I wrote the following capsule review of the Beloit International Film Fest’s “WI / IL TWO” shorts program for Time Out Chicago.
A Missed Connection. Photo courtesy of Third Wheel Entertainment.
Chicago Shorts Shine at This Year’s Beloit International Film Festival
Located in a picturesque small town in Wisconsin just north of the Illinois border, the Beloit International Film Festival is a gem of a regional fest that has long featured an impressive roster of Midwestern filmmaking talent, and this year’s lineup is no exception. Any Chicagoans planning on attending the 2020 edition of BIFF, which kicks off tonight, Friday, February 21, and runs through Sunday, March 1, would do well to check out the “WI / IL TWO”shorts program: It features a contingent of unusually strong Chicago-made short films. Among the works screening in this program (and thus vying for the fest’s highly competitive “Best Illinois Short” award) are Matthew Weinstein’s A Missed Connection, Layne Marie Williams’ Golden Voices and Eve Rydberg’s Home. This program screens at Bagels & More on Friday, February 21 at 7:30pm and again at the same location on Saturday, February 22 at 7:30pm. Filmmakers and cast members from all three short films will be present for a Q&A session following both screenings.
A Missed Connection is an emotionally resonant study of two college friends, Jacob (Tyler Pistorius) and Lauren (Kimberly Michelle Williams), reconnecting in a coffee shop by chance on a wintry night. That writer/director Matthew Weinstein packs a bit too much “character arc” into the brief run time is a welcome problem in an age of films of too little ambition, and one that is compensated for by spectacularly subtle lead performances and gorgeous Rembrandt-esque visuals. Golden Voices is a poetic horror film about a ghost-chasing podcaster (Kalika Rose) who stumbles upon sleepwalking children whispering of “gold” in rural Indiana. Director Layne Marie Williams, aided by cinematographer Grace Pisula (whose Gold Point Studio produced), packs a wealth of haunting atmosphere into a fleet 14 minutes that will likely leave viewers wanting more; this could easily be the pilot for a web series. Home, a pungent dramedy about the reunion between a father/daughter duo, both on the verge of homelessness, serves as a terrific showcase for two of Chicago’s finest theater actors (Francis Guinan and Carolyn Hoerdemann, who also co-wrote); when actors can cause your heart to lurch by interacting with a tomato—you know you’re in the presence of art.
For more information about this year’s Beloit International Film Festival, including ticket info and showtimes,visit the BIFF website here.
ROY’S WORLD, the documentary film I produced about the childhood of the great writer Barry Gifford (WILD AT HEART) in Chicago during the mid-20th century, will have its World Premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival at the end of this month. I will be in attendance for a Q&A following both festival screenings (on 2/28 and 2/29) along with the film’s director, Rob Christopher. Any UK friends interested in attending either screening, please check out our film’s page on the #GFF20 website here.
American friends: Penguin/Random House books will be publishing a new collection of Barry’s “Roy” stories (1973-2000) as a tie-in to our documentary this September. It is available to pre-order now here.
I am pleased to announce that RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO has won the Audience Choice Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Tallahassee Film Festival! This was our fourth award in eight festival screenings and I couldn’t have been happier about the response at this superbly programmed fest that is so close to my heart!
Our next screening will be at Chicago Filmmakers on Saturday, May 4 at 7:00 PM, which will be followed by a Q&A with yours truly moderated by critic David J. Fowlie. I will also be dropping announcements soon about our Michigan and New York City premieres – so stay tuned!
My latest post for Time Out Chicago concerns my best bets for the Doc10 Film Festival.
Entering its fourth year, the Chicago Media Project’s Doc10 Film Festival has established itself as an annual highlight for fans of cinema. Focusing on vital new non-fiction features from around the globe, the festival kicks off at the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square on Thursday, April 11 with the much-anticipated local premiere of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez documentary Knock Down the House, and concludes on Sunday, April 15 with the sustainable-farm portrait The Biggest Little Farm. The rest of the lineup features a diverse array of movies, almost all of which will be followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers. Most impressively, 60% of the films in this year’s lineup—programmed by Chicago International Film Festival doc programmer Anthony Kaufman—were directed or co-directed by women.
One of the most interesting films you can catch at this year’s Doc10 Film Festival is Hail Satan?, a witty and informative look at the meteoric rise in popularity of the non-theistic religious group known as the “Satanic Temple.” With unfettered access to the leaders of the group’s various nationwide chapters, including charismatic church founder Lucien Greaves, director Penny Lane crafts a deceptively simple work of political commentary that ultimately sympathizes with the “Satanists” as a group of merry pranksters who see their movement as a counterbalance to the repressiveness of other organized religions.
