Jennifer Rudnicke and Mickie Paskal
Owners and Casting Director, CSA, Paskal Rudnicke Casting
Paskal Rudnicke Casting, the firm founded in 2002 by Mickie Paskal, who once wanted to act, and Jennifer S. Rudnicke, a former Equity stage manager, boasts the kind of resume and cachet that reflects their over two decades of experience in finding the faces that belong with studio and independent features, television and commercials. (Clients have included the Michaels, Mann and Bay; Robert Altman and Sam Mendes, Stephen Cone and Steve Conrad.) “We love this community,” Paskal has said. “We love that the primary task of our work is to foster a relationship between actor and director, to make an artistic match. We believe deeply in casting human beings, not types.” Recent prominent projects include Austin Vesely’s “Slice,” with Chance the Rapper; Steve McQueen’s thriller, “Widows,” co-written with Gillian Flynn; Scott Smith’s Chicago International premiere, “Chasing the Blues”; “Signature Move”; Joe Swanberg’s “Win It All”; Stephen Cone’s “Princess Cyd”; the second season of “Patriot,” Steve Conrad’s Amazon series, as well as a range of other series and pilots.
Anuradha Rana with Dana Kupper and Susanne Suffredin
Chair, Documentary Program Committee with Lecturers and Filmmakers, DePaul Documentary Program
Three years after its documentary concentration was developed, DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts has added degrees in the School of Cinematic Arts for documentary work, including an MFA in documentary filmmaking and a documentary concentration in the BFA in film and television, and are aimed at students who intend to balance a creative personal voice with larger social goals. “We aim to educate ethical documentarians who can develop, produce and distribute nonfiction content that has an impact on an audience,” chair Anuradha Rana says. “The program is intimate and flexible, allowing the documentary cohort opportunities to interact and collaborate with students in other fields including screenwriting, producing, directing, animation and design.” Rana, a native of New Delhi who worked as a journalist and producer, moved to Chicago in 2002, joined DePaul five years ago and slowly developed the documentary program. “Dana Kupper and Susanne Suffredin joined the faculty last year and I am excited to see the documentary program grow with their support.” Rana also joined Kartemquin Films last year as the program coordinator for their Diverse Voices in Docs Fellowship, organized by KTQ and Community Film Workshop of Chicago. She is also in production on “Language of Opportunity,” a feature documentary exploring the role that English plays in the lives, hopes and dreams of a new generation of Indians. In her second year as a full-time faculty member, Kupper, who has shot many projects for Kartemquin, teaches documentary cinematography and beginning cinematography. Kupper recently shot Rachel Pikelny’s short doc “Grace,” about a breast-cancer survivor who gets tattoos on her scars and the series “Street Soldiers,” about people working to influence Chicago’s street violence. “I have deep roots in Chicago’s filmmaking community,” Suffredin says, “starting with studying with Jim Taylor at the Community Film Workshop to being a longtime associate at Kartemquin Films, as post-production supervisor of ‘Hoop Dreams,’ among many other credits, and working as a director and editor with Kindling Group.” The opportunity to be a part of DePaul’s College of Digital Media felt tailor-made, she says. DePaul was looking for someone to expand the post production and documentary programs, “my two strongest passions!” Suffredin is also working with longtime collaborator Peter Gilbert and producing partner Chris Webber on a feature-length documentary about Webber’s NBA basketball career.
