Category Archives: Film Festivals

Two New RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO Radio Interviews!

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Clare Cooney and I recently appeared on two Chicago-area radio shows to promote the upcoming RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO screening at the Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival. There is very little overlap between these and the No Coast Cinema interview we did last month so all are worth listening to!

On Tuesday, November 13, we appeared on the Nick Digilio Show on WGN radio. You can listen to that 30-minute segment here.

Yesterday, Sunday, November 18, we appeared on WCGO’s Playtime with Bill Turck and Kerri Kendall. You can watch the 10-minute interview on Facebook Live by skipping to the one-hour-and-fifty-minute mark here.

More interviews and reviews should drop soon – so stay tuned!


RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO at the Strasburg Film Festival

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RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO had its second festival screening at the Strasburg Film Festival in Strasburg, Virginia on Sunday, November 11. The screening was held at the Box Office Brewery, a beautiful old movie theater that has been converted into a craft brewery. Representing the film were yours truly and stories co-author Jillian McKeown. Much to our delight we won the award for Best Comedy and were presented with a beautiful earthenware trophy during the Q&A following the screening. This was a big honor considering the festival received over 5,500 submissions from 100+ countries and we were very impressed by the quality of the other films being screened. Check out the full list of winners on the festival’s website here. Big thanks to the Strasburg Film Festival staff and everyone who came out to the screening, and congrats to the entire RENDEZVOUS cast and crew!
Our next screening will be the Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival in Des Plaines, IL on 11/29. Stay tuned for more info including 2019 screening dates!


Olivier Assayas’ NON-FICTION at CIFF

I reviewed Olivier Assayas’ Non-Fiction for Cine-File Chicago. It screens for the second and final time at the Chicago International Film Festival today. I’m reproducing my capsule review in its entirety below.

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Olivier Assayas’ NON-FICTION (France)
Saturday 10/13, 3:30pm
Olivier Assayas’ witty, deceptively simple NON-FICTION begins with a comically tense scene in which Alain, (Guillaume Canet), a suave book publisher, and Leonard (Vincent Macaigne), a Luddite author whose controversial novels are thinly disguised autobiography, argue about the virtues of Twitter. The seemingly meandering narrative that follows belies a clever structure that resolves itself 90-odd minutes later with Shakespearean symmetry when both men vacation together with their wives: Alain’s partner, Selena (Juliette Binoche), is a television actress ambivalent about her recent success on a cop show, and Valerie (Nora Hamzawi), Leonard’s wife, is a high-profile attorney and the breadwinner in their relationship. This quartet represents a spectrum of diverse attitudes towards globalization and humanity’s slavish dependence on technology in an increasingly digital world yet it is to Assayas’ credit as a writer that they also always come across as fully fleshed-out characters, never mere mouthpieces for differing points-of-view. It’s the talkiest film Assayas has yet made though the dense dialogue scenes are cleverly edited in a brisk, Fincher-esque manner, and he often generates humor through the surprising way he ends scenes abruptly. It’s a substantial new chapter in an important body of work, one that illustrates the director’s philosophy that the role of the artist is to invent new tools to comment on a modern world that’s always changing. (2018, 106 min) MGS


The 5th Annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival!

I am excited to announce that, after the success of the last four Oakton Pop-Up Film Festivals, I have programmed and will be hosting P.U.F.F. for the fifth consecutive year. The screenings of these acclaimed independent American films (three features and three shorts), spanning various genres and styles, will all take place at Oakton Community College’s Footlik Theater in Des Plaines, Illinois, from Tuesday, November 27 through Friday, November 30. The entire festival is FREE and open to the public and ALL screenings will be followed by live Q&A sessions with cast and crew members from the films. Any of my students who attend a screening will receive extra credit points towards his or her final grade (see the extra credit page of your course website for more information). Don’t you dare miss it!

Oakton Community College’s 4th Annual Pop-Up Film Festival!
Footlik Theatre, 1600 E. Golf Road, Des Plaines
Tuesday, Nov. 27 – Friday, Nov. 30 – FREE admission

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Tuesday, 11/27 at 2pm: Madeline’s Madeline + post-screening discussion with Tina Fakhrid-Deen and Michael Glover Smith
Madeline got the lead role in the play! Strangely, the character wears sweatpants like Madeline. And has a cat like Madeline’s. And is holding a steaming hot iron next to her mother’s face… like Madeline is. An official selection of the Sundance and Berlin International Film Festivals, Josephine Decker’s intense psychodrama is an indescribable masterpiece that has been acclaimed as “one of the freshest and most exciting films of the 21st century” by Indiewire.

