding collection. But since 2009, Facets has made more than 65,000 of its hard-to-find titles (Netflix reached 100,000 films right around the same time) available to film buffs across the country. Two years later, Facets’ online service now reaches across the continental United States, with subscribers in all of the lower forty-eight, Morehart says. Read the rest of this entry »

Off Camera: The Chicago Underground Film Festival thinks local as it turns eighteen

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Bryan Wendorf/Photo: Ray Pride

The Chicago Underground Film Festival turns eighteen this week. On Memorial Day, we checked in with Bryan Wendorf, longtime artistic director and programmer (who’s quick to note the “hugely instrumental” role of festival coordinator and assistant programmer Lori Felker this year).

“Submissions were just over 1,000 this year, down a little from our highest point between 1999 and 2001,” Wendorf says, “which may be the result of spending less on advertising our call for entries. But this still gives us a lot of work to choose from.” But, for the first time in several years, CUFF thinks locally on opening night. “This is the first time in several years that we’ve opened with a local filmmaker’s premiere, ‘Some Girls Never Learn,’ by School of the Art Institute grad Jerzy Rose.” Kicking off with Chicago-made work, he says, “always means better attendance and I think a lot of people are excited by this film and by the festival as a whole. The past few years we’ve opened with work that had come with awards and positive word-of-mouth from other festivals, but people really get more excited by something local. Jerzy is a very talented filmmaker who makes films that are too odd for most indie fests but too ‘narrative’ for most avant-garde-experimental festivals. In many ways, he’s the perfect type of filmmaker for a festival like ours.” Read the rest of this entry »