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Film Thu Sep 26 2013
For Chicago native Susan Strowhorn, the need to create a platform for positive on-screen images was the impetus for the Midwest Christian-Inspirational Indie Film Festival (MCIIFF), an annual showcase of films designed to inspire and uplift. Held this weekend at the Gene Siskel Film Center, MCIIFF, founded by Strowhorn, is now in its third year, and will include a mix of full length features, shorts, and documentaries by Midwestern-based filmmakers, including Chicago's Joi Noelle Worley and the screening of Strowhorn's The Heartbroken Rainbow. Here, Strowhorn discusses the festival, challenges in Chicago and the film industry in general, and what she hopes audiences will take away from the MCIIFF.
Tell us about the MCIIFF festival and how it came to be--was there something in the way of film festivals that you weren't seeing or felt was missing?
Absolutely. I actually dreamed about doing something like this. The City of Chicago did not have a film fest that was geared toward inspirational, uplifting, Christian-based films, and that's always been my first and foremost thing that I live by. This was something that was given to me in a dream and I woke up one day and said, "I've got to do this." Initially, I thought about Chicago, and then I thought about the Midwest, and it sort of grew way beyond that. So it was a blessing that was sent to me and I look to continue to doing this as my task--my God-given task.
Chicago is indeed a big film festival town and on your website, you refer to MCIIFF as a "refreshing change to what Chicago has to offer the film industry." How would you say it stands apart from other festivals held here in the city?
First off, aside from the genre, it's run by a woman--a black woman. And I hope to keep it run with a sense of classiness, not to say the others don't have that. We have some great festivals in Chicago like the Englewood Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival and so on. MCIIFF is getting some recognition and we're getting a lot of people involved and who want to be involved, so that's the difference, especially being a new festival and all.
How many submissions did you receive? What went into selecting the ones that are featured in this year's festival?
The first year we had roughly between 20-30 submissions. I wanted it to be films that would really touch an audience, whether that be about forgiveness, overcoming addiction, and that sort of thing. Of course I review them and then the director of programming and I collaborated to select them. Typically, our time frame is limited, so we had to pick all the good stuff--not to say that the ones that weren't selected weren't good--we just have to pick the best of the best.
The MCIIFF is a young festival--only in its third year--are things moving in the direction you envisioned?
Yes they are; in fact, even quicker than I envisioned. You always want greatness and you want things to be successful, and this has sort of taken a mind of its own. I'm trying to catch up to it now!
As an independent filmmaker, what challenges have you had to face?
It's always financial. I've been getting the respect in the industry among my peers, so I wouldn't say that's a challenge for me--right now, it is all financial. And with the festival now becoming not-for-profit, the challenge this year is seeking funders, sponsors, donors, etc., to support it.
Besides financial ones, are there any other challenges you've been confronted by?
What I want to ultimately do is to be able to bless young artists and filmmakers looking to do inspirational and positive films because I don't think our generation sees enough of that. I think a lot of our kids are falling by the wayside based on what they see on television and in theaters, so just trying to change that is a challenge itself. You have to sell; even though it's a Christian based, inspirational, faith-based festival, I still have to market it and sell it and make it believable to others to have them jump on our bandwagon. So far, so good, but of course, moving forward, I'd like that to be less of a challenge for us.
What are your thoughts on Chicago's film industry--do you find the city's film community to be supportive?
I think what it is basically, as I said earlier, people have to find you believable and know what you stand for. They have to trust that when you speak to them, that your character is true. They have to understand that your purpose and your destiny is to try to do things to change our city. There's not a lot of that--and the few of us that there are, we all try to support each other. I think our small industry is looking to grow within itself to be bigger so those bigger eyes can see what we're doing.
How do you see the festival growing say, five or ten years from now?
I think we'll have a good audience of supporters that will see the vision to have the college kids and inspiring filmmakers get on board--so that we get the donations to give out scholarships--that's my hope.
What do you want festivalgoers to take away from the MCIIFF?
The fact that their spirits will be moved to do something positive in the community, to understand that there is something that can broaden their horizons, and how we have to come together to do something positive.
The Midwest Christian-Inspirational Indie Film Festival runs Friday, September 27 through Sunday, September 29; all screenings will be held at the Gene Siskel Center, 164 N. State St. Tickets are $10-$40 and are available online; for more information, including a full festival schedule and line-up, visit the website or Facebook.
Photo courtesy of MCIIFF.