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Film Fri Feb 11 2011

Chicago Filmmakers: Pan African Film Festival

The Windy City will be well represented at this year's Pan African Film Festival, thanks to Mark Harris (Black Butterfly), Brian Schodorf (The Wayman Tisdale Story) and Darryl Pitts (Kiss and Tell), three Chicago filmmakers with a mission to further the city's filmmaking landscape. Here, they discuss why they joined forces and why they feel Chicago deserves to be recognized as the filmmaking hub of the Midwest.

How did the idea to collaborate come about?
Schodorf: We all decided to get together to do some promotion. It's tough to get publicity when you go to these film festivals--it always helps when you have other people helping out.

Pitts: I think there's a great strength in numbers. I gave my full support to this collaboration because Chicago, being the major market it is, has not had the kinds of films to come out of it that a market its size warrants or dictates.

Have any other local filmmakers or industry folks contacted you when they heard about your collaboration?
Pitts: Not yet. We are in the beginning stages of this, so I'm absolutely sure they will.

Do you think you'll eventually join forces with other filmmakers in the city?
Schodorf: Absolutely. We're always looking for people who have contacts. It's just about working together.

Harris: I work with other filmmakers all the time. I'm definitely interested in working with filmmakers in Chicago to build and grow things.

Pitts: Yes. I think that's what we need. When you look at New York, for example, New Yorkers tend to come together and get things done; as far as Chicago, well, that's one of the complaints here. We'd love for more people to embrace the projects that come out of Chicago. Also, collaboration is an opportunity to reach out to other artists and to hopefully grow and celebrate the Chicago market.

From locations to crews to sponsors--you heavily utilized "Chicago" for your films--is that a conscious thing for any of you?
Schodorf: Well, you just kind of use what's available and accessible and Chicago's a great place to do that. It has a great filmmaking community and a lot of good scenes and settings to shoot your work.

Harris: It's very important to keep that going. You don't ask Spike Lee to make his movies outside of New York or John Singleton to make his outside of Los Angeles. I find it interesting that when Chicago filmmakers "make it," for example, Robert Townsend--and this isn't a knock against him--but they make films in L.A. Chicago is the most beautiful city in the world so why not shoot in my hometown? I'm definitely keeping it "Chicago."

Pitts: Well for my film, we shot some things in Chicago. I am committed to Chicago, but my film would have been difficult to do from Chicago because I needed so many actors.

How would you describe the state of Chicago filmmaking?
Schodorf: It's small. It's more of a stepping stone. There are big movies that come in like Transformers and things like that, but I think everybody's goal is to build a base here. It's always nice to be able to come back to Chicago and bring work here. You can only go so high. It's a kind of a ceiling on Chicago.

Pitts: I think we have a lot of room for growth in Chicago. I believe it is a burgeoning market, but I would like to see more and stronger collaborations. I think we have some fine actors in Chicago that should be highlighted, which isn't happening. I'm working to see that gets done.

Harris: We make lots of films here, but we have to be taken seriously--and that starts with respecting the people of Chicago, as well as the filmmakers and the entertainers.

Would you say Chicago is recognized for its contributions to the filmmaking industry?
Pitts: Absolutely not. I don't think we've done enough, especially with film. Even though great talent has come out of Chicago, it hasn't been recognized for that.

Schodorf: I think it's a little underappreciated, actually. When you go to Los Angeles and talk to people out there, they think that's all there is. It's kind of a biased industry and I think a lot of times Chicago doesn't get it proper respect and acknowledgement in the big picture of things.

What do you think has to be done to gain that recognition?
Pitts: You need a series or a film to come out of a city--or even a filmmaker to have a consistent pattern of success--I think that'll grow the city. We just haven't had that in Chicago.

Would you say the city is supportive of local filmmakers?
Pitts: I would say that it is not. Even to have someone like Oprah in Chicago and for her to not take the opportunity to help develop the artistic community in Chicago is a shame.

Harris: We don't get the support we need--we don't get that from our politicians, leaders, or the community. There is great talent in Chicago and people who want to stay committed to Chicago, but it's hard when you don't get the support you need.

What message do you want to send or what impact do you hope Chicago has at the Pan African Film Festival?
Schodorf: Just that there are a lot of good filmmakers in and a lot of good films coming out of Chicago and that it should be more recognized as more of a hub for filmmaking.

Pitts: I hope there is a series of projects that can come out of Chicago that are impactful, that a nationwide audience can see and appreciate. I hope we win some awards, too, so we can bring that back to Chicago and use it as a rallying cry to celebrate what we're doing.

Harris: I want the industry to know that we're doing this with very little money--Black Butterfly was made below a shoe string budget, yet it was accepted into the festival. I want everybody to see what we can do here in Chicago. We want to make a dent in this [festival] and say, "Chicago is here--and we aren't going anywhere."

The 19th Annual Pan African Film Festival runs February 16-23, in Los Angeles, California. For more information, visit the festival's website.

 

Luke / February 15, 2011 6:37 PM

Great interview. I love Chicago and I'd love a chance to attend this festival. Hopefully the best films will find distribution of some kind so I can see them later on. I finally got a chance to see the South African film White Wedding, which was a unique spin on the roadtrip film. I definitely recommend checking it out, the trailer is up at the film's site: http://www.whiteweddingmovie.com

LaShawn Williams / February 25, 2011 2:55 PM

White Wedding looks interesting indeed, Luke--thanks for the info!

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