Four SoC films to be shown at Chicago International Film Festival

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September 26, 2017

Three School of Communication faculty members and one alumna will each screen their films at the 53rd Annual Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) October 12 through 26.

Department of Radio/TV/Film associate professor Kyle Henry’s film Rogers Park, RTVF lecturer Stephen Cone’s film Princess Cyd, RTVF assistant professor J.P. Sniadecki’s El Mar La Mar, and MFA in Documentary Media graduate Mina Fitzpatrick’s (GC17) Wandervogel will be shown at CIFF, one of the most prestigious and long-running festivals in the nation. Many famous directors were “discovered” at CIFF, including Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter, Taylor Hackford, and Susan Seidelman, among many others.


A scene from Rogers Park.

“I am ecstatic that Rogers Park gets to premiere in its home town,” says Henry, who shot the film on location in one of Chicago’s most eclectic neighborhoods. Rogers Park explores midlife crisis by following two interracial couples as they navigate middle age. But what makes the film particularly unique, Henry says, was its nontraditional creation process.

“We had race and gender blind casting. I told the casting agency that Roger’s Park is Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods and I wanted casting to reflect that diversity, but otherwise, I didn’t care what race they were, or gender, or sexual orientation, as long as they were middle aged,” he says. “So, for each of the actors, we asked them in ten minute interviews, ‘Why do you want to be in a film about midlife crisis and tell me a story about your own life.’ The actors really poured out their hearts and we got to know them.”

Then in a series of improvisational workshops, the six actors and director created characters and relationships that the screenwriter, Carlos Treviño, crafted into a script over the course of a year under Henry’s direction. It was a collaborative, unique process that helped create an authentic and complicated story, he said.

“My mission is to show the lives of people who aren’t seen in popular media,” Henry says. “What’s not seen is what I want to show, and it’s ‘ordinary’ people who are missing right now.”

He also used an SoC Innovations Grant, which is used to encourage innovation in teaching, to turn this unique creation process into a living classroom for students. “It gave them a bird’s eye view on a devised, derived, collaborative process that spanned several years,” he says.

Grace Hahn (C16) was one of the students involved in Rogers Park, which will screen October 19 and 23.

“I graduated over a year ago, but I still work in the medium- to low-budget independent film world,” says Hahn, who served as location manager for the film. “Every little thing I learned on that film I use today. It also helped form my view of how the industry functions—in a positive way.”

Hahn also worked as a producer for Princess Cyd, along with alumna Madison Ginsberg (C15). The movie, a unique take on the coming-of-age tale, follows the sexual and intellectual awakening of the title character during a short visit to her aunt, a celebrated novelist.

“I spent a good portion of last year developing another larger project and eventually decided to push that into the feature. After pushing, I brainstormed other ideas I might be able to put together quickly, and had had in my mind for a few years: the story of a young athletic girl traveling to Chicago to visit her novelist aunt,” says Cone, who directed the film. “It was inspired by my love of the author Marilynne Robinson and, frankly, my curiosity about the sex lives of intellectuals. I thought it'd be an interesting character dynamic to throw a hungry niece inside a house with her slightly more pent-up, intellectual aunt.”

Cone said it’s a great honor to be featured in the festival.

CIFF grows and strengthens every year and it means a lot to be selected from such a large pool,” he says. “This movie, specifically, is a very deliberate love letter to Chicago, so it means an extra amount to be given a hometown premiere at our big hometown festival.”

Princess Cyd will be shown October 17, 21, and 25. It also includes other Northwestern connections, including the star of the movie, alumna Jessie Pinnick (C16). Current and past students also worked in the crew, including Medill senior Thomas Molash as digital imaging technician and Marion Hill (C16) as assistant editor.

The other two films at the festival are documentaries, including J.P. Sniadecki’s El Mar La Mar, which was filmed over three years in the Sonoran Desert along the U.S.-Mexico border. He interviewed border rangers, workers, and people smugglers, documenting their lives in the desert. Fitzpatrick’s Wandervogel is a short documentary film that begins when the filmmakers arrive in the Texas desert to interview Dan Daily, a man who’d opened a home for children who’d killed their parents, only to find him dead. 

For screening locations, as well as ticket and scheduling information, visit https://www.chicagofilmfestival.com/.

- Cara Lockwood