The final Chicago theatrical screening of RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO will occur at 6740Micro, a delightful microcinema operated by the folks behind the New 400 Theater in Rogers Park, the evening of Wednesday, September 25. Doors open at 7:00pm and the show starts promptly at 7:30pm. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with me and actress Clare Cooney moderated by film critic Andrea Thompson (Chicago Reader, RogerEbert.com). Admission is $5, the show is CASH ONLY and it is expected to sell out – so please arrive early! There will also be a cash bar. The exact address is 6740 N. Sheridan Rd (2nd floor). For more information, please visit the Facebook event page of the screening.
It was an honor to review Abbas Kiarostami’s great 1989 doc HOMEWORK for Cine-File Chicago. It screens as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s invaluable Kiarostami retrospective twice in the next week:
Abbas Kiarostami’s HOMEWORK
Friday and Monday, 6pm
“It’s not really a film, more a piece of research.” So says an off-screen Abbas Kiarostami, with characteristic modesty, to an unseen passerby while filming the scene of children walking to school that opens this delightful and deceptively simple documentary. While Kiarostami is widely regarded as one of the giants of narrative cinema in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, his prolific side-career as a documentarian is less well-known due to the vagaries of international film distribution. This 1989 feature, which grew out of and serves as a companion piece to the director’s 1987 breakthrough masterpiece WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE?, is an ideal place for the uninitiated to start exploring his non-fiction work. The majority of the running time is devoted to direct-to-camera interviews with students from Tehran’s Shahid Masumi elementary school about the topic of homework; but the conversations between Kiarostami and his subjects gradually deepen so that the film eventually becomes an ethical inquiry into corporal punishment, poverty, illiteracy and the clash between tradition and modernity in post-revolutionary Iran. Kiarostami’s masterstroke here was to foreground the filmmaking process by occasionally cutting from close-ups of the children to “reverse angles” of the cinematographer who was filming them with a 16mm camera—and thus frequently reminding the viewer of exactly what these kids were seeing during the interviews. In a subtle but radical way, these “intrusive” shots invite us to empathize with the children, one of whom is terrified by the adult filmmaking team to the point of crying hysterically. That the film climaxes with an unexpectedly passionate recitation by this timid and reluctant interview subject is a testament to how Kiarostami was able to coax great performances out of children and non-actors alike. (1989, 78 min, DCP Digital) MGS
RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO will screen three times in three different Chicago suburbs at the 9th Lake County Film Festival this weekend:
Waukegan, Saturday, September 7 at 7:15pm
Lake Forest, Sunday, September 8 at 7:00pm
Grayslake, Monday, September 9 7:00pm
I will be present for a live Q&A after all three screenings. More info, including exact venue and ticket info, can be found on the LCFF website here.
I was also honored this week to be the subject of an essay by San Francisco-based filmmaker and historian Daniel Kremer (OVERWHELM THE SKY). Check out his thoughts on MERCURY IN RETROGRADE, RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO and COOL APOCALYPSE in his essay “The Spaces Around the Stories” at his excellent ConFluence Film Blog.
I am excited to announce that Cow Lamp Films has acquired RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO for distribution! The film will be made available to stream on various online platforms and for purchase as a Special Edition DVD after our theatrical/festival run concludes in October. You can read all about the acquisition in a nifty story by Dan Patton at Reel Chicago: https://reelchicago.com/article/rendezvous-chicago-2/
I have a review of Khalik Allah’s visionary Black Mother at Time Out Chicago. I’m reproducing it in its entirety below.
Toward the end of his recent film The Image Book, director Jean-Luc Godard quotes Bertolt Brecht in saying: “In reality, only a fragment carries the mark of authenticity.” This is a fitting epitaph to a film, and a career, characterized by its radical, collage-like approach to juxtaposing image and sound. It would have been equally appropriate, though for very different reasons, for this quote to appear in Black Mother, a visually astonishing and deeply spiritual love letter to Jamaica made by the acclaimed American filmmaker and photographer Khalik Allah. While The Image Book primarily uses clips from other films to illustrate the misrepresentation of the Arab world in the West, Black Mother uses fragments of footage Allah shot by himself in his mother’s home country of Jamaica, on a variety of film and video formats (Hi8, miniDV, Super 8, 16mm and high-definition digital) over a span of 20 years. Chicagoans will have a chance to see the kaleidoscopic result, which is best experienced on a large screen, when the film receives its local premiere run at the Facets Cinematheque from Friday, May 3 through Thursday, May 9.
Although Allah’s mother does appear in the film, the title is a reference to the notion of Jamaica as an ancestral homeland, a place the director has visited since the age of three and which he puts on screen in a captivating fashion. Black Mother is cleverly structured into three sections—referred to as “trimesters”—that speak volumes about both the history and present of Jamaica, including its painful legacy of colonialism. The film relentlessly avoids clichéd images of Jamaican culture (reggae, weed and Rastafarianism are barely acknowledged) and eschews the norms of documentary filmmaking. It’s a highly personal and visually dense cinematic essay in which sound and image are deliberately out of synch —only one shot in the film’s sublime final chapter, of Allah’s late Jamaican grandfather, features a subject speaking live on camera. An ambitious and dreamlike visual-aural fugue, it represents a clear evolution from Allah’s first feature, Field Niggas, in training a benevolent camera eye on a variety of dispossessed subjects, including sex workers. As in the films of Pedro Costa, Allah gives a voice to the voiceless while solidifying his own unique cinematic language.
For more information about Black Mother’s Chicago run, including ticket info and showtimes, visit Facets Multimedia’s website.
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.
(left to right: Rendezvous in Chicago Associate Producer Jill Sandmire, Production Manager Armani Barron, me, and Producer Layne Marie Williams)
My new film Rendezvous in Chicago had its World Premiere this past weekend at the fabulous Adirondack Film Festival in Glens Falls, NY where we had two screenings in front of large and appreciative audiences (the first show was sold out!) and were fortunate to take the 2nd place Audience Choice Award for Best Feature. It was great to have some of the “Women of the Now” on hand to celebrate the occasion. The first reviews have also started to appear in print and online. All are positive and all have good insights into the film. Here’s a round-up:
- “Mr. Price,” a Virginia-based critic writing at the Strasburg Film website, concludes his review by noting, “Superb writing, backed up by standout performances against the gorgeous visual backdrop of the titular city, make this film an experience unlike any other.” You can read his full review here.
- Pamela Powell, writing at her Reel Honest Reviews site, calls it “Refreshingly fun” and notes “the strength of the women in the first and third stories.” Her full review is here.
- Leo Brady, at his A Movie Guy site, appears taken aback by the lighthearted tone (after my previous film Mercury in Retrograde) but still writes that “Rendezvous in Chicago is the perfect escape.” Check the full review here.
- In a print article that appeared in the Glens Falls Post Star, film writer Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli recommended our Saturday screening as one of the day’s “offbeat” highlights and praised Rendezvous‘ “beautiful” cinematography. She also has a few quotes from me and producer Layne Marie Williams in her story, which you can peep online here.
Finally, I recently made Newcity Chicago‘s annual “Film 50” list for the first time. A lot of talented friends and colleagues have been on this list over the past seven years and it’s a huge honor for me to be in their company. You can read Ray Pride’s write up of me in the October edition of this great alternative monthly – physical copies of which are currently all around Chicago, or you can check out the expanded write-up online here. Thanks so much to Ray for the words and photographer Sally Blood for the photos (one of which I’m posting below):