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Wednesday, 11/28 at 12:30pm: Future Language: The Dimensions of Von LMO + live Q&A w/ director Lori Felker moderated by Shannon Sloan-Spice
This experimental documentary chronicles the life of Von LMO, a musician and self-proclaimed alien-hybrid who was part of the late 70s New York No Wave music scene. Between trips to his home planet Strazar, Von has spent some very real time in prison and on the streets of Earth. Challenged with translating his Future Language for audiences across the galaxy, Lori, our filmmaker and Von LMO fan, gets sucked into Von’s orbit and finds herself lost in his story. An official selection of the Chicago Underground Film Festival.

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Thursday, 11/29 at 2pm: Rendezvous in Chicago + live Q&A w/ director Michael Smith, cast members Clare Cooney, Rashaad Hall, Kevin Wehby, David McNulty and producer Layne Marie Williams moderated by Kathleen Sachs
RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO is a short, comedic feature film consisting of three vignettes that correspond to the beginning (“The Brothers Karamazov”), middle (“Cats and Dogs”) and end (“The End is the Beginning”) stages of a relationship. This love letter to the Windy City and its colorful inhabitants was an official selection of the 2018 Adirondack Film Festival.

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Friday, 11/30 at 12:30pm:
Experimental Shorts Program + live Q&A w/ directors Melika Bass, Maggie Scrantom and Haley McCormick moderated by Michael Smith
This program showcases acclaimed, wordless experimental short films that were all produced locally: CREATURE COMPANION (Bass), ASHES OF ATOMS (Scrantom) and DANCER (McCormick).

The film festival is sponsored by Oakton Community College’s Educational Foundation.


Talking CIFF on the Cine-File Podcast

On October’s Cine-Cast, the Cine-File Chicago podcast, I discuss with critics Ben Sachs and Kyle Cubr the Chicago International Film Festival titles I’m most excited to see – including Orson Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, Jia Zhangke’s ASH IS PUREST WHITE, Kent Jones’ DIANE, Christian Petzold’s TRANSIT and an Experimental Shorts Program featuring Melika Bass, Deborah Stratman and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. What I don’t say, because Cine-File is all about advocacy, is that I think this is the single weakest CIFF lineup in the 23 years that I’ve been attending. Among the prominent titles missing from this year’s fest are new works by Claire Denis, Jean-Luc Godard, Frederick Wiseman (especially sad given MONROVIA, INDIANA’s Midwestern connection), Lav Diaz, Jafar Panahi, Lee Chang-Dong, Jennifer Kent, Hong Sang-Soo (despite the fact that there were two films to choose from and Lee is a School of the Art Institute alum), Wang Bing, Alex Ross Perry and Bi Gan. The last of these omissions, LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, which had its World Premiere at Cannes and also screened at Toronto and New York, is particularly regrettable as it features a lengthy dream sequence shot in 3D that is supposedly comparable to the astonishing virtuosic long take in Bi Gan’s first film KAILI BLUES. The AMC River East multiplex where CIFF takes place is equipped with 3D projectors and festival director Michael Kutza, stepping down after this year, has gone on record as saying he likes to show 3D films. Because LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT is a Chinese art film, however, it can now only be programmed for a local theatrical screening, if at all, at a theater without a 3D projector (e.g., the Siskel Center, the Music Box, Facets, etc.). This means that, unfortunately, Chicago cinephiles will never have the chance to see this film the way that its director intended.


Talking FRANKENSTEIN in Wilmette / RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO at the Adirondack Film Fest

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I’ll be giving a talk about cinematic adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from the early sound era through the present day at the Wilmette Public Library next Sunday, October 7. Here’s the description I wrote for their website:

Mike at the Movies Presents: Frankenstein on Film
Sunday, October 7 at 2:00
In all of literature Frankenstein is one of the novels most frequently adapted into other mediums. In this special Halloween edition of “Mike at the movies,” filmmaker and scholar Michael Glover Smith will spotlight some of the most popular and enduring cinematic interpretations of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece – from James Whale’s iconic Boris Karloff vehicle from 1931 and Hammer’s lurid color version in 1958 to classic parodies such as Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.
The presentation will focus on how different filmmakers have managed to explore different aspects of the same well-known formula and, in the process, continually revive a story that refuses to die.
Auditorium; Free and Open to the Public – http://www.wilmettelibrary.info