CEO, The Ebert Company and Philanthropist
“I’m not an artist, I’m a craftsman, and the craft is life,” Wim Wenders said at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival at the Ebert Tribute Lunch. The legacy of Chicago film critic Roger Ebert’s long career has become the craft of life of Chaz Ebert in the four-and-a-half years since the passing of the forty-seven-year Chicago Sun-Times-er. Chaz’s contributions to the repository of his lifetime of work, RogerEbert.com have grown beyond her role as publisher to include more installments of “Chaz’s Journal,” in the form of reviews, festival video reports and advocacy columns, even as the site fosters diverse critical viewpoints from contributors like managing editor Brian Tallerico, editor Matt Zoller Seitz, Angelica Jade Bastién, Glenn Kenny, Matt Fagerholm, Sheila O’Malley and Nick Allen. When the Sun-Times was handed on to its new owners in August, Chaz wrote, “No matter who technically owned the newspaper, Roger called it his. It was, he said, owned by him and all of the other great journalists and workers who toiled daily to get it to the presses. And it belonged to the community of people who read it to find out what was going on in the city and to keep the politicians accountable.” Chaz has multiple projects in progress for stage, film and television, including a “Great Movies” series based on Roger’s columns and an Emmett Till film project. Endowed programs include honoring works of empathy, kindness and forgiveness through the Sundance Institute, the Telluride/Ebert University Seminars, the Hawaii Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Chicago International Film Festival. She provides support to documentaries with social justice themes, including “Radical Grace,” “Dreamcatcher,” “They Call Us Monsters” and “Raising Bertie.” Chaz also supervises the Roger & Chaz Ebert Foundation and the annual Ebertfest confab of film discoveries in plain sight, which marks its twentieth incarnation in 2018 in Urbana-Champaign.
Co-Founder and Executive Director, Midwest Independent Film Festival
Expansion has been Mike McNamara’s personal goal this year, as well as for the Midwest Independent Film Festival. He’s ramped up his work with the Sundance Film Festival, working as a Programming Associate for U.S. Narrative Features. He’s also investing his own cash into Chicago independent features. “My funds are limited, so I’m trying to focus on features where someone in my actor-film festival director income range can make a difference!” His recent investments in local production include Stephen Cone’s “Princess Cyd.” McNamara’s also a lead in the Chicago International Film Festival world premiere, “The Replacement,” a politically charged slab of sci-fi. And at MIFF, the celebration of Chicago and Midwestern filmmaking continues. The goal: “Keep that theater at standing-room-only, max capacity every month, keep raising the bar on the crowd we bring together each month.” MIFF is also a producing partner of Southside FYI, a summer mentorship program for underserved South Side teen filmmakers. The big goal for MIFF in 2018? “To bring together a Chicago-Midwest film fund and have the first feature film we fund shooting by the spring. Overall, I’m getting a little antsy; I’m so proud of what this film festival has grown into so far, but it’s time for the next step.”
Program Director, Harold Ramis Film School at Second City
Chicago filmmaker-artist Jack Newell developed and runs the Harold Ramis Film School at The Second City, a yearlong filmmaking program, founded to honor the legacy of the late, great writer-director-performer-self-described-comedy “rabbi.” It’s the only film school in the world focused entirely on comedy. “We hope to always be intimate, bespoke and focused on an ensemble approach to filmmaking,” Newell says. “We put students in groups of fifteen to seventeen, and they spend the year in this group. They do everything together, including improvisation classes, not to be performers, but to understand how improvisation helps with both creation and collaboration. In honoring Harold’s legacy, we want the students to work at the top of their intelligence, to create comedies that make you think and feel. In keeping with Second City and the satire that they/we are known for, we want to continue to speak truth to power and use comedy to break down walls.” Newell’s own experience includes a documentary currently on the festival circuit, as well as a five-part series he’s been shooting since 2011, “How to Build a School in Haiti,” observing the construction of a single elementary school in rural Haiti as a case study in international economic development. He’s fundraising for a second fiction feature, recently co-created the “Destroy Your Art” event, where five Chicago filmmakers create films that were shown once in August, then immediately shredded, never to be seen again. Newell is also one of the two designers behind The Wabash Lights, an interactive light sculpture on the Wabash El tracks that would be the biggest piece of public art in Chicago. Of how that feeds into the Ramis school, “It’s all interconnected,” Newell says. “My philosophies on art, creation, collaboration, are all tied up in everything the school does, who we hire, who we accept into the program and what they do while they are here. My interests are pretty diverse and I like the idea and the opportunity to be part of a school that enables people to make more, better art.”
