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Film Fri Oct 24 2014

Creative Writing: Chicago Film Shows More Than Words in a Writing Class

"What can go wrong? It's just a writing class."

That's the tagline of the trailer for Creative Writing, a new film by Chicagoan Seth McClellan. His 70-minute film opens today at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

The film is an honest, realistic portrayal of the writing aspirations of a diverse group of middle-class students in a community college writing course. The students participated in the writing as well as acting and use their own names in the film. As the film's preface says: "Though the actors play versions of who they really are and our story is based on what actually happened, this is fiction."

We learn a little about the lives of McClellan and his students in a series of nicely intercut scenes. We see the writing class in session as students read their own work and politely critique the writing of their fellow students.

Seth has just been told by his department head that the college is not going to grant him tenure, so he's considering how that will affect his career. Tracy (Tracy Ewert) dreams of being a famous writer. Arlene (Arlene Torres) loves video games. Stephen (Stephen Styles) sells real estate and is working toward a degree. Mike (Michael Davis), an 18-year-old whose father suffers from Alzheimer's syndrome, visits McClellan in his office to ask, "How do I improve enough to become a great writer?"

McClellan's advice to his students is that the best way to learn to write is to write and keep writing. Write more and learn from your failures. He gives that advice to Mike and then says, "Try to go deeper and take more risks. And maybe you'll write something and it won't be very good, but what's the worst that can happen? It's only a writing class."

Mike's favorite place to write is in the bleachers at the college playing field, where his father, a retired professor, took him when he was a child. He sells pot on the side and Arlene meets him there to make a buy. As they're smoking a celebratory joint, an African-American man accosts Mike to grab the joint and punches him in the eye. Arlene takes him to the hospital and he wears a patch over the eye.

Mike takes McClellan's writing advice to heart. In a racially charged class session, the politeness falls apart. Mike reads a story involving violent rape and murder--a racially inflammatory revenge story that sets off a fierce class debate. Tracey can't believe he thinks getting mugged is anything like being raped. Stephen objects fiercely and physically to the racial slurs in Mike's story. McClellan, showing his strength as a caring teacher, manages to calm the class down.

McClellan, a mass communications instructor at Triton College in River Grove, wrote, directed, produced and acted in the film. He has a good eye for black and white visual imagery. The early scenes where Mike searches for his father, who has left home in his bathrobe, are lovely park-like settings on the college campus. The student-actors, all non-professionals, provide solid, naturalistic performances.

Creative Writing premieres at 8pm tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center with additional showings at 5:30pm Sunday and 8:15pm Thursday, Oct. 30. McClellan and selected cast and crew members will be present for audience discussion at all screenings.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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