We are deep into post-production on RELATIVE and every time I see the footage, I couldn’t feel more proud of the work put in by our tremendous cast and crew. I anticipate a World Premiere in early 2022. In the meantime, Screen Magazine published a second article to coincide with the wrap of our shoot that you might be interested in checking out. It features new quotes from me and producer/actress Clare Cooney about the making of the film:
Category Archives: Chicago Movies
I had a blast talking about MERCURY IN RETROGRADE, which continues its virtual run at the Music Box Theatre through 4/30, on the CinemaJaw podcast. We also play some fun games and I ramble enthusiastically about Mizoguchi’s SANSHO THE BAILIFF, all while getting increasingly bombed on red wine. It’s a fun listen – check it out here!
The virtual edition of the great Beloit International Film Festival is now live. That means that Wisconsin and Illinois residents have between now and February 28 to stream ROY’S WORLD: BARRY GIFFORD’S CHICAGO, a documentary produced by yours truly, directed by Rob Christopher and narrated by Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor. I was last at BIFF with RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO in 2019 and it is one of my favorite regional film fests. Please visit the BIFF website for info regarding tickets for a film rental and the Zoom Q&A!
It was an honor to be profiled recently by Esthetic Lens magazine. I got to talk about the postponed RELATIVE shoot and what I’ve been up to during quarantine. You can check it out here.
I wrote the following review of Stephen Cone’s HENRY GAMBLE’S BIRTHDAY PARTY for Cine-file Chicago.
Stephen Cone’s HENRY GAMBLE’S BIRTHDAY PARTY (US)
Available to stream on the Criterion Channel with subscription
Across eight features and numerous shorts, Chicago-based independent filmmaker Stephen Cone has carved out an indelible niche in America’s 21st-century cinematic landscape. The son of a southern Baptist minister who came to filmmaking by way of theater, Cone has made a name for himself by chronicling the eternal conflict between the ways of the flesh and the spirit — always with an impressively humanistic eye and often within an adolescent/LGBTQ context. His heartfelt movies have steadily won over festival audiences and critics since THE WISE KIDS premiered nearly a decade ago but Cone stands to gain deservedly wider recognition than ever before now that the prestigious Criterion Channel is spotlighting three of his best films. HENRY GAMBLE’S BIRTHDAY PARTY, Cone’s seventh feature, is an ideal introduction to his work for the uninitiated. It’s a coming-of-age story in which an individual’s coming of age is telescoped into a single day and location: the titular 17th birthday party of the son of a “megachurch” pastor. The party takes place mainly in and around a backyard swimming pool and is populated by a large cast of teenage characters (i.e., Henry Gamble’s religious and secular friends) as well as their adult parents. Central among the many external and internal conflicts depicted in this charged suburban milieu is Henry’s coming to terms with his sexual identity. Although it has its cinematic forebears (an opening scene in which the closeted-gay Henry masturbates with his hetero best friend Gabe is an explicit homage to Andre Techine’s WILD REEDS), the film ultimately impresses for its cultural specificity: Cone has stated that the starting point for his original screenplay was the act of making a list of people he knew from childhood, a strategy that clearly pays dividends when it comes to such humorously authentic lines of dialogue as “Are you churched?” or “Well, Jesus drank.” Cone also admirably avoids stereotypes — he’s especially good at showing, in a realistic manner, how the tiniest cracks can appear in the belief systems of his evangelical characters — and his script is brought to life by a fine ensemble cast (Nina Ganet as Henry’s repressed older sister Autumn and Elizabeth Laidlaw as their long-suffering mother are especially good) and Jason Chiu’s masterful widescreen cinematography. (2015, 87 min, MGS)
For those who missed the Rendezvous in Chicago Live Commentary with me and Clare Cooney, broadcast on Facebook last Sunday night, we recorded the video on Zoom so you still have the chance to watch it. I had a lot of fun doing this – mainly because Clare brought so much insight (and humor) to her observations on what it’s like to act in and be the casting director for an indie film. Please note you are meant to watch the film simultaneously with the commentary video. Here’s how it works:
1. Pull up Rendezvous in Chicago on Tubi here.
2. Pull up the Facebook Live video (in a separate browser or on a separate device) here.
3. Press play on the Live Commentary video first.
4. When I say “Go”in the Live Commentary video (after counting down from five), press play on the Tubi video.
5. Enjoy both videos simultaneously!
My first feature, 2015’s no-budget Cool Apocalypse, is now available to stream for the first time ever – thanks to the Chicago Park District’s Movies in the Parks’ “Onscreen: At Home” series. You can stream it for FREE between now and next Monday, May 3, at the Park District’s website.
Meanwhile, my 2017 feature, Mercury in Retrograde, hot on the heels of its “virtual run” at the Gene Siskel Film Center, is also now available for the first time to rent/buy on Digital via Amazon Prime and Vimeo on Demand. Peep the official Mercury website for all of your options.
This means you could conceivably stream all three of the films in my “Chicago Relationship Trilogy” in the next few days for the low, low cost of $1.99 (the price of streaming Mercury in SD on Amazon). If you see any of these films and have any feedback you would like to share, feel free to reach out to me me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In collaboration with my good friends at the Gene Siskel Film Center, I have made my 2017 feature film, MERCURY IN RETROGRADE, starring Roxane Mesquida (FAT GIRL) and Najarra Townsend (CONTRACTED), available to stream for the first time ever! You may stream the film anytime between now and 4/23 for the low, low price of $4.99 and part of the proceeds will go towards the Siskel’s box office. Also, I will be partaking in a virtual Q&A via Facebook Live this Friday night (4/17) at 8pm along with producer/actor Shane Simmons and surprise cast members TBA! The Q&A will be moderated by FilmChicago.com critic Lee Shoquist. Any of my students who stream the film are eligible to earn extra credit towards their grades this semester (see the extra credit page of your course website for more info). Check it out: http://www.mercuryinretrogrademovie.com
Although it has yet to premiere in Chicago proper, one of the most impressive Chicago-made shorts of recent years is Jack and Anna, a Columbia College MFA thesis film by the Russian-born writer/director Ksenia Ivanova. Since premiering in 2019, this poignant and impeccably crafted 15-minute period drama has screened at dozens of festivals around the world, including the prestigious Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama, and has deservedly picked up multiple awards in the process. If there is any justice in the universe, Ivanova’s movie will receive the Chicago red-carpet premiere it richly deserves when the coronavirus eventually blows over and its festival run resumes. This would only be fitting given that the cast and crew consist entirely of Chicagoans who should be able to see their work on the biggest screen possible.
Jack and Anna takes place in Colorado in 1913 but tells a story of intolerance and same-sex marriage that feels globally relevant today. The theme of (in)justice is introduced in the opening shot of a judge’s harsh eye, which is trained, in a cool-hued courtroom, on defendant Helen Hilsher, a young woman accused of “impersonating a man” for the previous two years. The narrative then flashes back to depict happier times in the relationship between the tomboy-ish Hilsher (living as “Handsome Jack” Hill) and one Anna Slifka, who were married and owned a farm before their secret was discovered and they were legally forced apart. Kate Smith is superb as Helen/Jack — her courtroom scenes could draw tears from a stone — but Brookelyn Hebert is equally affecting in the less showy role of Anna: Her non-verbal reaction shots are a masterclass in understated screen acting. These performances, like the movie’s impressive technical specs, ultimately transcend the “student film” designation.