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My new film Rendezvous in Chicago will be screening TWICE at the Adirondack Film Festival, which is hosting our World Premiere, in Glens Falls, New York next month. Both screenings will be preceded by Clare Cooney’s great short film Runner. The first show will be Friday, October 19 at 3:15pm, the second on Saturday, October 20 at 3:30pm. I will be there to introduce the screenings along with producer Layne Marie Williams and other members of the cast and crew. For more info, including the full festival schedule, ticket info and showtimes, check out the festival’s website: http://www.adkfilmfestival.org/


Emily Lape’s MERCY’S GIRL and Dustin Puehler’s IN A MOMENT

My reviews of Emily Lape’s Mercy’s Girl and Dustin Puehler’s In a Moment, both of which screen at the Middle Coast Film Festival this weekend, appeared at Time Out Chicago today. I’m reprinting them below.

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The most high profile event of the Middle Coast Film Festival, which kicks off at the Davis Theatre this Friday, September 21, will be an opening night anniversary screening of The Birdcage co-hosted by local drag queens Lucy Stoole and Kat Sass. While that should start the fest on an irreverently fun note (and if you haven’t yet seen the film, it’s worth checking out for Elaine May’s witty script and Gene Hackman’s layered performance), some of the other highlights are lesser-known new works by local independent filmmakers. In addition to a well-curated locally made shorts block, which presents another chance for Chicagoans to catch amazing short films like Maggie Scrantom’s Atoms of Ashes and Clare Cooney’s Runner, Middle Coast will also screen impressive micro-budget features like Mercy’s Girl and In a Moment.

Mercy’s Girl, an auspicious debut feature from veteran actress, but first-time writer and director, Emily Lape, centers on a young woman living on the North Side of Chicago whose alcoholism and closeted sexuality can both be traced to a fraught relationship with her religious, blue-collar parents. Mercy (Lape in a wonderfully understated performance) finds her world turned upside down when she engages in her first serious relationship with another woman: free-spirited college student Jesse (Alison Hixon). This ultra-realistic drama may toil in the same “flesh vs. spirit” thematic vineyard as Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone (Princess Cyd) but Lape also has her own unique cinematic voice, one so attuned to the textures of everyday life in the Windy City that the accumulation of the smallest details in the production design and the subtlest gestures of performance eventually add up to a quietly devastating portrait of an ordinary life. Think of a female version of Mike Leigh (Naked) at his toughest and you’ll have some idea of what Lape is up to here.

In A Moment occupies Middle Coast’s sole late night slot and is a good example of how even the grungiest genre fare can be elevated by a creative approach. Writer and director Dustin Puehler juxtaposes two separate Michigan-set narratives—one involving a rural gay man’s search for love on the internet, the other a group of roving, drug-addled criminals on a home-invasion spree—then inexorably brings them together for a bloody B-movie climax. Working with limited resources and money clearly didn’t hold Puehler back from putting a lot of care into the stylized color cinematography, jagged editing rhythms and an almost Lynchian attention to sound design (where heightened sound effects are occasionally indistinguishable from Campfire’s atmospheric original score), creating an intense cinematic experience. This is the kind of gem that too often gets passed over by film festivals, so Middle Coast should be commended for programming it. Seeing it with a buzzed, late-night crowd should be fun.

For more information including ticket info and showtimes visit Middle Coast’s website


RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO to World Premiere at the Adirondack Film Fest

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My third feature film, Rendezvous in Chicago, will have its World Premiere at the Adirondack Film Festival in Glens Falls, NY on Friday, October 19. It’s an honor to premiere at such an esteemed festival alongside so many exciting other titles (such as Serge Bozon’s Mrs. Hyde). I will be in attendance along with my producer Layne Marie Williams, production manager Armani Barron and executive producer/actor David McNulty. The exact showtime and venue are TBA but day passes are on sale now through the festival’s website.

The second festival screening will occur at the Strasburg Film Festival in Strasburg, Virginia on Sunday, November 11 at 10:30am. I will be present for a Q&A after the screening along with executive producer/actor David McNulty. The screening will take place at the Strasburg Town Hall – where laws are made! Tickets are on sale now through the festival’s website.

More screenings will be announced soon.