For those looking for something more aesthetically daring, Lukas Lorentzen’s Midnight Family offers an eye-opening expose of Mexico City’s private ambulance system through the lens of one particular family-owned company, which competes with other for-profit EMTs to provide urgent care. Director Lorentzen uses a combination of handheld and dashboard-mounted cameras to put viewers in the middle of the action in the exciting ambulance-run scenes, lending his film the feeling of a thriller. The unconventional approach earned Midnight Family the award for Best Cinematography at this year’s Sundance Film Festival—an eccentric but deserving choice.
For more information on this year’s Doc10 Film Festival, including the full lineup, ticket info and showtimes, visit the festival’s official website.
I am so honored that RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO won the Best Film Comedy award at the George Lindsey UNA Film Festival in Florence, Alabama last night! This was a great festival and it was a privilege just to screen alongside so many accomplished short and feature-length films. The award (our second Best Comedy award after Strasburg last fall) belongs to our entire cast and crew.
The next RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO screening will take place at the Beverly Arts Center on Wednesday, March 13 at 7:30pm and be followed by a Q&A with me conducted by critic Daniel Nava. Our next festival screening will take place at the Women’s Film Festival in Philadelphia on the evening of Sunday, March 17 and be followed by a Q&A with me and producer Layne Marie Williams. For more info, visit the “Screenings” page.
There is a long tradition of American actresses becoming directors (including figures as disparate as Ida Lupino, Elaine May and Barbara Loden), often in order to give themselves better roles than what they’ve typically been offered by their male filmmaking counterparts. This trend has gratifyingly ramped up with a renewed urgency in the “Me Too” era: Among the very best short films to play Chicago cinema screens over the past year are urgent, female-centric works like Clare Cooney’s Runner and Maggie Scrantom’s Atoms of Ashes, both locally made. Magnolia & Clementine, a 16-minute short by Tennessee-based actress-turned-filmmaker Ashley Shelton, offers welcome proof that this is a nationwide trend. It’s a potent dramedy about an aspiring writer (Shelton) who throws a short story in the trash but is later mortified to learn that her live-in boyfriend (Linds Edwards) has stolen the concept when his own “original” story is published to acclaim. Anyone planning on attending the Beloit International Film Festival this weekend — where Shelton’s movie will screen on Friday, February 22 and Sunday, February 24 — would do well to check it out.
Magnolia & Clementine is, as one would expect, a great showcase for Shelton’s talents as an actress. A veteran of film and television in front of the camera, she does a lot here in a short span of time (plays a dual role, cries real tears, plays drunk, etc.) but the film ultimately delights because of her very real skills as a writer and director. Shelton understands the importance of pacing in film comedy: Many of the biggest laughs result from her cinematography and editing choices — whether it’s an eyeline match between the protagonist and an image of Jesus, or ending a scene with the “punchline” of a close-up of an empty roll of toilet paper. More importantly, Magnolia & Clementine starts off as a comedy but unexpectedly morphs into a poignant tale of self-discovery, a Chaplin-esque tonal balancing act that Shelton pulls off with admirable precision. What begins as a story about a relationship between a woman and a man ends up being about a woman’s relationship with herself as she learns to overcome her insecurities and fully declare herself an artist. There could be no more fitting subject for a filmmaking debut as auspicious as this one.
To learn more about this weekend’s screenings of Magnolia & Clementine, including ticket info and showtimes, visit the Beloit International Film Festival’s website.
There is a great story by Joey Filer at the essential Chicago film-industry news website Reel Chicago all about RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO. It features quotes from producer Layne Marie Williams, actress Clare Cooney and yours truly, and breaks the exciting news that our Chicago Premiere will be held at the Gene Siskel Film Center in February! Filer also makes some rather salient critical points about the film. He writes, “RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO’s music, camera work, 4:3 aspect ratio, narrative arc, vignette structure, and pacing, along with one of the most unconventional dance scenes in recent memory, all beg to be analyzed in a film theory course and written about in scholarly journals.” You can read the full article here.
I am also very excited to announce that our first festival screenings in 2019 will take place at the Santa Fe Film Festival in New Mexico (exact date TBA but the fest is held 2/13-2/17) and the Beloit International Film Festival in Wisconsin (exact date tba but the fest is held 2/23-3/04). Members of the cast and/or crew will be present for live Q&As after both screenings. Even more screenings will be announced soon – so stay tuned!