chicago cinema

Chicago's Cinematic Future

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 Sophie Magdalena

A repeat screening of the First Annual Student Shoot-Out of Chicago runs tonight [Wednesday, February 26] at Columbia College Chicago's Collins Hall, room 602, at 7:30 p.m.  Halfstack contributor Rob Samuelson was at the first showing last weekend.  Here is his report. 

A falcon dives at full speed toward a man's outstretched hand. It lands on his arm-cum-perch, seemingly content with itself and the surprising world around it. The Chicago skyline gleams in the background of this austere field, revealing a cognitive dissonance: How can this man keep and train a bird of prey in the confines of such a big city?

Thus enters the key conflict of filmmaker Joram Bierdeman's short documentary, Sigi, which won the audience award at last weekend's First Annual Student Shoot-Out of Chicago, curated by Chicago Filmmakers on Clark Street. In six and a half minutes, the documentary tells the story of a vagabond skateboarder who has tried for a decade to get his professional falconer license, while toting his falcon around the city in boxes to conceal its identity from authorities. It is an assured, visually vibrant project from the Tribeca Flashpoint Academy student.

That's right, Bierdeman and the other 20 filmmakers in contention are currently students at Chicago film schools. They are on the ground floor of an emerging Midwestern moviemaking scene, with Chicago its creative hub.

Jacob Linden, director of photography for Sigi, says Chicago offers a different vibe than the well-worn cinematic paths in Los Angeles and New York.  “Chicago's just got such an awesome culture. It's diverse, and real nitty gritty. You meet some great people, like Sigi,” he says about the subject of the film, whom he met while shooting videos for local skateboarding companies.

Linden says Chicago's multicultural neighborhoods provide an unlimited number of opportunities “to expose the diverse perceptions we can have as a human.”  “There's something real and true about it and I don't think I can find myself anywhere else,” he says.

Gustavo Martin, a Columbia college student whose comedy short, Dirty Laundry, also premiered Saturday, says he chose Chicago for film school over Los Angeles because of its four distinct seasons.

“I think a lot of people automatically go to the West Coast, or they go somewhere warm, [but] I felt like Chicago wasn't claimed. I felt like it was more my kind of city,” he says, especially having come from Cleveland, Ohio.

Though Chicago represents untapped cinematic potential, filmmakers like Linden and Martin need support. There still exists a relative dearth of movie infrastructure in the city compared to its coastal rivals.

Martin has worked as an extra at Cinespace, a studio lot on the city's west side where television shows like Crisis and Chicago P.D. are shot. He says it's the largest and most well-known such place in the Second City, but others exist. “But they're not as advertised,” he says.

While it is a significant shift in the right direction for those looking to expand Chicago's footprint in the movies, Cinespace is a professional, Hollywood-affiliated place. That can be an obstacle for people lacking significant credits on their resum├ęs.

Enter Chicago Filmmakers, who hosted the event. Davalyn Stepzinski, a public relations and marketing intern who helped develop the festival, says the organization offers an array of options to help local cinephiles create their own movies, including classes on everything from screenwriting to editing software like Final Cut Pro.“If you become a member you have the option to rent equipment ... because if you don't have access to it any other way, it's really helpful,” she says.  Chicago Filmmakers also offers a venue for directors to show their work. “You can screen your film and start getting into the public area,” she says of their program that allows movie makers to apply to show their films at their Clark Street screening room for a month at a time.

While it is not yet where it wants to be, Chicago is on its way to being considered a movie epicenter. With the work of young filmmakers like Linden and Martin, and helpful pushes from organizations like Chicago Filmmakers, the Second City won't long have to be hidden from the world like Sigi's falcon.

- Rob Samuelson 

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