The 25th Annual Chicago Underground Film Festival

The following piece on my best bets for this year’s Chicago Underground Film Festival, which kicked off last night and runs through this Sunday, was posted at Time Out Chicago today.

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The Chicago Underground Film Festival reaches a significant milestone with this year’s 25th-anniversary edition, which runs from Wednesday, June 6 through Sunday, June 10. CUFF’s notion of what constitutes an “underground” film has always been admirably expansive and this year’s program is typically eclectic in its offering of narrative, documentary and experimental works. We picked one movie to see from each category.

Savage Youth is a fact-based crime drama set in Joliet that features half-a-dozen phenomenal performances by a cast of young adult actors. Will Brittain (Everybody Wants Some!!!) and Grace Victoria Cox (Twin Peaks) stand out as a budding horror-core rapper and a visual artist, respectively, whose lives veer inexorably into tragedy after they begin dabbling in drugs and petty crime. The film’s depiction of an economically depressed and racially divided small town milieu looks especially trenchant and disturbing in light of the current political climate (although it was shot before the 2016 election), but writer and director Michael Curtis Johnson allows his characters moments of tenderness worthy of early Nicholas Ray.

Lori Felker’s Future Language: The Dimensions of Von LMO is a fascinating documentary about an eccentric subject: a cult figure and pioneer of the No Wave music scene in New York City in the late 1970s who claims to be a “hybrid alien” from the “planet Strazar.” Felker’s film, eight years in the making, is an impressive work of both archaeology and craftsmanship that uses every stylistic trick in the book—from archival footage to animation—to chronicle Von LMO’s many rises and falls; but the director’s masterstroke was allowing the true subject of the movie to become her complicated friendship with this weirdo. Future Language is as much a thorny love letter from one eccentric artist to another as it is a warts-and-all portrait of a gifted musician haunted by demons of his own making.

DANCER is a wordless 8-minute experimental short that repurposes footage from Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo 66 to exhilarating effect, taking a well-known scene of Christina Ricci tap dancing and “making it strange” by chopping it up, adding split screen and heavily distorting it all with a video synthesizer so that the fragmented and fuzzy images that result become a treatise on female beauty as well as the objectification of said beauty. Director Haley McCormick’s analog-painterly aesthetic is perfectly complemented by a gorgeous original score composed and performed by Heart of Palm (a side project of No Coast / No Hope operator Shea Hardacre).

For more information on the 25th Chicago Underground Film Festival, including ticket info and showtimes, visit the CUFF website.


Clare Cooney’s RUNNER at the Chicago Critics Film Festival

The following review of Clare Cooney’s Runner, which receives its Chicago Premiere at the Music Box this Sunday, was published at Time Out Chicago today. 

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The Chicago Critics Film Festival returns to the Music Box Theater this Friday, May 4 and runs through Thursday, May 10, bringing a typically impressive and diverse slate of acclaimed new independent and foreign films, many of which are fresh off of their World Premieres at Sundance and South By Southwest and all of which are making their local premieres. A welcome new twist to this year’s edition is the inclusion of two short film programs, which are comprised of works by universally acknowledged masters of the form like animator Don Herzfeldt (World of Tomorrow Episode 2: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts) as well as first-time filmmakers like Chicago’s own Clare Cooney (Runner). The latter film, screening as part of the “CCFF Shorts Program #1” block, is an extremely auspicious directorial debut for Cooney, who is better known for her work as an actress. Although it clocks in at only 12 minutes, it is one of the must-see events of the festival, especially considering that the whip-smart Cooney will be present for a post-screening Q&A.

Runner tells the story of a young woman named Becca (Cooney) who witnesses a violent altercation between a couple while jogging through an alley near her Chicago apartment. Becca’s subsequent knowledge of what happened, and an unexpected re-encounter with one of the participants, causes her to face an ethical dilemma. As a director, Cooney knows how to get the most out of herself as an actress (she’s a performer of uncommon depth) but she also wisely eschews the melodramatic approach that even more seasoned filmmakers might have taken – cutting the sound entirely from the film’s most intense moment and thereby increasing its effectiveness via counterpoint. But what impresses most in this pungent drama is the way Cooney is able to seamlessly enfold her ideas into a naturalistic narrative framework. In the “Me Too” era, the powerful tracking shots of Becca literally running away from physical danger conjure the notion of a desire to transcend an entire culture of harassment and assault. It’s a haunting movie – and one that chimes with our times.

For more information about the screening of Runner, visit the Music Box’s website.


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