Eugene Sun Park
Executive Director, Full Spectrum Features
“Although my earlier filmmaking efforts in Chicago were as a writer-director, I’ve been wearing the producer hat the past few years,” Eugene Sun Park says. “This shift was not a conscious decision, but something that emerged out of my excitement for the diverse stories that local filmmakers are trying to tell—deeply personal stories that I could never tell myself, because they are not mine to tell. Producing allows me to participate in a much wider range of stories.” To his surprise, he’s found the vocation rewarding on a creative level. “Independent filmmaking often feels like a long series of compromises. You can’t shoot with that camera. You can’t get that location. You can’t afford that actor. But you still need to tell your story! How do you do it, without losing integrity? For me, helping a writer-director chart and navigate this journey is the collaboration right at the heart of producing. It’s a highly creative process, as much as it is a practical one.” As the executive director of Full Spectrum Features, Park’s goal is to establish the organization as the premier nonprofit in Chicago for independent narrative film production. “To my knowledge, we are the only local 501(c)(3) production company that works exclusively in narrative. Chicago has a long and distinguished history of producing documentary films, and we are trying to be at the forefront of a parallel push to build this city’s narrative filmmaking scene. We are especially committed to supporting filmmakers who have traditionally been marginalized from mainstream media culture.” Full Spectrum’s ongoing Chicagoland Shorts collections, distributed to theaters and on video, is one of its most visible means of representation.
Jonathan Bross and Mike Nehs
Principals, Periscope Post & Audio
Since Jonathan Bross and Michael Nehs started Periscope Post & Audio in 2013, they’ve garnered a reputation as industry leaders for high-end post-production work. This year, they began Argonaut Entertainment Partners to provide financing to film, television and other entertainment opportunities. “Increasing numbers of content creators recognize they can shoot and complete their projects in Chicago and Illinois,” they relate. “We are excited to be part of re-establishing Chicago and the state as a major center for entertainment production.” “This isn’t a two-man show,” Nehs insists. “We are proud of our team of amazing and talented engineers, editors and colorists. Our team has shown that we can provide outstanding work on any size project, from start to finish, and all under one roof. We have worked on all sizes of film, television, music, video game and online projects from local pilots and indie films to network hit series like ‘Empire.’ Alex Gaudieri, our head of business development, has been with Periscope for three years, and he’s been instrumental in not only bringing in new clients but maintaining great relationships with existing ones. We also are proud of establishing one of the best intern programs in the area. Our program brings in not only college students but also students from the outstanding Free Spirit Media and allows them to enhance their education through hands-on experience with our team.” The move to finance expands those ambitions for themselves and the community. “We started Argonaut because we saw a lack of sophisticated capital providers in Chicago and Illinois. Our goal is to change perceptions of entertainment investment and show investors that it is possible to generate consistent returns. Currently, Argonaut focuses on debt financing. We provide loans against tax incentives and distribution contracts. We’re off to a good start and look forward to funding many projects in the future. It’s important for everyone to work together to bring as much work to Chicago as possible.”
Executive Director, Community Film Workshop
“Community Film Workshop of Chicago is like the little engine that could,” executive director Margaret Caples says, all the way back to a total cut in funding by President Reagan in 1972. “We have remained true to our mission to be a film boot camp and advocate for people of color. The board and staff have committed themselves to put the community into Community Film Workshop.” Successes that Caples cites include Youth In Motion, an after school video program; Woodlawn Reporters’ summer camp; Reel Black Filmmakers screenings and workshop; and Diverse Voices in Docs, with professional mentorship of social issue documentarians are programs that provide access to media and create collaborations into the future. “Our partnerships with the Chicago Park District, After School Matters, Kartemquin Films and Reel Black Filmmakers enable CFWC to provide opportunities for artists to learn their craft and to share their vision of what ‘community’ looks like.” She continues, “Forty-six years as a media arts center is a phenomenal feat, and we will continue to create change by empowering others to produce media that make for a changed Chicago and world. I feel blessed to have made a difference in the lives of teens, parents, young and older adults, filmmakers and social activists that Community Film Workshop serves.”
Executive Director, Chicago Film Archives
Founded in 2003 as a non-profit institution, Chicago Film Archives, under director Nancy Watrous, began with 5,000 16mm films offloaded by the Chicago Public Library, and has built on the vision of a regional film archive “to conserve, promote and exhibit moving-image materials that reflect Chicago and Midwest history and culture.” (Collecting amateur and home movies is part of that enterprise.) In 2016, CFA acquired a Kinetta Archival Film Scanner through the good offices of the DEW Foundation and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, among others. (The scanner can create high-resolution preservation-standard files, as well as aid with photochemical conservation.) Recent years have seen a new Pilsen location as well as a growing board and staff. “We have laid this foundation so that we can imagine new ways to interpret and exhibit not only CFA’s films, but others’ collections, buried, hidden or neglected throughout the Midwest. We believe that local is global, the meaning of ‘amateur’ needs to be further explored and that our films express not only the past, but also our future.“
Director of Public Programs, Departments of Film, Video, New Media & Animation and Art History, Theory & Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Curator, “Conversations at the Edge,” Gene Siskel Film Center
One of Chicago’s most vital yet often overlooked film series is “Conversations at the Edge,” held weekly through the fall and spring, the FVNMA visiting artist, screening and performance series bringing eighteen to twenty-four filmmakers and artists each year to the Siskel Film Center. Begun in 2001, recent guests have included Cao Fei, Suzan Pitt, Nicolás Pereda, Sally Cruikshank, Deborah Stratman, Nathaniel Dorsky and Sky Hopinka. “One of the main goals of the series is to provide a platform for artists and filmmakers who are exploring and expanding the ways we think about media and the moving image,” says Amy Beste, curator since 2005. She hopes “to bring in a wide range of artists and filmmakers working in, between and across the worlds of contemporary art, experimental film, documentary and popular culture.” As part of the fall series, a program partnering with Gallery 400 will bring in New York-based artists Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder. “The two use light refracting and diffusing media to transform movie projectors into ephemeral light sculptures. They’ll be collaborating with Chicago-based musician Brian Case to mount a large-scale installation and performance spanning both of the Film Center’s theater spaces. The piece promises to be experiential and sensory while also bringing attention to the standards and rituals of cinema-going.” The hope, Beste continues, “is to meaningfully engage with and build on the kinds of questions, approaches, and forms artists and filmmakers here at SAIC and in Chicago at large are pursuing. The format of the series is incredibly important to this because it brings audiences back week after week. I can put together a series in a way that poses a set of overarching questions or ideas, but audiences will see connections between programs, artists and artistic approaches that I never anticipated.” What’s kept Beste going for over twelve years? She says, “At its core, it’s the films and artworks themselves. I love the work. At the same time, it’s this ongoing engagement with a medium that’s constantly changing—in terms of its technology, the way it engages audiences, viewers, and users, and its impact on contemporary life.” Beste is also working on an exhibition for the Block Museum of Art about Goldsholl Design Associates, a Chicago-based design firm headed by Mort and Millie Goldsholl, which made a name for itself from the 1950s to seventies with its “designs-in-film.” “Chicago was the ‘Hollywood’ for educational film and powerhouse producer of industrial films at mid-century. These films were screened in classrooms, business meetings, convention halls, point-of-sale in department stores and even on television. They were everywhere—these were the small screens that anticipated our mutable, mobile-screen culture today. Goldsholl Design Associates played a pivotal role on this history, and Mort and Millie trained under László Moholy-Nagy at the Institute of Design (Chicago’s iteration of the Bauhaus). They hired numerous graduates from ID over the years, and produced short films and advertisements that crossed between the worlds of design, avant-garde film, commercial media and experimental practice.”
Ray Pride is Newcity film critic and a contributing editor of Filmmaker magazine. He is also a photographer: his history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images is forthcoming. Previews on Twitter (twitter.com/chighostsigns) as well as daily photography on Instagram: instagram.com/raypride. Twitter: twitter.com/RayPride. (Photo: Jorge Colombo.)